SAAB IN HOT WATER -AND NEW 9-4X DOESN’T HELP
I FEAR THE SITUATION FACING Saab may become irretrievable. I’d flown to Washington to drive its new 9-4X crossover and talk to chairman Victor Muller, but upon arrival found he’d left for China. The reason for his rapid departure was an attempt to stop his deal with the Chinese Hawtai Motor group collapsing. It did not succeed. Since then he has secured extra funding from China by doing a distribution deal, but the amount (around €30 million) seems small beer for a car manufacturer whose Trollhattan plant has, as I write, lain idle for over a month.
Then there’s the 9-4X (above). They say it’s a Saab but it shares its platform with a Cadillac SRX, is built in a Mexican General Motors factory and 80 per cent of production will never leave North America. It’s not the worst Saab I’ve driven, but is perhaps the least characterful. Bland to look at, at best inoffensive to drive, if your automotive horizons are set at doing 65mph on an Interstate, it does a passable job. But if you’re looking for flair, panache or that old Saab quirkiness, you’ll not find it here. This was the last Saab designed under GM’s ownership and so pervasive has been its influence, it won’t even take a diesel engine. This alone cuts it off from 95 per cent of the European market for the car. Meanwhile Saab’s brave engineers have just built the first running prototypes of the 9-3, the first all-new Saab designed by Saab since the ’78 introduction of the 900. They can’t say much about it yet, but their smiles
reveal their pride, hope for and confidence in the project. I know it will have a proper fivelink rear suspension like the best rivals from BMW and Mercedes and be powered by state-of-theart BMW engines. What I don’t know is if Saab will survive long enough to bring it to market. I fear substantial amounts of additional funding are needed now if it is to have a chance.