All text © diseno-art.com 2011
Saab is best known for being a bit alternative. In the
company's glory years, if you wanted something different
to an efficient but characterless German machine, and
not something characterful but inefficient from England,
then the nearest Saab dealership was where you'd find
Saab's automotive saga began way back in 1944. The first
car was codenamed project 92. It took three years to develop,
but once it was finished the Saab 92001 (or Ursaab) was
something quite special. The Ursaab's design was heavily
influenced by Saab's roots in aircraft manufacturing.
The car had the lowest drag coefficient of any car at
the time thanks to its streamlined, teardrop shaped body.
By 1949 the Ursaab was in full production. Officially
known as the Saab 92, over 20,000 examples were sold throughout
the first half of the 1950s.
Saab PhoeniX concept
Through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s Saab kept on producing
slightly odd, but well designed and engineered, vehicles.
There were cars like the 96 - of which over half a million
were made - and groundbreaking new models like the Saab
99 which heralded many of the trademark Saab design
cues we all recognize today. 1978 saw the introduction
of the iconic Saab 900, nearly one million were sold and
it remains one of Saab's best known vehicles.
During Saab's formative years it always did things a bit
different to everyone else. It was almost as if the designers
had never been in a car before. So instead of just saying;
"Oh, well everyone else puts the ignition on the
steering column, we'll just stick it there too."
They ended up going; "Hey guys, lets try putting
the ignition between the front seats, that might work
well!" - and it did. This kind of free thinking led
to a huge number of innovations and world firsts.
Saab was the first company to fit seatbelts as standard,
the first company to introduce headlight washers and wipers,
the first to develop heated seats, the first to fit a
passenger compartment air filter, and the first to design
an impact-absorbing, self-repairing bumper. The list goes
Saab's were never sold in the same sort of numbers as
BMW, Mercedes or Audi. But they were respected as a brand,
and they oozed a kind of classy, quirky chicness you couldn't
get from anyone else at the time.
Sadly the good times couldn't last forever, and during
Saab's 20 years of GM management (1990 - 2010) it slowly
lost all the attributes which had made it a popular brand
amongst those in-the-know, and its cult status gradually
faded too. Initially GM steered Saab back into profit
- mainly due to the popularity of the new 900 introduced
in 1994. However slowly Saab started to become more and
more mainstream. They weren't being innovative and they
weren't breaking the mold. They were just becoming stale.
The company hit rock bottom during the mid 00s thanks
in part to GM's obsession with badge-engineered vehicles.
Most models were just based on old vehicle platforms from
other brands. The 9-3
was based on the Opel Vectra, the 9-2X was based on the
Subaru Impreza and the 9-7X was based on the Chevrolet
Trailblazer. All of them were worse and more expensive
than the cars they were based on.
Skip on to the present day and there's plenty of promise
on the horizon for Saab. GM sold Saab as part of their
streamlining process, and now the company is under the
control of Koenigsegg - who have a couple of things in
common with Saab. They're both Swedish for a start, and
they are both at their best when they're being a bit unusual.
Add to that the fact they both designed to appeal to a
'certain type' of person and the match seems almost perfect.
One can deal with the oddball supercar clientele, while
the other sorts cars for the rest of us.
However the real promise of a return to Saab's unusual
and hopefully glorious past is its new design director,
Jason Castriota. Castriota has made a name for himself
over the last decade by designing some of the most striking
supercars on the planet. Take for example the Maserati
Birdcage and the Bertone
Mantide - both as crazy and brilliant as each other.
He's also had a wealth of experience in working for two
of Italy's most famous design studios - Pininfarina and
Stile Bertone - so he knows how to design a pretty car.
In addition, Castriota will be designing the next generation
of Saabs as a free agent through his own design company.
That means he will find it easier to tell the accountants
what they can do with their calculators, and the board
of management won't hold as much power over his creativity
compared to a regular in-house designer.
Saab say that the next generation 9-3 could be headed
to the showrooms as early as 2012. While at the 2011 Geneva
Motor Show Saab pulled the covers off their aptly named
concept. The timing is too close to be coincendence.
The PhoeniX will - with a couple of extra doors and minus
the little winglets - mutate into the new 9-3.
So Saab, with a little bit of luck, has been reborn.