An open letter to the designers of the next Saab 9-3

I’ve written plenty of open letters to GM, to Saab and to various other parties over the last few years, and it’s in the spirit of those open letters that this open letter was sent to me for possible publication here.
I’m quite pleased to present it here as it makes a proposition many of us think about, occasionally comment on, but not always in such a comprehensive manner.
You could almost sum it up with four words – Bring Back The Hatch – but that’s incomplete, isn’t it? It doesn’t give the why, that particular point of difference that made Saabs what they were.
My thanks to Mark C, a regular here at SU (and a fellow Monte owner) for sending it in.

Mark C.
Whilst I possibly don’t need to state the obvious, I will. The next generation 9-3 has to be the single most important objective for the new Saab.
Yes the new 9-5 is very important and to a lesser extent the 9-4x will be important too (especially for the US market), but the 9-3 is still Saab’s ‘bread and butter’ model and the company’s very existence depends on it. These new models and the 9-3x will give Saab some breathing space, but they absolutely have to follow these cars up with a replacement for their most important model.
I’m sure even Saab would agree that a lot of mistakes were made with the NG900, the OG9-3 and the 9-3SS.
I’m not pointing the finger at Saab because it’s become apparent over the past twelve months what Saab has had to deal with every time they tried to bring a new car to market. With the number of compromises they had to make and the setbacks they had to endure, it’s heartening to know that Saab still builds cars!
The next gen 9-3 will have a lot of weight riding on its shoulders, because whether it works or doesn’t work, will largely determine Saab’s continued existence. That’s probably putting it bluntly, but I think it’s an accurate assumption. If Saab get this car wrong, they possibly won’t survive.
Simply put, the next gen 9-3 has to be a resounding success or there might never be another.
To come up with a successful design for the new 9-3, I think Saab needs to go back and examine their iconic 99 and C900 models. They needs to look at those cars and define what worked and what didn’t work. What made the 900 turbo a valid alternative to a BMW and why did people choose to buy the Saab instead? They then need to look at what went wrong with NG900, the OG9-3 and the 9-3SS and try and formulate a plan for a new car.
My own brief analysis of the cars:
99/99 turbo: Individual and exceptional praticality (especially hatch versions) but even in it’s day, a little old fashioned. But that probably added to the quirkiness!
C900 turbo: Great performance and strength and the same practicality but was becoming dated especially in it’s mechanics.
NG900: Still practical but perhaps not as practical as the C900? Very average platform that was never intended for a premium car.
OG9-3: Saab improved the platform as much as it could, but was still lacking especially noticeable on performance models. But still a much improved car.
9-3SS: Good platform and mechanics. Unfortunately no hatchback option. A bit too ‘ordinary’ for many of us.
A brief aside, just imagine a 3 door Viggen on a Turbo-X platfrom. I’m sure something like that would’ve sold like hotcakes.
Anyway, I think that Saab needs to be able to take the best ingredients and best selling points of the 99/C900 and also the later cars and then using the latest standards of space efficiency, safety and weight savings etc. use this as a plan for a new 9-3. I’m not saying that it has to be a 21st century clone of a 99 or a C900, but modern day take of that idea might work, after all it has worked rather well with the Mini for BMW.
You might say that Saab should try going in a totally different direction with the new 9-3, but I think would be very risky and probably a risk that Saab can’t afford to take. Instead, Saab needs to build the kind of car they know how to build and the kind of car that their fans want. This time unshackled by GM.
My single biggest disappointment with Saab was the 9-3SS. After seeing the 9-X and the 9-3X Crossover Coupe, I had such high expectations for the OG9-3 replacement and the 9-3SS was such a let down. It seemed so ordinary.
Please Saab, don’t let that happen again.

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