Vision: the Saab 9X – a vision of the road ahead

Posted on 11. Sep, 2001 by in 2000-2009, 9-X

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Photo Credit: Saab Automobile

2001-09-11

Vision: the Saab 9X – a vision of the road ahead

Saab’s Executive Director of Design, Michael Mauer, explains why the Saab 9X was created and how it symbolises the arrival of a new design genre that challenges the old, established order.

Michael Mauer is reminded of a popular phrase when discussing the creation of the mould-breaking Saab 9X. “I have often heard people say that you cannot have your cake and eat it,” he says. “but I have always wondered what is the point in having a cake unless you can enjoy it? With this car, you do both!”

Mauer is not a culinary expert, but he has always wanted to create a design recipe that will extend the boundary lines of automotive taste. The Saab 9X is the end result. It demonstrates that exciting, driver-focused performance and genuine, real world practicality are not mutually exclusive ingredients.

A bold and sporting design language was essential for the concept that has become the Saab 9X. Its compact size and purposeful looks clearly position it as a highly efficient, sports car. However, Saab is going further by threatening to re-invent the sports coupe/ roadster genre. The Saab 9X is a car that offers a much greater breadth of experience.

In explaining the Saab 9X perspective, Mauer asks: “Is it wrong to expect a real driver’s car to be more versatile? I believe today’s drivers want a true driving machine to provide something more. They want exciting, sporty cars, sure, but they also want practicality. This car is an interesting solution.”

It is a car that symbolises the arrival of a new, more feature-focused design emphasis. “I believe the motor industry’s old segmentation approach to products is now effectively dead,” says Mauer. “It is no longer enough to have, say, a sedan, a roadster, a wagon or an SUV that are each good at satisfying just one particular need. Today, people expect a vehicle that can perform several different functions and roles. It is an expectation that presents an exciting challenge for designers. We are seeking to deliver new breeds of vehicle.”

The Saab 9X breed offers a unique fusion: high performance driving, roof fixed or roof removed; wagon-like load carrying potential and – as the ‘fourth’ dimension – the open deck versatility of a pick-up. It is a multidynamic vehicle delivering all-weather driving enjoyment and the ability to meet a variety of leisure or more mundane load-carrying needs. The execution is a master class in clever design and innovative packaging.

Driver’s Car
A car offering ‘best-in-class’ performance and driving appeal was the starting point for the design process. Mauer and his team regarded a light, extremely compact chassis as a pre-requisite to achieve their goal. Here the design team utilised the cross-disciplinary flair of the Saab Advanced Concept Centre to produce an all-aluminium platform capable of satisfying their requirements.

The SACC at Saab’s Trollhattan base affords a very special environment, allowing small teams of engineers, designers, technicians, IT and marketing specialists, to work together closely on a project-led basis. The informal atmosphere helps encourage the teams to adopt new perspectives, thinking ‘out of the box’. SACC has no permanent staff; those who work there are on temporary secondment from other departments within Saab. Its minimalist, all white, frosted glass interior was designed by a leading Scandinavian architect to engender a spirit of free, unfettered thinking.

The SACC team created a platform to accommodate the Saab 9X’s diminutive external proportions and its four-wheel drive layout. To ensure an excellent weight distribution, a low centre of gravity and a low polar moment of inertia – all essential for the quick reflexes of a high performance car – the SACC team were able to install the engine and gearbox almost completely behind the front axle line.

The Saab 9X is projected to use a new generation, all-aluminium, 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged engine, delivering at least 300 bhp and extremely high torque values. This high feature engine is not yet in production and a prototype unit is currently in use. It is linked to a six-speed, sequential change, manual gearbox and four-wheel drive.

Externally, the Saab 9X represents a unique variation on the traditional two-door, two-pillar coupe layout. Saab genealogy is immediately apparent in the dramatic wrap-around windscreen, which conceals the A pillars and is integrated with the door windows to give an uninterrupted sweep of glazing right round to the B pillar. Allied to a high waistline, it gives the car an unmistakable Saab identity. In the same way, the grille is an extremely bold extrapolation of more traditional Saab proportions.

The ‘cocoon-like’ styling of the interior, the four, low-slung bucket seats and prominent transmission tunnel reinforce the Saab 9X’s performance mission. The instrument layout and interior ambience also evoke a subtle hint of Saab’s aviation antecedence. However, Mauer is quick to point out that his team consciously refused to play ‘the retro card’ when adopting a design theme for the Saab 9X. “I think so-called ‘retro-styling’ is something of a soft option these days which can be overplayed to the point of cliché,” he says. “We are looking ahead with this car – not backwards. The emphasis on performance and versatility, alone, echoes a strong Saab tradition. And there are other features, of course. However, we should not be prisoners of our past.”

The Saab 9X’s handling and performance are expected to place it firmly at the head of the compact, sports coupe class. Again, the design team were clear that the Saab 9X’s credentials as a pure driver’s car should not be compromised by the need to incorporate talents in other areas.

“We wanted to create a car which, in itself, should be a joy to drive,” says Mauer. “For example, I would like the owners of this car to want to get up in the morning and head off to work half an hour early, perhaps, so they can take a little detour, just for the sheer joy of driving.”

Into Four Dimensions
Ensuring the Saab 9X had those other, unconventional talents, was a more detailed, technical challenge for the design team. The innovative way all this is executed and accommodated within one vehicle sets the Saab 9X apart. “The more unusual features had to work well and give real benefits,” says Mauer. “This is a car for the real world.”

For example, the roof system comprises two separate, fully powered glass panels that can be easily removed and stowed onboard – without taking up important boot space. Similarly, the roof panels do not have to be left at home in the garage, as is the case for roadsters with a conventional, removable hard-top.

The Saab 9X also offers a completely flat, fully useable load space with an extended volume comparable to a medium-sized wagon. And all this within a sporty format.

However, it is the adoption of a traditional two (A + B) pillar coupe-like foundation which, ironically, gives Mauer and his team the freedom to introduce their most eye-catching innovation – the pick-up, or ‘fourth’ dimension.

They have been able to achieve a completely open, unobstructed rear deck because, unlike a sedan, hatchback or conventional wagon, the Saab 9X does not have roof reinforcements connecting the small ‘C’ pillars. The structural integrity of the car is ensured by the permanent roof rail, a stressed cross-member, connecting the substantial ‘B’ pillars.

Aft of this line, the body can be completely open because the team have dispensed with a traditional tailgate hinged from the roof. The detachable rail at the rear is required solely to mount the rearmost roof panel and locate the retractable rear door window.

The benefits of this layout are optimised by another key innovation: the extending rear load space. Here Mauer says the team took inspiration from the sliding floor feature of the Saab 9-5 Sportwagon. For the more compact Saab 9X, it was essential to be able to enlarge the rear loadspace. “We took the sliding floor concept and developed it a bit more,” he says. “It is now fully automatic and we were able to add ‘walls’ at the sides. The extending floor carries the tailgate, of course, which can also be lowered to create even more load space.”

Another innovative feature developed from the Saab 9-5 Sportwagon is the adoption of load-securing tracks to allow leisure items and all sorts of cargo to be stowed safely and securely. The system is extremely flexible in use and for additional practicality the team has also introduced new hard-wearing materials for the rear of the car.

“We have put together a package that allows people to interact with the car during their other activities, apart from driving,” says Mauer. “You can carry a surfboard, a small dinghy, skis, or whatever, and still have enough room to take some luggage. You can have the roof up, roof down or half way up and half way down!

“Whilst the car’s proportions are not those of a family car, the rear seating is adequate and the headroom is particularly good for a car of this type. There is easily enough room for adults or children for short journeys.”

Into the Future
Mauer describes the Saab 9X as a ‘signpost’ to the future. “Saab must continue to push out the boundaries of design,” he says. “Of course, we will not specialise in producing only ‘niche’ products such as the Saab 9X. We see other opportunities to put together features from different types of vehicle… some interesting solutions are possible.

“There are no major technical obstacles to prevent the car going into production and I very much hope we produce it, or something very similar. This car is an icon for the future of Saab – it shows where we are going. It is real, physical proof that Saab is embarked on a very exciting journey.”

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One Response to “Vision: the Saab 9X – a vision of the road ahead”

  1. chris burr

    27. Jan, 2008

    This is a beautiful and very practical vehicle. Why isn’t it in production? I love the fold down tailgate with the extendable bed This car was a brilliant concept. What happened to it?

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