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.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A recap of the upcoming Saab 9-3 replacement

Just 16 months from now Saab plans to launch the replacement to the current Saab 9-3. A few weeks ago Swedish TV4 claimed that this car is delayed, but according to Saab the target launch date is still October 2012. It was recently confirmed by Mats Fägerhag that some projects have been a bit delayed due to the past weeks financial turmoil, but the delays will be minimized. Now that the development of the 2013 Saab 9-3 is back up and running, let's summarize what we know so far regarding technology and design.

The background of the next 9-3
Back in 2008, it became clear for Saab's then CEO Jan Åke Jonsson that GM was not going to keep Saab. At this time Saab was developing the next 9-3 on the GM Delta II architecture. An architecture developed for a variety of vehicles, including the Opel Astra, the Chevy Cruze and the Chevy Volt. In other words, an architecture full of compromises so that many different vehicles can use it. Not the best starting point to make a great Saab 9-3. But with Saab put up for sale, Jan Åke Jonsson and the Saab management knew that a dependency on GM for years to come could prove to be a problem. For instance, if the new 9-3 used GM's Delta platform, that could limit the possibilities for Saab to sell or build the car in China, a booming market. Jan Åke Jonsson therefore gave Mats Fägerhag, Vice President Vehicle Product Development at Saab, the task to make plans for a new Saab developed platform.

A modular Phoenix is born
When Mats Fägerhag started to outline a new architecture, he looked to Scania and its modular approach. Scania is a Swedish truck manufacturer which has had tremendous success with their modular architecture and is today of the most profitable truck manufacturers in the world.

Mats Fägerhag, Vice President Vehicle Product Development 
The modular architecture Saab developed consists of several modules or parts with fixed interfaces. If they need to redesign the architecture to fit a future vehicle or to implement new technology, instead of redesigning the whole architecture they can just redesign the affected modules. In other words, it's both cost effective and time effective. Saab brought in retired chief of development at Scania, Hasse Johansson, to help implement the new approach to car development at Saab.

It was powertrain chief Kjell ac Bergström who came up with the name Phoenix, the name of the mythical sacred bird who was reborn from its own ashes. 

One big advantage of developing the in house platform is that this platform is only developed with Saab in mind, and thus both the chassis and the drive line will be more than 100 kg lighter than the Delta II platform. In addition, Saab has worked hard on reducing the front overhang and moving the front wheel forward. This should give better handling, but also a more flexible engine bay which will make it easier to adapt to different engines suppliers. 

The front suspension will be a unique McPherson design, with aluminum lower A-arms. In the rear the suspension will be a 5-link independent design, which will be used on all future Saabs. This solution will give excellent set up possibilities and is also very light and stiff. This should give the car excellent handling. 

The one engine we know about at the time being is the four cylinder 1.6 liter petrol engine sourced from BMW. This is a compact aluminum head/block engine with cast iron liners. It has a double overhead chain-driven camshaft, four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing (inlet and outlet) and variable valve lift (inlet). Furthermore, direct Injection, intercooled twin scroll turbocharger and Bosch electronic engine management. It has Stop/start functionality and regenerative braking during fuel cut-off. In other words, a very advanced engine, which actually was recently awarded engine of the year.

BMW 1.6L turbo petrol engine 

Electric four wheel drive
The upcoming 9-3 will get optional four wheel drive. But this will not be the traditional mechanical four wheel drive. Instead the car will use Saab's in house developed electric rear axle, in Saab language dubbed eXWD (electric cross wheel drive).

The idea to develop an electric rear axle was conceived back in 2007 and the secret project grew bigger during 2008. And "as usual", GM had no idea what Saab's engineers were up to. When Saab was bought by Spyker in 2010, the project came to the surface and the management and the new owner quickly saw that this was a valuable asset if handled the right way. Saab then searched for the best possible partner to help market and produce the rear axle and found American Axle & Manufacturing, a company with much experience in mass producing drive lines and transmission, but with limited competence on electric hybrid systems. Competence Saab would bring to the partnership. A perfect partner for Saab.

So in the rear the next 9-3 will use Saab's in house developed electric rear axle. This will give the car four wheel drive with the internal combustion engine driving the front wheels and the electric motor driving the rear wheels. The electric motor will source its power from an air cooled 1.1 kW/h lithium ion battery pack, which will be charged through regenerative braking. The rear axle will provide the car with electric power boost, torque vectoring and traction support.

The eXWD module from e-AAM
The great thing about the eXWD system is that it will not just give the car four wheel drive without fuel penalty – as the rear wheels are driven by regenerated energy from braking – it will actually reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emission up to 30 percent as the rear motor will take some strain off the internal combustion engine. The system is most fuel efficient in urban driving and low speeds when the car can go more or less just on electric power. In higher speeds the systems next big advantage is evident when torque vectoring gives excellent handling and grip through curves. Mangnus Rydell, sales manager at e-AAM, says that the system has a two year lead on the competitors.

Best of all about the eXWD system, unlike most hybrid systems, it is very affordable. A Saab with the eXWD drive will not cost more than a current XWD Saab.

So the eXWD system fits perfectly into Saab's vision of responsible performance, i.e. to reduce consumption and emission, but without compromising handling or the enjoyment of driving.

IQon infotainment system
In the next 9-3 Saab will debut a all new infotainment system named IQon. This system is built on Google's Android OS. In addition to controlling multimedia and car functions, the IQon system will let users download a wide range of applications, online services and multi-media functions provided through a Saab IQon store. And thus keep the system updated during the whole life of the car.
There have been several interviews with Saab chief designer Jason Castriota where he reveals bits and pieces about the 9-3 design. Additionally, a few people who has seen the design have also made comments. What we know is that the front of the next 9-3 will be close to the PhoeniX concept shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year. The head lamps will though be slightly bigger, but the body painted wing in the grille will continue into the headlights just like on the concept car. The shape of the bonnet will also be close to the concept, but the front fenders will be bigger and more pronounced, giving the car a more masculine expression. And the windshield will of course be wrapped around the driver. The roof line will be descending sharper than on the concept and the rear will be lower. The rear will have a horizontal tail light arrangement.

One of those who have seen the real car commented that "it had a Porsche-like rear with a fin". Another lucky observer said that "the car was a five door hatchback. It looked like a true Saab, modern, but the look of the 900 prior to the GM 900". A third observer said that "it will be a hatchback, a return to the Saab tradition. Compared with today's 9-3, the waistline is higher, the rear window descends less and the rear is quite high."

Sketch by Lukas Haag from
The drag coefficient of the new Saab 9-3 was said to be down to 0.26 back in March. With fine tuning of the bumpers, diffusers, spoilers, lowering of the car and so on, it should be possible to get the drag even lower.

The work of the designers should be done around now (June 2011), except for ensuring the quality of the finished design. The coming 14 months until launch of the car are needed to make prototype cars, to make the tools needed for mass production, pre-production series and finally mass production. 

It has been confirmed that the car will be available in three main variant; as a hatchback, a crossover and a convertible.  

What don't we know about the upcoming 9-3?
So far there has been no word on a diesel engine for the next 9-3. Which is a bit worrying since finding, testing, installing and validating a new engine take up to two years. Hopefully Saab already has a diesel engine that we don't know of.

The second thing we do not know anything about is the transmission. Will we get a dual clutch transmission? Who will supply an automatic transmission? Will the auto transmission increase CO2 emissions compared to the manual? Many questions and no answers so far. What we do know is that Saab's own transmissions development was divested to a new company called Vicura AB in January this year, and that Saab will probably be a big costumer of the new company.

  Yet another interpretation of the next 9-3, found on CarBlogged.

So does all this info about the next 9-3 excite you just as much as it excites me? :)

Sources: Swedish Auto Motor & Sport,,, Saab press releases, Automotive News, SaabsUnited, Vi bilägare, TTELA