IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What is Saab's diesel future like?

It is Saturday and as usual on Saturday not much seem to happen around Saab. I hope that the management at Saab have taken this weekend off and are enjoying the nice spring in Sweden. I am going to use this opportunity to ponder about Saab's diesel future. Some of you may disagree with me and think that I am being negative. You are free to give your opinion in the comments.

The importance of diesel engines in Europe
With strong focus on CO2 emissions and fuel economy, diesel engines are conquering the European car market. In Saab's home market, Sweden which also is one of Saab top three markets, three out of five car which was registered in April where diesel cars. In Saab's biggest market so far this year, the UK, the diesel share was 49.4 per cent in April. In another English speaking country, Ireland, the diesel share was a whopping 73 per cent. In my native country, Norway, three out of four cars which was registered in April had a diesel engine.

In other words, if you can't offer a diesel engine, you can at least halve your sales target.

Saab's current diesels
Currently Saab buys their diesel engines from General Motors. These engine designs were developed by the GM-Fiat Powertrain joint venture, and possibly further developed by Fiat Powertrain Technologies when GM and Fiat ended the formal partnership. The diesels in the Saab 9-3 are 1.9 liter twin turbo engines, and the Saab 9-5 uses a 2.0 liter single or twin turbo diesel engine.

The diesels of Hawtai
Hawtai is said to have the largest and most advanced diesel powertain plant in Asia. The company produces five different diesel engine using technology from the Italian diesel developer VM Motori and the engines are produced under license. These are "clean" diesel engines and comply to the Euro IV or Euro V emission standard.

No diesel in the Saab 9-4X
It has been known for a few months now that the Saab 9-4X will not be offered with a diesel engine. Saab has said that the diesel they were offered by GM was not powerful enough for the car. Saab's CEO Jan Åke Jonsson also said that it takes two years to find, test, install and validate a diesel engine for the 9-4X. If Saab was to do this, Saab estimated that the car would be too far into it's life cycle for Saab to make money on a diesel powered 9-4X. And thus the 9-4X will not be sold with a diesel engine.

The upcoming Saab 9-3 replacement
And now the main point of this blog entry: Will the 9-3 replacement be available with a diesel when it launches in October of next year? As I wrote above, it takes two years to get a diesel engine into a car. The Saab 9-3 replacement will be launched in October 2012, less than one and a half years from now. And today there is no information about a diesel for the next 9-3. In September last year, Saab announced that they had entered into an agreement with BMW to buy their 1.6 liter turbo petrol engine and thus the petrol engine is secured. A 2.0 liter petrol engine would also be nice for an Aero, but is not necessary to have at the launch. But a diesel is essential! If Saab had made a deal for a diesel engine from a well known manufacturer, we would have been told. All new partnerships builds confidence in Saab's future and such deals would be announced.

What are the alternatives?
I guess that Spyker Cars might have secured rights to buy diesel engines from General Motors to use in future Saabs. And the current GM (Fiat) diesels are good. But when the current Fiat designs are outdated, then what can GM offer?

Another alternative is the Hawtai diesels. But how good are these engines? Which displacements are offered, how powerful are they and what are the emissions? And maybe most important, if Hawtai use technology from VM Motori, can these engines then be sold outside China?

Saab could possibly buy diesels from PSA, BMW, and others, but as mentioned above, if a deal was made already, we would most likely have been told.

Whoever the supplier turns out to be, the testing, installation and validation needs to be underway already. So a diesel engine announcement is the next big thing I want to hear from Saab!