The Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept Global Launch

Posted on 22. Jan, 2008 by in 2000-2009, 9-4X BioPower, Detroit, Michigan


Photo & Film Credits: Saab History

As a guest invited by Saab Automobile USA & General Motors, it was a privilege and an honor to be present for this world premiere of the first introduction of this crossover product segment for the Saab brand. I also realized that much like I did previously with the Turbo-X launch, it was important to once again provide good video coverage in addition to photography. With that in mind, I took the initiative to solicit contributions and in that process, Donald Koziol of Saab Colorado, Inc. came in at the nick of time to sign up as a site sponsor. This support ultimately faciliated the ability to cover costs to rent a professional camcorder to film the event.

I began this event by flying out early from National Airport in Washington, D.C. en-route to a blistery cold, yet clear and sunny Detroit, Michigan. This was the first time I visited this city, but the second time I visited region which took place in August during the 25th Anniversary of the annual Saab Owners Convention that was held in Troy, Michigan. On that day, I took advantage of getting acclimated to the region by seeing some of the sights through a few nice tours.

xwd.jpgThe same evening, I was invited to a limited engagement, in its second year running for General Motors, called the “GM Style Event”. The GM Style Event is an “evening celebrating artistic convergence of vehicle design, fashion and music,” said Ed Welburn, the Vice President of Global Design for GM, and a graduate of Washington, D.C.‘s Howard University Design School. It was at the GM Style Event, where Saab Automobile USA showcased the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo-X, the halo vehicle for Saab Automobile’s XWD ‘Cross-Wheel Drive’, which I covered the North American Premiere back in November at the Boston Auto Show, also a great event. I enjoyed this fun-filled exciting launch event because it put this vehicle in an atmosphere where enormous coverage was had in a cross-section of media outlets that wouldn’t normally be present at an auto show. This media included Style magazine and others who clearly helped to compliment the automotive industry’s coverage of not only Saab Automobile as an automotive manufacturer, but one of their most important production launches of the new year, the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo-X.

1_200.jpgOn Saturday, January 13th, I woke up early to get to a complimentary OnStar breakfast where along with other bloggers and social media sites, we got to see some behind the scenes perspectives from their OnStar Command Center which was conveniently located in the GM Renaissan Center. At approximately 11:20am, the much anticipated and long awaited Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept Global Launch took place at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan not more than a few blocks from where the GM Renaissance Center is located. This launch signified an important milestone for the Saab Automobile brand with what it represented. The Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept identifies among all else, two systems that will be deployed in this new “crossover” segment. These systems include the recently premiered Swedish designed and engineered XWD Cross-Wheel Drive system, recently premiered in the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo-X. Secondly, the 2.0 Liter inline 4-cylinder BioPower Engine, also Swedish designed and engineered which takes into consideration the use of cellulosic ethanol (E-85).

biopower.jpgWhere the Turbo-X is touted as the halo vehicle for the Saab Automobile brand with XWD ‘Cross-Wheel Drive’, the 9-4x BioPower is being referred as the halo vehicle for E-85 in North America. This concept car as stated will become available in about 1 year’s time for purchase. Unlike previous production models launched by the Saab Automobile with the ‘x’ designation, this Saab embodies more Swedish engineering, more Scandinavian Design, more Safety, more Performance, more Utility and therefore has more Saabiness all integrated into a well planned and executed concept car. It is also important to know that this concept currently embodies approximately 85-90% of what we will see in the final production model. With this in mind, and as the recent poll that I have posted here on Saab History suggests, it appears that these figures will not be a problem as the general consensus in the Saab community appears to be giving this vehicle a warm welcome to the Saab product range as-is. It is good that Saab can now proactively compete in this segment, especially with the statistics where nearly 40% of Saab owners moved into other brands for SUV or CUV type vehicles as President of Saab Automobile AB, Jan Ã…ke Jonsson, states. This important day for Saab Automobile with the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept launch also meant that the embargo, I respected, was now officially released so I could post the complete media press kit on it.

3_300.jpgImmediately following this premiere for Saab Automobile, I began to prepare for a number of scheduled interviews on the premiere stage as well as the Saab stand whichwere pre-arranged with GM’s Social media department. Their preparation, attentiveness and hard work that day as well the following day allowed for more than a fair share of informative interviews by Saab Automobile representatives in Sweden, the United States and Germany. These interviews were quite important for many reasons, for starters, it was immediately important for face time in order for us to contextualize the people that are responsible for the direction of Saab Automobile’s future. Secondly, better understanding the what, why, when and how aspects of that direction for Saab Automobile. These interviews also provided more than I expected, in particular with some great insight reflecting into Saab’s incredible history as way to harness this past to move the brand ahead in the future. They also provided some extremely educational information about where Saab is today, namely the reasons why the Saab 9-4x BioPower was designed, how it was designed and what it means for the Saab Automobile brand. There were numerous other take-aways from these interviews that I suggest you enjoy as well at your leisure in order to form your own opinions.

The Engineers:

The first area I focused on was within the area of engineering by the chief engineer behind the entire Saab BioPower program in Sweden from the beginning, none other than Kjell ac Bergström. Kjell ac Bergström, President & CEO of Saab Automobile AB’s powertrain, illustrated the ongoing developments of this important program for Saab Automobile and their energy priorities today while also explaining the capabilities of the powertrain in the new Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept. The other engineer I met with was Kjell-Åke Eriksson who is the vehicle line director for Saab Automobile. During our interview, one of the most important take aways I had, was the fact that he describes the Saab Automobile brand today is more focused on the automobile side of things whereas during the Saab-Scania era, it had more of a focus on the industrial side with regards to heavy trucks and the aircraft industries. If we look at the technical specifications of the Saab 9-4x BioPower as a consideration, I am beginning to finally see this prioritization today.

The Designers:

4_300.jpgThe Saab Designers that were present during and available at the Saab Stand following the world premiere of the Saab 9-4x BioPower were Anthony Lo, Mark Adams, Andrew Dyson and Bryan Nesbitt respectively. I first met with Anthony Lo, who I had chatted with online a week prior to the event on a GM Next website opened up to people in the social media arena. Anthony Lo began working with Saab in 2000 and worked alongside longtime friend and colleague, Michael Mauer, Saab Automobile’s former design chief. Anthony Lo, who has had a huge run on concept car design with Saab since then, being responsible for the Saab 9-X, Saab 9-3X, Saab 9-3 Sport Hatch, Aero-X had nothing but truly positive news and inspiration for the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept. It was nice to hear in his own words, how the distinctive design elements were designed such as the newly raked 3-port fully opened grille, signature lighting in the glass-block inspired headlights & tail lights, the aircraft inspired sleek design, especially with the wrap-around windshield, c-pillars and more. Mark Adams, the VP of GM Europe Design who manages Saab’s design staff both in Russellheim as well as in other global design studios, indicated that they are well trained and have a good handle on Saab’s design philosophy thanks to the incredible nucleus that makes up the Saab Brand Center in Sweden. Mark helped to clarify how the Saab Brand Center in Sweden closely manages the design process from conception to production. This was helpful understanding the relationships in the design process. The Chief Designer of Advanced Design at the GM Europe Design Center, Andrew Dyson gave quite a bit of time to explore the design intent of the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept that he was entirely responsible for overall. His pride in the execution was clearly exhibited by the attention to detail in the walk-around exploratory style interview we did. I enjoyed the information he was able to share, but also was happy to hear that he was a Saab Enthusiast and currently drives a 1989 Saab 900 “Aero” as his daily driver. It’s good to hear that his inspiration also comes from real life experience from piloting an original classic Saab 900. The Final Designer I spent time with was Bryan Nesbitt, who I met and interviewed back in November at the Boston Auto Show. This time around, Bryan Nesbitt offered some impressive and convincing reasons why Saab chose to execute the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept and how those signature cues as he describes will be continued moving ahead in Saab’s future product offerings. The detail communicated by Bryan about how Saab was previously “invisible” in terms of brand visibility is a significant take away from this interview and it is now beginning to be quite clear to me why this new design language is the way it is, using the more prominent SAAB grille lettering as an example.

The Management:

7_300.jpgThe direction in my interviews continued into upper management of Saab Automobile as a whole, beginning with the chairperson of Saab Automobile, Carl-Peter Forster. Carl-Peter Forster is the GM Europe President as well as Chairperson for Saab Automobile and has been instrumental in drumming up financial support for the brand recently. It was great to hear what he had to say with specific mention about how support was previously directed to areas that people really did not notice or directly appreciate, and now that is changing. This was certainly good news and helpful in understanding some of the decisions over the past 5 years with the brand and the products. If we look at the current direction of Saab Automobile in Sweden as well as the United States, we see Jan-Ã…ke Jonsson as the current President of Saab Automobile AB and Steve Shannon of Saab Automobile USA. Jan-Ã…ke as well as Steve Shannon both offered their time to answer some questions with me on camera shortly after the world premiere. I first met with Jan-Ã…ke Jonsson at the 2005 Saab Festival in Trollhättan, Sweden at Folkets Park during the Saturday evening dinner after being introduced to him by former Saab Automobile USA President, Jay Spenchian. I was extremely happy to have had the opportunity to interview him during the 2008 NAIAS in Detroit, Michigan. My immediate take away from this interview is that I think the focus looks strong, directed and bright for Saab’s future looking ahead with the “right products” coming soon. My interview with Steve Shannon gave some strong indications that the new Saab 9-5 will also be launched about the same time as the production version of the Saab 9-4x does. This is truly great news for the brand and I also understand that both will be sharing similiar design characteristics, and that sounds like a great idea, given that they were both inspired by the much appreciated Saab Aero-X Concept car that continues to be showcased as the halo vehicle for Saab Automobile’s future design direction.

The Communication:

Eric Geers, the Director for Global Communications of Saab Automobile was one of my final subjects and was very excited and direct with the answers to all of my questions and for that, I am very appreciative and thankful. His Twenty One years working with Saab in multiple capacities really shows as he indicates that Saab’s past has not been consistent in their products which has translated in the way they communicate who they are. Today, be believes that the company is better focused and has prioritized their work in order to focus on consistency and clarity in the brand and image portrayed on a global scale. I think you will agree with him, after you enjoy his convincing interview with me.Roger McCormack, Saab Automobile USA’s appointed Marketing Director although newly appointed was kind enough to offer up some good information about Saab Automobile’s new plans for advertising & marketing in the United States. From this interview, it seems abundantly clear that the Born From Jets campaign will be continued, and consistency is a plus, but it will be more understated. What will be heavily communicated now, are the brand pillars in concert with the Scandinavian and Aircraft inspirations in the new advertising campaign with the new advertising agency that is working with Saab USA, McCann-Erickson. These brand pillars will be more detailed, defined and elaborated on, so that clarity and education about the new product offerings in the United States are clear to perspective customers. As Roger McCormack stated, Saab Automobile USA is now starting fresh with new eyes both internally at Saab USA and externally with McCann-Erickson on a new campaign, so this new beginning should have the most flexibility to get these advertising campaigns right. With the right products coming out such as the the 9-3 Turbo-X and Aero models with cross-wheel drive, and the BioPower vehicles also in due time, this new advertising campaign is now the most critical component of Saab Automobile’s future in the United States.

The Consumer:

5_300.jpgThis interview comes from a completely different perspective, that of one being an actual end-user of the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept by the name of Kaj Zackrisson who is a professional skier who is sponsored by the Saab-Salomon collaboration. Kaj was introduced to this particular project for Saab during the design process in order to best explore some practical utilitarian ski equipment storage solutions which really turned out quite nicely.

The Press:

The positive responses from the press & other media outlets as a result of the world premiere of the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept for Saab Automobile have been simply in support of this idea and direction.

Hear what they have to say:

“Saab Boasts BioPower for a New Crossover”
The New York Times

“This little Saab gets more powerful when running green.”CNET

“A mix of ‘road car and crossover’ technology”Autocar

The Enthusiast:

There were numerous takeaways from this world premiere of the Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept for me:

I should start by stating that as an owner of a 1992 Saab 900 Turbo 3-Door also in white, there were a lot of parallels in terms of design and technology that immediately came to my attention. These parallels consist of the following:

On Performance, both Saabs include a Swedish 2.0 Liter turbocharged engine, one that runs off of gasoline coupled with a Garret Turbocharger, the other that runs off of 85% Ethanol and includes a zero-lag Twin-Scroll Turbocharger.

On Transmission, they both have a strong transmission, one that employs a solid front-wheel drive system with ABS, the other that involves a sophisticated Swedish designed and engineered cross-wheel drive system combined with an electronic limited slip differential.

On Safety, both Saabs have airbags and safety cages but one has the third generation of the Saab Active Head Restraint System first issued in the first year of the Saab 9-5 model back in 1998.

On Utility, both use a hatchback utility function where one offers up to 56.5 cubit feet of storage and the other exceeds that.

On Design (exterior), both in white include 3-port grille, signature headlights & foglights as well as a distinctive wrap-around windshield and Saab hockeystick C-pillar design cue and that’s just the beginning. The wheels that both vehicles use are directional aluminum alloy, aircraft inspired wheels, and both are asymmetrical.

On Design (interior), the 900 and 9-4x both include similiar shapes in the cockpit inspired interior that utilize green lighting throughout, just in different interpretations, arrangements, and shades. The innovation of the ignition key location of course, continues to be strategically located in the center console just as they have done since 1969, as Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget (SAAB).

All in all, the connections between past & present with the new Saab 9-4x BioPower Concept are numerous and I am extremely delighted to welcome this new segment into the Saab Automobile brand.

I am also thankful that Saab Automobile & General Motors were able to invite me as their guest to the 2008 North American International Auto Show this year to cover this important world premiere in Detroit. I would also like to thank my all of the Saab enthusiasts that supported this effort in raising some extra funds to cover miscellaneous expenses. Of course, I also want to show my gratitude to Saab Colorado, Inc. in Denver, Colorado for sponsoring the site and helping to keep the continuity of video coverage for events like this here on Saab History.

I lastly want to thank everyone who visits this site and supports my efforts, for believing in me, the purpose of Saab History, and that a resource like this is an extremely important and integral part of continuing Saab Automobile’s history in a fun, intuitive and educational way now and into the future, for generations to come.

I hope that you have been thoroughly enjoying this content that I bring to you and that it continues in the same high quality enthusiast driven fashion that you have come to expect.

– Ryan / Saab History

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