The story of the 9-3 Phoenix

February 20, 2013 in Jason Castriota Design

Saab_93_nose side copySaabsUnited can finally bring you the 9-3 prototype, designed by Jason Castriota. The first images of this car was sent to us in early august 2011, these were three blurry computer generated images that has not surfaced until february this year. Why we waited to release any images or photos until now was out of respect for the work that Jason Castriota did for SAAB and in the hopes that the car might one day actually be produced.

We have since then received a number of images and photos of varying quality. During this time we kept a very good relationship with Jason and now it seams that this car will probably never be built, however it does not mean the end of this story.


Being able to present this car to the world in the way we do here, we hope that it will gain the recognition it deserves and that it could one day lead to a situation where we can take our place behind the steering-wheel of a Saab, once again designed by Jason Castriota. Over the past 6 months I have come to know Jason well and I’ve come to greatly respect him and the work that he did. Everyone of course have different taste but when you really understand how and why a car was designed in the way that it was, you come to respect and in the end appreciate the car in a completely new way.

So the time has come for us to present the SAAB 9-3 Phoenix. Its mission, to replace the current Saab 9-3 Griffin that was in production until 2011. Shortly after Spyker took over SAAB Automobile AB, about two years ago now Jan Åke Jonsson & Victor Muller got in touch with critically acclaimed designer Jason Castriota, Jan Åke Jonsson gave Jason the mission to design a new replacement for the aging Saab 9-3, another important piece of the mission was also to reduce current design costs by as much as 40%. They met first in Geneva and then again a month later in New York.

In 2007, GM made a design study in Rüsselsheim, Germany for the replacement of SAAB’s 9-3 line. Simon Padian supervised the design language but the general work was performed in Russelsheim and Detroit where GM had placed the majority of its designers and engineering assets. This study resulted in a clay model and a number of computer models which we have presented here previously. Designing a car is a major undertaking and Saab in 2010 needed a replacement for the 9-3. The management at Saab felt that a new design language was needed in order to further separate Saab from GM.

Jason Castriota’s mission from Saab was to design a car that captured the historical roots of the company while bringing out something new that could be based on the new flexible PhoeniX-platform that Saab had developed for a couple of years. Another criteria was that everyone needed to instantly see that the car was a Saab, without looking at the logo, while at the same time feel that the car was ground breaking and new. Having these criteria in mind you can understand the difficult job Jason was given, considering the long and important history of different designs that Saab has. To keep thing simple, Jason was given free reign to create a car within certain limitations and this is what he accomplished.

Designing a car is of course in the end a compromise of what you want the car to look like given the restrictions of what the engineers can create. Jason has said in many interviews that there was a give and take, and in many ways the process was challenging but also rewarding. The design pushed the engineers to revamp the entire platform to push the wheelbase out, to tweak the aerodynamics, and to make the car more composed on the road. But in the end, the most important factor was of course something different but very elementary.

This is as close to a final version the design team got. An Aero version is being presented to the Chinese delegation from Pang Da & Youngman, May 27th  2011. ©SaabsUnited

This is as close to a final version the design team got. An Aero version is being presented to the Chinese delegation from Pang Da & Youngman, May 27th 2011. ©SaabsUnited

Early on, it was made clear to Jason and his team that time and money were vital factors. The car needed to be designed, constructed and more or less ready by the end of 2011 in order to be launched at Geneva 2012. Looking back at December 2011 when the team was still working hard on finishing the project, the car the body design and it’s related engineering was nearly completed, but the final data would not be ready until spring 2012, which meant that the car would not be completed until the fall 2012 at the earliest.  In the end the interior proved to be the largest hurdle to complete in the compressed time frame and limited budget, as significant technology and material changes kept moving the target and in turn the time necessary to finalize the design.

Normally when a car leaves the development phase and is prepared for production, it takes about 6-8 months to find out how to build the car, which parts to install when and where. SAAB used a GM virtual system which greatly decreased this phase in time and costs but given the details we’ve found out about the development stage of the car, the earliest production versions of this car wouldn’t show up until early 2014.

In September of 2010 Jason was also given the task of developing a brand new concept car that would hit at Saab’s new design language. This car also had another purpose, Saab was short on cash, in reality Saab desperately needed a financial partner and Saab needed to get eyes focused on themselves somehow. The Phoenix concept car was presented at Geneva 2011 and really caught the eyes of the world. The car ultimately ended up being one of the most talked about car by reporters from all over the world who visited the auto-show, mission accomplished. Having Saabs situation in mind gives us a better understand of why the Phoenix concept came to be, why iQon, eAAM and the ePower were all the subject of many Saab press releases ahead of when they were originally supposed to be presented.

In October 2010 the first prototypes of the 9-3 Phoenix were completed and it was placed next to a number of other design studies that were ordered including the old GM version made back in 2007. Jason’s version was picked and the design team was instructed to make a 5-Door hatch and a Convertible. Rather than develop a sedan followed by a hatch variant,  the management team decided to develop a real 5-Door hatch-back without compromise and this version then came to be the “main” version of the 9-3 Phoenix.

There were of course other development projects in progress at SAAB, one of them was the 9-5 (SC) SportsCombi which was considered vital to future of SAAB. The 9-5 SC still had issues with the electrical system and D-pillar construction which wasn’t strong enough. Another issue that engineers were busy with was the installation of an advanced rear-view camera, a component that drivers get used to very quickly and in the end rely upon and thus has to work at all times. A lot of work also went into getting a diesel into the 9-5 and 9-4x.

Due to the lack of funds which really started to show at the end of 2010, some resources were claimed to be moved from the other projects to focus on the 9-3 Phoenix, since this car was considered to be the real money maker and most important product for the Chinese market. To shift focus towards the 9-3 Phoenix was a calculated risk made by managers, obviously under great pressure to deliver but also great evidence of the confidence the management team had for the work Jason Castriota did at SAAB.

The power-plant is of course one of the key aspects of a car. The 9-3 Phoenix was to be launched with a 1,6 liter turbo engine, codenamed N47 and made by BMW. The N47 was originally a 1,6 liter 136 hp engine which was developed into a HOT engine by Saab delivering hp in the range of 200-220. This high-output engine found its way into other BMW products now in production. Since 2009 Saab had worked on a BMW two liter engine, codenamed B48 whose engine block could be used with both gasoline and diesel. A diesel engine is normally about twice as expensive to make, compared to a gasoline engine, having the same engine, with some minor change in components only, being able to work as both a gasoline and diesel engine is highly cost effective.

The work with BMW did not stop there. GM had offered to sell SAAB start-stop technology developed by GM at the price of 25 million USD, a price that was just too high. In the end BMW provided the start-stop technology to SAAB and work progressed for a significant amount of time.

Meanwhile development of the 9-3 Phoenix progressed and it was decided that the car would be launched in two versions, the Vector and the Aero. The Vector version having 17″ wheels with the option of 18″, the Aero would be shipped with 18″ and having options as high as 20″. Chromed components in the lower area of the front as well as chromed rear-view mirrors distinguished the Aero from the Vector variant. From people who have seen and worked on the vector variant, we heard that despite being the economy version of the car, it had a sense of quality that was unlike anything Saab had previously delivered and it was  equipped to a level far above what the competitors had.

During the complete design process a lot of compromises were made between engineers and designers, one of the main issues that Jason Castriota focused on was lengthen the wheelbase and shorten the over-hang (area in front of the front wheel). Some of the things Jason did not get were a brand new type of headlights and wing mirrors and thus major component sharing took place with the 9-5 as this was much more financially efficient. Even so a facelift was planned for about 2-3 years into the production phase where the 9-3 Phoenix would get the brand new type of headlights and mirrors, roughly at the same time as a facelift for the 9-5 was scheduled. Considering the timeline discussed, this would have happened in mid 2014. An overall facelift and re-design of Saab’s other products was also on the table including a new sports car called the 91 Sonnett as well as a 2+2 sports car based off the PhonieX Cocept to be called the Sonnett..

SAAB Sonnett

The new SAAB Sonnett (design-study only) ©SaabsUnited

This car was something that I know Victor Muller had dreamed about for a long time however one of the things that were not included in Saab’s business-plan. The car could become a reality if Saab had managed to establish a working partnership with Youngman and Pang Da, sadly thought that did not happen. The image on the right is one of the versions made in different design studies and in no way the final version.

All the time up to the final day SAAB Automobile AB was alive, December 19th 2011, Jason Castriota and his team were working on finishing their beautiful car and up until then, facing the reality that they were working even though the possibility of not being paid, was a real threat. In the end, Jason Castriota worked for Saab for almost two years, even though Saab failed to pay for his team’s services for the last 8 months of their efforts.   Regardless, JC and his team believed in Saab and pushed forward with their work to give the company the best chance for survival.   Along the way, they managed to establish a more cost and time efficient design process that was nearly 40% cheaper than what Saab had done before, delivered a brand new concept car,  and almost finished the 9-3 replacement and its variants.

My first impression of this car was mixed, I felt that it was something brand new and something I had to get used to. I felt the same way about the Phoenix concept car and when I think back in time, I’ve felt exactly the same way about every new car Saab has launched. Since I’ve come to appreciate and love every car that Saab has ever made I felt that this was probably a good thing. Today I’m as in love with this car as I am with any other Saab and I believe that if it would have been produced, it would have been loved by a lot of people and greatly earned it’s place as a true Saab-Saab in the history of this great brand.

Jason Castriota Saab 9-3 Phoenix

This is the prototype that was shown in october 2010. This car was made for wind-tunnel testing. ©SaabsUnited

225 responses to The story of the 9-3 Phoenix

  1. Sorry, but not my taste.

    • Give it a few months, then you’ll see! =)

      • I’d love to be able to give Saab a few months to produce the rehashed 9-3!

        Any chance any of the work on the interior would be suitable to retrofit the “current” 9-3? I think it could still work even with the old sheetmetal (perhaps with another cheap rear and front lift), but a new interior would be warranted.

      • O.k., I´ll wait and see. 😉

    • I was hoping the Phoenix front end (windshield forward) would have been incorporated in new 9-3. The wheel arches scream Acura. From what I’ve read above, a smaller NG 9-5 clone would have looked better (i.e., more Aero X styling cues).

  2. First of all, my God, thank you for this. Pure gold!!! This is absolutely smashing I can’t stop reading over and over again!

    Secondly, as a side note to the greatness of the post and your access to the inner workings of Saab during its recent history, I must say to my eyes Jason didn’t nail it any better than Simon. To me, it did not capture much of the historical roots of Saab, but quite a lot of Wartburg 311 with a sprinkle of NSU. Perhaps that’s what you get when you mix every Saab ever built, from the 92 to the latest 9-5, but it didn’t quite work out. Saab needed another step in its evolution, not a rehash of everything it ever was.

    At any rate, kudos to the teams working on such a tight budget and within such a short time frame. I hope many of this work will find its way to a new 9-3 eventually (and quickly)!

    • I echo your sentiments on this one:both as far as the design is concerned, and as far as congratulating SAAB staff for doing this on such a resource scarcity.

  3. I have a feeling this car would look much better in anything but the silver/white we have seen. Once I read somewhere that Saabs were designed specifically to look best in dark colors…

    Not sure how I feel about it at the moment; I like certain things and I do not like other things. However, I will say I prefer the previous 9-3. I think the 2003 and 2008 designs will eventually go down as two of Saab’s best-ever mainly for their exemplary overall cohesiveness. This design is nowhere near as refined. But let’s see more of that Sonnett!!!

  4. I don’t know…Maybe after seeing it live I could appreciate it.
    I remember that my reaction to the NG 9-5 prior to seeing it was good but not great, and that changed quickly :)

  5. Thanks Tim!
    The design could have been worse, BUT:
    The MOST important SAAB-design-heritage to be followed up in new interpretations in new models is the “one-line-design”, where you can capture the whole body in one continuous line from the front of the rounded bonnet, along the under-edge of side-windows following the hockey-stick going forwards again following the roof-line, the rounded front of the roof, backwards on the other side, down the “hockey-stick and forwards to the front of the rounded bonnet again…
    JC seems to have captured that in the roof-line and in the shape of the wind-shield/front-window. – But why in the H… is he destroying it in the bonnet-lines and head-lights?????

    Besides that, I find it a little to heavy and to common/un-original for a SAAB.

    • So true! The “one-line-design” is the single most import design “element” of a SAAB.

    • I decided give it some time to sink in before commenting. In the end I came to the conclusion that you phased it the optimum way. I really appreciate that JC is willing to share his work. However, that design simply wasn’t good enough given the challenge/struggle SAAB had at that point. There are a lot of good details but overall I am quite disappointed.

    • It looks bloated and incoherant (spell check). Not at all Saabish design, somethings just wrong. It would have had to be one hell of a car underneath the ‘skin’ to eaven consider buying this…

  6. An amazing story! The wheelbase seems really long, which probably translates into lots of interior space. The proportions look a little odd to my eyes and the rear looks kind of grafted-on. But as someone else said, the NG 9-5 didn’t look so hot in initial photos either but is gorgeous in person. (Particularly the stillborn wagon. :-( )

    What happened to the prototype, was it destroyed?

    • It’s locked away at SAAB in Trollhättan. It’s owned by Jason Castriota…

      • But if the car is owned by Jason, why would he leave it on SAAB’s property if it is not to be used for anything constructive…

      • First of all, thank you SU for bringing us this kind of content. Good job!

        I don’t hate it! Maybe I would if it was about to be launched, but since we are where we are, there’s no point in hating/being worried.

        There are certainly parts that I like, but I can’t help thinking that is mostly due to some of the Saab cues and the fact that it’s a hatch back.

        While really great designs often feel weird at first (the OG900 is a real WTF design, but a design so many of us absolutely adore), I don’t think this one would improve much over time. There are just too many different visual elements and ideas going on, and it just doesn’t work. To quote Jeremy Clarkson (speaking about the 2002 Nissa Micra)…

        “Stop designing it, man! Step away from the CAD/CAM unit! You’re finished! That’s enough design elements for one car!”

        Just like the hideous Nissan Juke, Castriota’s 9-3 makes me think of the folded paper drawing game I played in my childhood. Apparently it’s called Exquisite Corpse in English.

        The 9-3 is nowhere near as hideous as the Juke, but Nissan doesn’t have a vital design language to squander.

  7. Good Job.

  8. Thanks, Tim! Not sure what to think – maybe it’s the angle, may it’s the color… But definitely interesting reading.

    • BTW, where did you get all that information from? If it was confidential, does it mean it’s not anymore, and if that is the case, this means that will never be produced. So we can expect a better one 😉

  9. Better than the first picture we saw a few weeks back but it’s not screaming Saab at me. Saab ‘invented’ the blacked out A-pillar but Skoda ran off with it. I reckon Simon Padian’s 2008 rendering was much more Saab like as it was a more cohesive design. Having said that, JC was pushed hard to get this out quickly. Id love to see more.

  10. So far, I have been rather critical of Jason Castriota’s designs, including the Phoenix. But I have to say that aside from the apparently unavoidable muscle car hood (no, there is no big nozzle carburator on a logitudinally mounted engine below that bulb on the hood ;-), and tell me why I don’t like retro…), from the images, I like the design. Is it Scandinavian? Not sure. Does it have Saab heritage? Don’t care (which about should cover the Saab spirit of staying progressive)…

  11. I like it! I also liked Simon’s visions..

    But Why oh why did it come to this? It was going to be rushed, and to please the chinese, and to a cost as well….

    but there are so many ifs – if the NG9-5 was launched as it was supposed to be in 2005-6, if Padian’s 9-3 saw the light of day in 2008/9, instead of supporting Opel and investing on bringing Cadillac and Chevrolet to europe in order to cannibalise Opel/Vauxhall/Saab sales…

  12. That is one hell of an ugly car. Im quite glad it didnt see the light of day 😕

  13. I remember SWADE’s advices:
    1. Keep calm and carry on
    2. Let’s see the car in reality, in »flesh«
    At first sight not my kind of Saab, but let’s see…

  14. Thank you Tim for the many new insights. I especially appreciated the new info regarding development of the BMW engines.
    I am hoping, however, that NEVS finds a remarkable new body language for Saab, rather than trying to incorporate old design cues. It’s time for a design reboot.

  15. Greatest Post I’ve ever read on Saabsunited! Of course the preciousness of the information inside is also paramount.

    Well, about the car, well. I might say, it’s better than I suspected from leaked info here and there.. But it’s not as good as I would like the next 9-3 to be. Yes I rate the Simon Padian version much higher, I think it would’ve been much closer to the real deal!!!

  16. Terrible, I don’t like it at all!

  17. Overall, I really like this design. I might have tried to round off/smooth out the end of the roofline (top of the C pillar) to give it more of a “bubble” look like the Saabs from the 1960s. Also, might have smoothed out some of the sharp creases on the body. But I have to say, once again, I’m startled by the hate some are showing for this—-I definitely think it identifies itself as a Saab—-and is handsome, with an agressive stance and what appears to be a very efficient use of space from what I can tell. I’m sure, as stated by Patrik, this would look better in some other colors. I’m not even sure they would need to be dark colors—-but bright, non-metallics would do this justice.

  18. It’s amazing that the whole front end of the car is in two pieces: a massive hood that curls over on top of the fenders and a huge, integrated bumper/fender module. I’d have to see it in the flesh to make final judgement but I’m sure another color other than silver would give it a different light. The 9-3 really lacked rear leg room and hopefully that will be addressed. The 9-5 Carve wheels look better than the turbine wheels IMHO. Nice work Jason!

  19. I must say I have fairly mixed impressions from what we’ve seen so far, but I prefer the nose to the gaping fish mouth look that we got from Lo/Padian GM era designs. I’d really like to see it in a purer 3 door hatch/coupe form it might grow on me more.

  20. Not sure I really LOVE this design. Perhaps I had built up my expectations for so long that I just hoped that it was going to blow my pants off with excitement. I feel the front end is nice enough in that the front end takes cues from the PhoeniX concept, but the headlights don’t look “mean” enough. Same with the body lines from the front doors back through to the trunk. I was hoping for a little “stronger” or “meaner/sportier” design to come forth. The back 1/2 of the car is too “soft”. All cars can look different in person, of course, but I just don’t think this was the “home run” that SAAB needed to survive…

  21. Nobody pointed out yet, the wing mirrors seem to be painted the wrong way – upside down goes the ‘official’ line as introduced on ng 9-5. Which, btw, made a lot of sense to me, while this middle-brow painting standard – that’s prevalent across the auto industry – coloured top, black bottom – does not.

  22. Beautiful to look at, but will it ever happen? With our two Saabs, 09 9-5 and 04 9-3 doing great at 60K miles and 110K miles respectively, we’re not in the market for a while, but when we are, I’m very skeptical that there will be a NEVS Saab that fits our needs. I’m skeptical that an electric solution with sufficient infrastructure to support electric vehicles in the U.S. will make sense. And I’m skeptical that the market for electric will have developed sufficiently to bring prices down to reality. It’s really a shame that GM had to block the Youngman / Pang Da deal.

    • Marc: GM viewed Youngman as a threat in China. I believe Youngman could have done more with Saab, worldwide, than NEVS. And I believe Mahindra would have done more than Youngman! I hope NEVS proves me wrong. My only hope is that NEVS will build the 9-3 with ICEs and will learn in a few years that at least the short term future will include far more opportunity in ICE than EV. Then, maybe they’ll pursue some options beyond EVs—-maybe hybrids or out and out gas engines. Hey—-that little hump on the hood of this design—-HMMMMMMMMMM…..could it be room for a Wankle???!!!

  23. A picture from the backend please! 😉

  24. boy, am I glad they didn’t take this one in production.

  25. Are the front fenders and the bumper actually one piece? What were they made of? Plastic? Composite?

    Does anybody know?

  26. not sure what to think but when the new 93 combi came i did not like the trunk design but now i love it. looks like a small 9-5 ng with a twist. hope the the new saab 93 will look even better. :) :)

    • agree: you need to see the new 9-5 in order to fully appreciate the design.
      And driving the car is feeling in heaven :)

      • I agree, I love my 9-5ng and I think this 9-3 would do it for me too.
        Why are so many of you afraid of change, EV, new design, … nothing
        seems to be good enough to be compared with the Saab of the past.
        Look at the future with an open mind and give Nevs a chance to succeed.

  27. There’s too much visually going on at the front, especially combined with the sides that have not much going on.

  28. Cannot see why this one could not become a nice Saab?
    And this with a 40% reduction in building cost; finally a Saab which can contribute to a sound margin.
    Congratulations to the team which developped this test model.

    • It wasn’t a 40% reduction in building cost, it was a 40% reduction in design and development costs…

      • Sorry, must have understood that wrongly.
        Thanks for pointing this out.

      • Tim – just a question: what are the normal narratives in terms of new vehicle development costs – I read a few years back when PAG (Premier Automotive Group) part of Volvo developed the new Ford Mondeo, the development costs was north of USD 5 billion? Can you put a figure what this was for the Phoenix 9-3?

        • I’ve heard numbers for the New 9-5 at around 3,5 – 4 billion Euro. The 9-3 Phoenix should be 40% cheaper…

          • Thanks. So, let us assume development costs was 3.75 billion Euro. To break even, they would have to produce (all things considered and the bean counters having their field day) in its entire development run (say 5 years at a stretch) +_120’000 9-3s and sell all variants at a minimum cost price of? I am just scratching my head in terms of break-even just to allude to Jason’s response.

            • what I meant is that R&D is always factored into a price for a car because you don’t really make money until you have sold enough cars to pay for that. With the R&D costs being down by almost 40%, you would be in a good position for a new model and one that many manufacturers would love to be in because you could start to make money at a faster rate because you wouldn’t have as much to factor into the cost of making such a car. 40% is huge.

              • Also keep in mind a lot of the development cost was for the flexible platform to underpin all other models above the car.

                • which would have then made those cars in even a better cost stand point too, right? I think this way of thinking from an R&D/Production point is the way to really keep your cost in line and would help for a successful future for any brand if they have a platform that can be that flexible.

      • would still bring down the overall cost of the car (manufacturer costs) though would it not because R&D is usually accounted for in the price of the end cars price? May have helped in the break even point for Saab too.

  29. Bumper & fenders are one, also in the production version? A crash will be extra costly, then.

  30. This would not have been the car that saved Saab. In comparison, the car shown at the NY motor show was much more interesting and cohesive. This car would be at home on Chinese roads, where there are many home-grown models that look equally uninspiring. Sorry, I had higher hopes of a real break-through design.

  31. No no no. It looks like youve tried to squeeze in new design elements into an old car model.
    It looks very much like SsangYong try to me.
    Sorry Jason. You did better on the Phoenix concept.
    Time wont help it.
    And it wouldnt have helped Saab.

  32. But what about the car on the left in “JC-SAAB-9-3-Phoenix-1″?
    Its not the same model as one can see on the bumper.

    • “JC-SAAB-9-3-Phoenix-1.jpg” is the pic in the end of the article.
      On the left you see the rear of another car, and the line dividing the plastic bumper from the netal body is different from the 9-3 You see the whole of.
      Another prototype with an other touch s t s.

  33. First impression: That’s one ugly car!
    Second impression: a too big mashup of different Saab design features and contemporary designs (like these stupid flat wheel arcs)
    Third impression: Crap, it looks like all these frumpy sub-compact US sedan versions of hatchbacks.

    Sorry, I didn’t like the Phoenix concept too much, but at least it had presence and a certain sleekness. This Phoenix 9-3 is frumpy, compressed and, for me, there is something completely wrong with the proportions.

    • Unfortunately, I have to agree with everything you say.

    • +1

      sadly a rather poor effort – someone else mentioned the old NSU – similar awkward proportions, poor stance, falling away rear end, Peugoet 504 anyone? Not a Saab in any way I can see other than the ‘new’ 9-5 square glass in front end. Really glad this didnt go forwad as it is NO contender for A4/C class/Passat. Just ‘another’ dull generic saloon car.

      Really shockingly poor.

      • +1
        Compare with the new Alfa Romeo 4C = instant love.

        • And the Alfa is coming to the US in 2014!
          Unfortunately I got a mid-engined sports car already, otherwise…….
          Aaah, when the Spider version comes out I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist anymore!

  34. At the risk of being slated by Angelo as another contributor to the “Hate” responses, I can honestly say that I cannot warm to this JC version.

    One of the important aspects he was tageted with ‘to reduce the overhang’ is so absent on the front where this appears to be the reverse.

    Sorry guys but every new SAAB design has taken me with it albeit just a few reservations but this looks so ordinary that it could be any mainstream Eastern Block car or as mentioned earlier quite at home in China.

    I will persevere with revisiting the pics but I feel this is a lost cause.

    • Wow—-like Chinese water torture (no pun intended), you guys wouldn’t let up until you ruined this for me. When I first saw the car, I was very happy—-thought it was a great design that would have made an excellent 9-3. But your last line did me in (“I will persevere with revisiting the pics but I feel this is a lost cause.”). I decided to have another look just to prove you wrong—-but something awful happened. In this car, I saw the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx from a few years back. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the Malibu Maxx—-but my mission was to refute other comments here about how this design is generic. I was going to make the point that it didn’t remind me of other cars—-and then it hit me in the face like a sledgehammer that the Malibu Maxx (and God knows what other pedestrian cars) look to be in the design DNA of this still born Saab. Oh how I hope this passes—-it’s like a bad dream. Thanks a lot Alastair.

      • Funny… I was just about to post in reply to GerritN above, when he said it looked like a ” …frumpy sub-compact US sedan versions of hatchbacks,” that the Chevy Malibu instantly popped into my mind.

        Granted the SAAB looks better than
        but still – it leaves a lot to be desired.

      • Same thing here. Saab’s usually takes a while to get use to because of the, at the first glance, odd quirky designs. Then you start to love those things. This is not odd nor quirky. This reminds me of a typical mainstream car without a soul. The headlights does not look back at me like a SAAB should. The SAAB eyes :)

      • There’s a lot there, but it just does not jell into a cohesive whole. I’m even seeing touches that seem reminiscent of old AMC show cars and prototypes! A factor is probably that the design was done under very restrictive time and money constraints.

        • Old AMC cars and prototypes suit me just fine. That was a company that actually was a lot like NEVS/Saab—-they had a comparatively very small budget and had to compete with much better financed and larger companies by outflanking them. They also found ways to offer a lot of car in smaller packages—-and value for the dollar.

          • Same here, seeing a hint of AMC was not a complaint — we have several old AMC cars. :-)

            Although I am sure it was not anything like Saab’s modular Phoenix technology, AMC was a master at spinning different models out of the same parts bin at minimal cost. (In the mid-1960s all of their cars were built on the same basic platform and shared as many components under the skin as possible.) Unfortunately the company made several mistakes as time went on which ultimately sunk them. A small car manufacturer cannot afford product goofs — and AMC was much larger than Saab, selling on the order of 500,000 cars per year during their peak.

            • AMC’s fortunes took a bad hit with the Pacer. When you think about it—-the Pacer was a revolutionary car. As I recall, one door was wider than the other—-the car itself was quite wide for its length—-and the styling was unlike anything else. The problem with the Pacer was poor fuel economy (And ironically—-I seem to recall that GM had promised engines to AMC for the project, then bailed out—-and AMC was forced to use an in-house engine that was never meant for the Pacer, at the last minute. GM always seems to have their hand in other car companies’ problems, don’t they?). Anyway, the small exterior size but big interior was great—-the car was easy to park but large inside. People say it offered a great ride for its wheelbase size. But the attraction for going small would be fuel economy—-and that was lousy. I think the large expanse of glass added a lot of weight. The station wagon version, which was introduced later, was a better looking car in my opinion. But I at least hand it to AMC for a great try.

              • The failure of the Pacer was definitely a factor in AMCs demise. At a deeper level, when George Romney ran the company he led a very public attack on what he termed the “gas guzzling dinosaurs” of the Big 3, and moved the company into specializing in smaller, more economical cars all sharing the same platform. Romney knew that he could not compete against the larger manufacturers on their own turf and could not afford multiple platforms for different models. (By the 1964 model year the small Rambler American used the same chassis as the larger Classic and Ambasador, shortened and narrowed, and even shared the same doors!)

                This strategy went down the drain when Romney left for politics, as his successor (Roy Abernethy) was a “big car” guy who tried to take Chevy, Ford, and Plymouth head-on, with predictably disastrous results. By 1967 the shared platform concept and focus on small, economical cars was gone and the company nearly disappeared at that point as well. A string of product goofs (Marlin, Matador Coupe, Pacer) drained scarce development funds that in hindsight would have been better spent updating their core compact models and developing more up-to-date technology.

                There are a lot more details of course, but this is not an AMC website…

                • The Javelin was a beautiful car though. I especially liked the larger ones at the end of the run—-beautiful lines and in my opinion, styling that holds up very well even today.

                  • Yes, the Javelins are very nice, though I’d love to have an AMX 2-seater myself. Those are pretty much the only AMC vehicles that today go for big bucks.

            • Jersey: Hey, we’re actually on topic here. From Wikipedia:

              “AMC Pacers were converted to plug-in electric vehicles.

              Electric Vehicle Associates (EVA) was best known for its Change of Pace models a built- to-order adaptation of the Pacer that was priced at $12,360 in 1978. The company converted well over 100 units. First available in the sedan version, power came from eighteen 6-volt lead–acid batteries to a 15 kW series DC motor with a three-speed automatic transmission. The EVA Change of Pace sedan weighed 3,990 lb (1,810 kg) and reached 55 miles per hour (89 km/h) with a 53-mile (85 km) range.

              Later, a wagon version had twenty batteries housed in two-packs (front and rear), with a 26 kW (at 3,000 rpm) motor, and the car was complete in every detail down to a gas heater. The electric Pacer wagon was one of the more expensive cars at $14,000. The Lead Industry Association (LIA) sponsored a tour for government and industry officials that featured an EVA Pacer wagon. Consolidated Edison in New York City purchased 40 modified AMC Pacers from EVA. The United States Army also included EVA Pacers in its inventory of special purpose electric vehicles.

              A video documentary about the Electric Vehicle Association’s electric Pacers is titled “A change of Pace.”

              • In 1968 AMC developed the Armitron, a small electric commuter concept car powered by lithium-nickel batteries.

                There were also some Hornet electric conversions, I forget the name of the company that made them but do remember a garage in Eatontown NJ selling them for a while in the 1970s.

  35. I’m sure that with another colour, it would look better.
    This grey is so sad.

  36. So, I have looked at this for awhile now. My primary objections: the bulb in the hood (Saab: “if it is not functional, it cannot be beautiful”), awkward fog light aesthetics (the ones on the 2012 Griffin are just about perfect), and lack of that classic, strong, wedge-shaped body. I would like to see a better detail of the headlights and also of the rear end. For me, the C-pillar treatment is just too weak for a Saab. Something just seems amiss. Either give it a stronger hatchback profile or a better C-pillar. Or both!

    However, I love the “wing” extensions going into the headlights–probably this car’s best design detail. It is obvious this car’s design budget was cut by 40%. I think JC was onto something great but at the end of the day, Saab simply didn’t have the money or the time.

    • The bulb in the hood was for the eventual introduction of a Wankle Rotary engine. That was if Saab would partner with Mazda.

  37. Great story, thanks very much Tim for sharing it with us all.

    I admit the pics of this don’t excite me. Albeit knowing that many cars look better in person than in pictures. My opinion is that it looks “generic” and the front fascia (one of the most characteristic parts of *any* Saab) may pass for a number of different cars, perhaps Euro NCAP pedestrian-collision regulations and aerodynamics finally caught up to Saab and forcing its designs to look more and more like other marques. My $0.25.

    At any rate, I do look forward to the Saab story continuing in the next 1-3 years, a lot of exciting changes ahead I’m sure.

  38. I can only imagine that GM never saw this car, since they recognised Saab as some kind of threat…

  39. im not impressed

  40. No, the 1.6 was named N18, a version of the 1,6 mini/bmw engine.
    The 2.0 bmw diesel was n47, it was however scrapped either due to bmw not willing to deliver more powerful versions or bmw could not supply enough due to high demand ad not enough volume in factories.
    In the last months we were working with another supplier of diesel engine.

  41. Would have loved if you shared a picture of the rear, it was imho very nice.

  42. I find it somewhat amusing that a lot of the negative comments here have to do with just two photos that I expect are not even the best angles on this design. Remember when the early photos of the new 9-5 sedan first appeared on SU? They were at similar angles and there was a lot of negativity on the design. I think those early photos were in a gold color also which was not nearly as striking as the Fjord Blue model we saw soon after. Once people started seeing the new 9-5 in person, almost all agreed it was a very handsome design.

    It is bittersweet to see these photos as everything I heard about this new 9-3 (5-door hatch, eAAM, the new iQon system, etc.) convinced me it would be my next new Saab to replace my 2000 9-3. After seeing these photos, I think I would have liked it…seeing it in person in various colors and comparing the Vector and Aero trims. Alas, I will not have the chance to test drive and own one.

    • I just hope we in the U.S. have a chance to test drive SOME new Saab, someday. NEVS needs to kick it into high gear.

    • But, if it looks so poor from those angles, then it is poor, sorry, but these are pretty good angles for any other Saab I can think of – if these are awkward, then the design does not work.

      • Agree completely. If the final production version was more polished, perhaps. But the lines and proportions just don’t quite work for me. I think my 2006 9-3 Aero is a much more beautiful, classic design, with an overall cohesiveness (albeit without a hatch, if you’re a Saab purist)… This car does not flow correctly from these photos. The front grille looks like a cheap remake of numerous Chevy grilles already out there. I certainly DON’T want my Saab grille to look like a GM product… Where’s the sharpness? The sportiness? The “wow” factor? The PhoeniX concept had such strong, muscular, but flowing lines in it that were captivating to me: Other than the bulges in the hood, this has none of that flare, that boldness, that would be required to draw new Saab customers in with the old. I’m just a bit dissapointed. I’m hoping there is/was more to it than what we are seeing here. With all due respect to Jason Castriota, perhaps budget restraints are the reason for a watered down product. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, due to his eagerness and dedication to bring a new Saab product into the future. I’m guessing he worked harder than what we are seeing here…

  43. I sense that some of the odd lines would have been cleaned up in a production ready model. That said, I think the rear doors visually hurt the line of the car. Much like the original NG900, I think a three-door version would look better. (I believe the subtle changes that led to the G1 9-3 fixed that, making the 5-door nearly as handsome.)

    The more I look at it, the more it looks like a smaller Panamera (sadly, not in a good way).

    I wonder though, assuming Phoenix (at least in this guise) is dead, have these examples been destroyed? If not, I wonder what chance their might be of getting them into the museum. It’d be a shame if they’re still extant for them to languish in a store room when their story could be told in the museum.

    • I agree that a 3-door version would be a better representation of the
      design language.

      • I generally like the looks of a three door version also…in most any hatchback Saab, but if the hatchback is your main daily driver (as mine is) the three door version just does not work in some cases as it is inconvenient to ask passengers to crawl into the back seat…especially older parents. :-) So, I enjoy the 5-door version.

        • Oh maanders, I don’t disagree about the practicality/usability of the 5-door. Heck, my 9-3 was a 5-door for all the same reasons. I’m simply saying that this particular example suffers from being a 5-door in the same way that the Porsche Panamera suffers from being (visually) a 5-door 911.

  44. I can see some influence from 99 hatch in this design.

  45. JC tried to make a 2013-version of the 5-door 900 Classic.

    he failed.

  46. Well, it would have needed some finalizing, indeed. Looks a bit too small for me – not a middle class car, rather a compact model… Proportions are not bad, but the front should have been more agressive in order to compete with BMW or the like. Can’t wait to see NEVS attempt to bring back some of the SAAB DNA we are all longing for. Cudos to JC, anyway.

  47. Sorry but I don’t like it.. at all.. at least from these pictures:-(

  48. I’d drive it in a heartbeat. I’m a sucker for saab hatchbacks. Sign me up for a 6 speed manual Aero!

  49. More pics, crew? Rear pls? Any testimony from JC himself?