Sunday, March 23, 2014


One of the many things Saab Cars USA marketing V-P Hans Krondahl knows is that everyone needs a gray suit. The gray-suit thing is directly applicable to the new 9-3 sedan Krondahl needs to sell. His contention is that a gray three-piece, although lacking the visual excitement of a sharkskin zoot suit, has broad appeal, is safer socially, and wouldn't scare off the most conservative shopper.

That, then, is the new Saab 9-3 sedan -- a car tailored not to offend. Krondahl can't say what color suit the current 9-3 is, but he and Saab believe it wasn't conservative enough. Company officials blame the hatchback configuration -- a Saab hallmark since the mid-'70s -- as the main culprit for less-than-thrilling sales. Current 9-3 hardtop sales in the U.S. are about 11,000 per year. That's down from the model's best year of 1986 (it was called the 900 then), when Saab sold almost 37,000. By comparison, BMW sold 61,822 3-series hardtops to U.S. customers in 1986, and last year, it sold more than 80,000 of them.

Saab contends that shoppers at the entry level of the luxury market (that includes the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, and Volvo S60) consider the hatchback the automotive equivalent of double-knit polyester. We would add that the current 9-3 is not as luxurious or sporting as those other cars, either.

Like the 9-5, which replaced the 9000 hatchback as a '99 model, the 9-3 comes only in traditional four-door, notchback garb. Saab loyalists who appreciate the uniqueness and practicality of hatches claim Saab sold out to convention. And they're right. But Saab notes the 9-5 has sales that are 70 percent better than the old 9000's. And Saab wants to more than double 9-3 hardtop sales to about 25,000 per year in the U.S.

No surprise then that the new 9-3 looks conspicuously like the wedge-shaped 9-5. It's trimmer-looking. Its bodywork appears taut. With shorter overhangs and bulging wheel arches, the 9-3 has a more tailored, more Germanic look than the overstuffed-envelope style of the current car.

Underneath the new duds is GM's Epsilon platform that the 9-3 shares with the Opel Vectra and the upcoming Chevy Malibu. Say what you will about the lack of a hatch, with this new platform the 9-3 is dramatically better in every mechanical way.

One Saab engineer compared the new car's structure to the old by saying, "It's in a whole different galaxy." That's not as much an overstatement as it sounds. Gone are most of the harsh sounds and vibrations that penetrated the current car's cabin.

The 9-3 was originally based on the GM2900 platform and subsequently changed to the GM Epsilon platform. Other vehicles based on the same platforms include the Opel Vectra and Cadillac BLS. Though the current production model of 9-3 is still based on the Epsilon platform, Saab's current owners, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, are developing the newer Phoenix platform which was conceived post GM divestiture to debut for the 2015 model year. The 9-3 is currently Saab's only model, offered as a saloon, and will be available in three different body styles: saloon, estate and convertible.

No comments:

Post a Comment