Part 3 – Interview with Simon Padian from Saab Design

A few weeks ago in Frankfurt, I was fortunate enough to sit down (in a Saab 9-3x) and have a good long chat with Simon Padian about all things to do with Saab Design. We covered a lot of different subjects over the course of around 45 minutes and this is the second part of that interview.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Simon Padian
Again, my thanks to Simon for the interview and insights. This is the final part in a three-part transcription.

Saabs United: What was the first Saab you ever drove?
Simon Padian: Let’s see…..the first Saab I ever drove?
SU: Was it prior to you starting with Saab?
SP: I don’t think I ever drove one before I started at Saab, no. I’d been in Saabs before I worked for them but I don’t think I’d ever driven one, thinking back. Or did I? Yes, yes I did. The first one I ever drove was a 99. It was about a year or 18 months before I came to work at Saab. I didn’t own it. It belonged to a friend, but that was the first one.
SU: Was it a turbo?
SP: No. It wasn’t.
SU: I’ve just bought one so I’ve got turbo fever.
SP: Inca wheels?
SU: Yeah, with a spare set of Incas to go with it.
SP: Fantastic!
A bit more crapping on from me about 99 Turbos……
SU: So, the 9-5…… We’ve heard the press talk, that’s it 80% Swedish. We’ve come to accept that it’s a conglomeration between Sweden and Germany, but what was the main focus of the Swedish work?
SP: Well we’ve been involved with the car right from the start, of course. The main focus for us, in location terms, was probably the interior. That was developed, physically, in Sweden. Bus as I said, we’ve been involved throughout the whole process. Being part of the GME (GM Europe) design organisation, and it’s been a large project, so [head of GME Design] Mark Adams has been the person overseeing the project in its entirety.
SU: Do you tend to put more emphasis, personally – whether it comes down to the ownership experience or driving experience or just getting attached to the car – do you tend to think more in terms of exterior or interior?

SP: I think probably still exterior. This is always one of those strange things with cars. Because when you’re driving it you don’t see the exterior unless you drive it past a shiny shop window, but the exterior is the thing that draws you to the car. That’s where you get the first emotional response and either get the feeling or not. And then you sit in the interior…. and unfortunately it still seems to be a case where people ask themselves “Can I live with this interior?” rather than opening the door and thinking ‘Wow! Cool! This is going to make me buy the car!’ You decide to buy the car on the exterior, and then you think ‘ah well, I can put up with this interior’
SU: That’s a pretty fair train of thought, actually. I’m more of an interior person, myself, and I always make sure that I can live with the interior. It’s got to be comfortable and I’ve got to like the materials, etc, which is why I’m so rapt with the 9-5 interior, especially the panelling [on the dash area]. When I first saw the 9-4x I really loved the interior in that car, so I was glad to see the themes from that carried over into a production car.
SP: So you could make a decision on the interior and put up with the exterior?
SU: I would still have to like the outside. You can always see the outside and I don’t think there’s a car where I’ve seen the inside first. But if I saw a really attractive exterior design with an interior that I just couldn’t live with, then I’d leave it.
SP: It would be great, actually, to design an interior which sold the car, where just for a change the thing everyone was talking about was the interior. But it just doesn’t happen that way.
SU: Let’s go back a little bit…. sorry for switching back and forth between old and new stuff….. I’ve heard that with the 9-3 range, when the sports sedan came out, that there was a range of vehicles..
SP: Yeah..
SU: Which included a three door hatch…..
SP: Yeah…..that’s true
SU: Which was canned?
SP: Yes…..
SU: No market for it, or…….?
SP: Very often when you look at a new range and you’ve got all these different proposals…… You’re right, when we did the current 9-3 generation, or at least when it started, there was a three-door hatch, we had a coupe, all different things. Some of them got further down the line than others. Some existed only as a design study, maybe a full-size clay model and that was it, where other ones actually got quite a bit of work done on them before we stopped. It’s difficult to say if it was because of the market. More likely due to financial constraints. You get to a point where you say “This is a good look now, this will sell us X amount of units BUT it’s going to cost this much.” Maybe the business case wouldn’t support it, or the business case was good but it would take X amount of investment, which was not available. It’s quite complicated.
SU: All the enterprising Saab enthusiasts out there who have photoshop skills have gone ahead and photoshopped one, and they looks absolutely fantastic. Did the [clay] model that ended up getting made look good?
SP: It looked good, yeah. Absolutely.
SU: So I asked you yesterday and now we’re on record, I’ll ask you again – the hatch?
SP: Smiles knowingly….
SU: Well, it’s some thing that Saab people really love and it’s something that’s coming back. I was over at the BMW stand this morning and you’ve got the GT with a big thumping hatch on it…..
SP: ….the A5….
SU: Yes….
SP: Well, as I said, there’s always different studies, different proposals, different groups, but put it this way, it’s certainly something that we’re looking at.
SU: For the 9-5 and the 9-3?
SP: Well, if we’re talking 9-3 then yeah, we’re looking at that. That’s not to say one way or the other, but at least to give the indication that yes, that’s on the cards currently.
SU: Well, tell the people that make decisions that we want it!
SP: Laughs….
SU: We do! I get it all the time. When I posted an entry on the site prior to coming here inviting people to ask their questions, the one that kept coming up was “where’s the hatch?” – probably 10 different times out of 100 questions.
SP: Well, the market’s changing. More hatches out there. The difference, of course, is that what the competition’s doing is they’re filling in products. They’ve got a sedan, a coupe, a convertible, a wagon. What’s the thing they haven’t got? A hatch…..
SU: And BMW are creating their own niches, supposedly….
SP: Well, they’ve got so many different versions of their products, so many iterations, whereas with Saab it’s a different story because we can’t say “the next 9-3 is going to come out in eight different body styles” because it’s not realistic for the size of the company. So we’ve got to pick the right ones. And that’s obviously where all the interesting discussion starts.
SU: Tell them we want a hatch…… In the new structure, who’s going to make those decisions to proceed or to kill cars? Is that the Koenigsegg Group, or ….
SP: I’m sure they’re going to be key players when it comes to strategic decisions, together with the leadership that we’ve got here. But it’s early days and we need to see what happens when the deal’s finally signed on the dotted line. But from what we’ve seen so far is that they’re really engaged, really motivated …. they’re not going to be taking a back seat.
SU: …which leads me to the next thing I was going to ask about. One of your new owners is a designer himself. What about the role that I imagine he’s already starting to play?
SP: He’s getting involved. He’s finding out how we work. He’s finding out what we can do. He’s testing ideas.
SU: He’s reputed to be very much a ‘can-do’ type, very involved…
SP: Absolutely. He’s a very energetic, very dynamic person. He doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer until he really realises, well, until it’s proven that something can’t be done. He’s very entreneurial, very innovative, open to any way of thinking. Which is great, because it’s a real boost because we got a little process-driven and now we’ve got someone coming in – all of them really – who tear up the rule books and say “let’s be dynamic. We can do things quickly if they’re right. Anything’s possible” – and it’s a real breath of fresh air.
Again, I’d like to put on record my thanks to Simon Padian for what turned out to be a fascinating and very enjoyable conversation.
Saab are fortunate to have him and his kind around the company – smart, talented and committed.
I hope you enjoyed the interview.

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