Saab To Use H-Engine in 9-3 (eventually?)

I wrote a few weeks ago about Saabs and Production, tying together a story by Hilton Holloway in England and some stuff that I’d heard on the grapevine.

Some excerpts to give you perspective. The first is from Holloway:

Although this 9-3 pre-production car is powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines used in the pre-collapse series production cars, this is just a stop-gap operation.

And my elaboration on that….

From what I’ve heard, NEVS bought around 2,000 of these (GM) engines from the bankruptcy estate so they’re what’s going in the car to start with.

The ramp-up to production is going to be pretty slow so those engines should last a little while. There shouldn’t be any real hassles with GM, either, as it’s old technology bought from the Saab estate, not sourced from GM.

Of course, NEVS are going to have to insert an engine of their own sooner or later.

Overnight, I heard a little bit more about what that replacement engine might be.

As with my last piece, I have to stress that this isn’t bona-fide Djup Strupe material i.e. direct to me from inside the company. As with last time, this is from a friend in the Trollhattan area who is very likely connected to people inside the company. This is third-party information, in other words. I’m mentioning it here because it’s information that I’ve heard from several different third parties, now.

As per the headline to this story, that information is that NEVS/Saab plan to use Saab’s old H-Engine in their petrol powered Saab 9-3.

For those who are unfamiliar, the H-engine powered Saabs for years, last seeing service in the Saab 9-5 in 2009 prior to the second generation Saab 9-5 being released as a 2010 model with a range of GM engines. The H-engine also powered the first generation of the Saab 9-3 before GM Ecotec engines were introduced in the Sport Sedan era. The origins of the H-engine actually go right back to the Saab 99, but that’s a distant relative to the modern H-engine.

Saab sold the rights to the H-engine to BAIC when they had a cash-raising tech sale back in 2009. Given that no-one builds them in Sweden any more, it’s fair to assume that NEVS might intend to source their H-engines from BAIC for use in the 9-3.

So what does the use of the H-engine mean for Saab and it’s non-Chinese fan base?

Whether GM replaced the H-engine with the Ecotec because of efficiency, pollution, NVH or sheer business economics will vary depending on who you talk to. It remains to be seen whether or not any further efficiency can be squeezed out of the old powerplant. If anyone can do that, it’s Kjell AC Bergstrom.

Saab fans will rejoice because it’s more Saab DNA in the car. That’s true, but it’s widely known that the engine doesn’t meet modern emissions standards (not as used in the old Saab 9-5, at least. I refer you again to the paragraph above and whether or not Kjell AC Bergstrom can massage it a little). Saabs United reported last week that NEVS had the 9-3 in Holland for testing and the GM Direct Injection engine was in that car. That engine will undoubtedly achieve current Euro certification for emissions. The H-engine most likely would not.

Use of the H-engine would therefore lend credence to the theory that production in the short-medium term is all bound for China, where emissions regulations aren’t as demanding.

There’s an interesting complication that arises from a scenario where Saab build a limited number of GM-engined cars followed by H-engine cars. That complication revolves around the engine bay.

NEVS are building the Saab 9-3 (series 440), which never came with a H-engine under the hood. From what I can tell, that means a whole bunch of engineering and comprehensive safety testing before this engine/chassis combination could hit a western market. Then there’s the NVH testing that would need to be done to make sure the car’s refined enough for a western market.

It’s not impossible, but it’s a definite complication. Saab fans are rightly excited that a Saab car might be coming off the line next week, but in order to really justify the excitement, the car’s got to be competitive and that means safe, well equipped and refined.

Add this to the list of questions that I hope someone asks NEVS next Monday, when they show their working production line to the motoring press.

It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold, that’s for sure. For now, it looks like the Chinese market is going to get familiar with the term “DI Cassette” 🙂


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  1. Sounds like an interesting solution to making these cars cheaper for China, whilst still seeming to be outwardly modern. There’s no denying it’s a solid, durable, proven engine (at least the ones that came out of Sweden), and would do the job.

    So the production line might be preparing two version of the car – one with a GM engine, and one with an empty engine bay for retrofitting in China with B235R’s!

    PS: Don’t buy Chinese DIC’s.

    1. I’ve certainly learned my lesson with Chinese parts. The brake shoes on my minivan (it hurts just to type that word) are horrible. HORRIBLE. Only 5k miles on them and I’m swapping them out today. Live and learn.

  2. I have long wondered if this would happen. BAIC must be rubbing their hands! But it is certainly a SAAB engine with long IP that we all know a lot about. Not the smoothest thing going around, but lusty and it can be tuned really well. An updated head technology and exhaust emission systems should do the job, much in the same way SAAB got the 2.8 doing more with less than the local Holden larger capacity engine for the Commodore. It was all in the head. And it may well be all in NEVS ‘head’ with all that expertise in electronic turbo trickery that must come to the fore. NVH can be solved easily with better engine mounts and noise levels can be controlled in lots of ways with better castings and muffling technology. Just look at what Austin did with their engines over five decades, much of it very slow development and progression of technology across lots of models.

  3. One thing to keep in mind…

    If NEVS go down the plug in, series hybrid road, such as Volt and Karma, then the engine isn’t going to be running in the same way(s) that we’re used to in running in, say, a 9-5.

    That could have a big impact on both the way it’s certified and the actual emissions is produces (both real and calculated).

    They could, conceivably, tune it to produce lower emissions at WOT and then not worry about the rest of the powerband, given that it wouldn’t be the engine actually turning the wheels.

    Also, they could be offsetting the H-engine’s CO2 and other emissions by treating the engine as a range extender, versus a propulsion powerplant. What emissions that are created in the test cycle are only a subset of the total run time.

    Just throwing an idea out there…

    1. All conceivable and accurate, Mallthus, except that NEVS have said that they weren’t going down a hybrid road at all.

      Then again, they were going electric-only at the beginning, so I guess anything’s possible. But from their own collective mouth, a hybrid is not on their agenda.

  4. The H-Engine (205/235) isn’t in many aspects a competitive engine for the European market, imho. But it doesn’t mean that a 206/236 couldn’t do the job.

    The main point for this theory to be true is the fact that BAIC is currently integrating that engine in the engine bay of a 9-3, albeit with much uglier exterior panels. So NEVS could buy an engine that already fits in the 9-3, and that for sure will already be homologated for the Chinese market. ON the other side BAIC could profit from NEVS adapting that engine to the EU/US market demands.

    What I don’t like from that plan, although I don’t know if this will happen in that way, is the fact that spy shots of the BAIC 440 variant show a 5-gear manual transmission. Yes, BAIC bought not only the IP of the engine but also the IP of the gearbox (manual at least, if I’m right). And a 5-gear manual trany in Europe and the US will make the car feel dated. Not to say that I discover myself searching for a 6th gear when driving at 160-180 kph on the Autobahn.

  5. It’ll certainly upset the dynamics of the 9-3ss chassis having that big heavy B2x5 lump up front…the B207 is much lighter.

    Other factors to “weigh in”…I’m not sure the 2×5 will physically fit as it’s wider, and without some serious re-engineering of many ancillaries, the turbo, water pump & PAS pump are in the wrong place, the inlet manifold too bulky etc. These are not insurmountable but require a lot of testing and type approval, again suggesting not bound for western markets.

    Also the engine management would be key for non-Chinese markets. B2x5 won’t work with T8 (again without serious re-engineering) and the BAIC 9-5 derivatives I have seen don’t appear to use T7 or the DI, The engine bay was far less crowded – I suspect they have gone for a far simpler home-grown management system which implies not a chance in hell of meeting EU, Oz or US emissions requirements.

    If this is even true, it smacks of a stop gap model to supply to China and start generating some income and a little profit to fund the future model development. I heard on the grapevine (or read here??) there is a rumour of 2000 units ordered, to be used as taxis in China.

    I’m still not convinced we will see another Saab badged car in the west for a long time, if ever, but I’m also pleased for Trollhattan that there are jobs being filled and that factory is doing what it was built for – making cars.

  6. Actually, I think it makes perfect sense, as long as it has a modified cylinder head. The really time consuming part to test of the engine is in block, and that part is solid, and proven to be very fit for high power applications. Modifying the aluminium head of that engine is a lot faster, and with some care, doesn’t need as much testing. I have a feeling that the H-engine idea never really died considering the continued development and testing of the CvK 2008 demonstrator engine, especially as this was at a time when the GM/Saab rift became visible to Saabs management.

  7. There are a few issues with the H engine, but not insurmountable ones. As Mailr wrote, the block is fine (perhaps even overbuilt). The problem is in the head. First, Saab never gave the engine variable valve timing and direct injection. Second, exhaust gas management is antiquated. The turbo is located far away from the exhaust valves, unlike recent turbo engines. Long exhaust tracts lead to heat/efficiency loss, poor cold-start emissions, and poor throttle response.
    The answer, to me, is obvious but daunting: NEVS needs to license the Koenigsegg Cargine valve system. Concurrently, they need to design a modern, compact, water-cooled exhaust manifold with integrated turbocharger.
    The Cargine system has supposedly been “production ready” for 3 or 4 years now, and it was originally developed on an H block. Surely there has to be a way to make it work.
    Side benefits of this idea include a much lower engine (which makes pedestrian impact protection easier), and a narrower block (no timing chain).

    There are longer-term issues with the H engine.
    It may be too big for market requirements. The 9-3 could easily be motivated by a modern 1.5 litre-class engine, so using a block that can reliably go out to 2.3 is a bit much. Perhaps there’s a way to produce a three cylinder variant, as BMW is doing with the new Mini.
    The H engine tooling may not be in great shape. NEVS will need to keep on top of this issue before it becomes a problem. Land Rover suffered greatly from this problem with the Rover/Buick V8: the last few years of production were inferior, possibly due to poor machining tolerances. That cost them greatly in brand reputation and warranty costs.

    1. My point of view is that if you look at the problem from the perspective of making a new innovative engine partly based on existing parts instead of just finding a plug-and-play engine, a H engine base with the Cargine system makes a lot of sense. And, if you start out with high-end cars, 2.3 (or 2.0) L may be in the proper ballpark. Let’s not forget, the V4 had 1.5/1.7 L also on 90mm bore, so lowering the displacement that way is also a possibility, the remaining problem being weight.

      But, also remember that Saab did have up to 500 people doing consulting work for BAIC, including (I assume) move the engine factory, so my guess is that AC Bergström has fairly intimate knowledge of the factory, and what it can and can’t do.

    2. Back when k-egg was negotiating with GM of buying saab, there was talks about cargine. K-eggs was part owner, cargine made alot of test with saabs H engine and I guess saab was part of this way back (not sure, just something I believe I’ve read somewere).
      I remember how good it felt knowing saab, k-egg and cargine know-how was a perfect match.
      But the time was out and Muller saved the day.

  8. Wow, some insanely great comments here, gents. Great insights.

    I must agree with Swade (and others above) here: the only play for the H engine would logically be China and other developing markets. Some of the technology is viable (e.g., the block as outlined above), but for a relatively small OEM like NEVS/Saab, For Europe and North America, I think it makes much more sense to license an engine design or simply source engines from another manufacturer. In that way development time and costs would be limited to the chassis integration and testing (something that must be done for the H engine as well). It would avoid weight distribution issues and transmission integration/selection as well.

    Once again, I’m glad to see things buzzing around Trollhattan.

    1. Well, based on AC Bergströms speech at the Saab Festival this summer, it’s clear that he isn’t content with just buying any engine, some upcoming model, which I assumed at that point would be the Phoenix 9-3, is suppose to have some major, Saab unique, innovation. This might be it, but then again, it may not. In general, I think he thinks that engine tech is one of Saabs core values, and then it really doesn’t matter if you can get it cheaper elsewhere.

      1. Yes, I see. However, the clock is ticking and I’m unsure that he (and NEVS/Saab) has that kind of time. Perhaps the license/sourcing agreement is a stop gap measure until the Saab-developed power plant is ready? If the eyes are strictly on China in the short run, then the H engine can be that interim power plant. Many unanswered questions.

        1. It’s pretty clear that AC Bergström has been clear om that his commitment to finalize the Phoenix/NEVS platform required approved financing for the plans, i.e. in his judgement, there is time.

          The fact that NEVS has certified 9-3N to Euro 5B+ implies that the plans are bigger than strictly China, which implies they intend to have a Euro 6 certified engine in September 2014.

          As the H engine needs a lot of work to pass Euro 6 (required in September 2014), it makes a lot more sense to shoot directly for a new engine design if at all possible. And, the next question is, if it’s based on the H engine, when did that work start? Now is not the beginning of a design cycle if my hunch is right.

          1. September 2014 is less than half of the time generally needed, that’s the point. Unless there is a design on the shelf ready to go, they’re not going to make it.

          2. If a Cargine modified H engine is in the works, i guess this work most likely started a long long time ago.

          3. Given that NEVS would have owned Saab’s remnants only 23 months by the deadline, ‘long, long time’ would have to extend back to Spyker-era Saab, and I don’t think that the H was in the mix then. An all-new engine, yes. The H, no.

          4. I was actually thinking GM era. In 2009, AC Bergström was involved in the (cast iron block) 1.4L engine used in the Chevrolet Cruze (which I believe was present in the the 9-X BioHybrid and the 9-X Air), and presumably evaluating the Cargine demonstrator. H blocks were semi-current at that time, and the thought of combining the best of those ideas to the H block must have crossed his mind since he (and the rest of Saabs management) was aware that a separation from GM was inevitable if Saab was to survive. At that time, somebody is bound to have put forward the question of how to replace the (for Saab) expensive GM engines, and somebody is also bound to have put forward the question of how about that other engine.

  9. Swade, regarding your assumption that “there shouldn’t be any real hassles with GM…,” don’t be too sure about that. NVIV is a new investor, owner of the company and I know that you are well aware of the provisions in the GM/Saab agreement. It all depends on which side of the bed from which he arises in the morning. And they may have to step on the brakes in order to maintain linearity of their decisions in their defense of the Victor’s suit.

  10. World is full of,more modern engines.
    lets see,where they plans to sell 9-3, maybe also in sweden. That should not be possible until q4 next year. Monday will,be,interesting day indeed…

  11. So was it the H or not? According to sources that were at the presentation Nevs didn’t say what engine is going to be used but if the car will be sold in six month it must be decided by now, right?

    1. The engine in yesterday’s car was the same 2-litre turbo from GM as the 9-3 used in the Spyker/GM eras. NEVS have a number of these engines and they’ll be used at first, probably until the facelifted version of the car comes next year with a new engine.

      The whispers that I heard (that inspired this post) are that that replacement engine might be Saab’s old H-engine. We’ll wait and see if that’s the way it turns out. For NEVS’s sake, I hope they use something more modern but if an ICE is only a short-term thing before they go all electric, then the H-engine would be a cheaper option.

  12. There’s a comment from Tim on SU:

    “Mattias Bergman stated in the press-conference yesterday that a new engine will be launched with the facelift in May.

    I’m putting my money on the GM 1,6 liter engine…”

    So nothing seems to be officially confirmed by Nevs (no surprise really) …

  13. Wouldn’t that mean a significant deviation from the stated schedule? So far, iirc, NEVS planned three phases:
    1. Restart factory with ICE engines, as a test run (in effect since Monday)
    2. Produce an EV version of the present 9-3 in the smoothly running factory (expected in 2014)
    3. Produce the “true” first NEVS product, a Phoenix based EV.

    So, in this plan, where is there even any need for another ICE engine? At the current production rate of 10 cars per week, the rumored 2000 engines should last NEVS throughout the entire “ramp up” of the factory. After this, there is neither a pure ICE product, nor a plug-in hybrid.

    Even if NEVS should have secretly modified their plans to include a hybrid, the H engine would not be the preferred choice. Instead, a smaller Wanckel engine would be more appropriate, since more space would be left for the batteries.