Autocar Report: Saab developing all new platform

A report from Autocar says that Saab will be scrapping it’s existing Epsilon 9-3 platform in favor of an entirely “new” platform. To be fair, Saab has said that it was a heavily revised Epsilon platform that would become the Phoenix architecture, but recently we’ve been hearing comments from executives saying that it would be an “all new modular architecture.”

I’d actually like to go back and really take note of Jan Ake’s speech from Geneva, and some of his comments. He highlighted how important distribution was, but also the new Phoenix platform. Starting at around 3:13 of the conference video:

“Seldom have we been able here in Geneva to present so many new products as we’re doing today…2012 will then be the year of the new 9-3, and this is the time when we will have the opportunity to show to you what an independent Saab organization can do, technically, with architectures that are flexible, modular, very appealing design, but also vehicles and cars that are drivers cars where our definition of performance, with safety, practical vehicles utilizing small displacement turbocharged engines that generate very low emissions will be the cornerstone of the Saab brand as we go into the future.”

We’ve known for some time that the new platform was expandable, but this article gives us a nice analogy to understand how the process will work. Imagine it’s like a Nikon F lens mount system, where individual parts use “fixed” interfaces so that down the road they’re easily upgradable and future proof– a lesson they’ve learned from none other than Scania.

Needless to say this is expected news, but it’s nice to hear some details continue to pour out. The real information is the suspension system, which autocar says will use a unique McPherson strut design and a new “race-car” style five-link rear axle made by get this– ZF– at a new plant in Sweden. If true, this is pretty big and exciting news. By tossing out the Epsilon/GM platform in favor of a true Saab solution, critics can no longer argue that Saab isn’t standing on its own feet. By aligning themself with ZF, they’re once again huddling up with the big boys of the auto world as they did with the BMW engine deal; Saab is staking a claim to true competitive performance. Phoenix up.

46 thoughts on “Autocar Report: Saab developing all new platform”

  1. Exciting times in years to come, this is for sure. Start saving up now to buy the new 2012/13 9-3!

  2. I am not an expert. I am not only fascinated, but also perplexed about the completely new platform. The doubts relates to costs. Mainstream say is that entirely new platforms are very expensive and just affordable for big groups, actually are the most important reason for size in operation and sales. Has Saab found a way to escape the need for economics of scale?

    • Trust that they’re taking the most effective approach by spending the bulk of their money up front on the development of the Phoenix platform so that future models have minimal development costs and can simply plug and play into this new chassis. It’s a wonder other companies aren’t doing the exact same thing…

    • Indeed I get the feeling Saab does have a different business model than “major” mass market companies. Saab intends to purchase commercial off-the-shelf components, do styling and tuning, and assemble cars. The idea is yes, to have an economy at lower scale than other mega-carmakers. This is done by refusing to do “basic” development of engines, transmissions, suspension, etc. Those will be bought from the large firms. Saab will be free of the development cost for those parts.

      With that type of business model, Saab can invest smaller amounts of money to bring a new platform / car design to market. They are doing a new platform. Does it cost billions, no. They have good engineers at Saab who can do it quicker and cheaper. The powertrain, electronics, etc will all be done by suppliers such as the mentioned ZF. I believe even a small company like Saab can take advantage of today’s technology to do amazing things on a modest budget. Most importantly, the design, fit & finish, and tuning of the cars.

      • And in the present situation, there is no alternative. However, in particular regarding engines, that might be problematic. The H engine is said to be a very smooth running one, due to the two asymmetric balancing shafts, and were considered a distinguishing feature for Saab. Now they are depending on the goodwill of others. For example the latest and greatest 4 cylinder 2 litre petrol engine from BMW was described in a test as having “diesel like sound” at idling. Sounds like an jnsult to me. And it’s not even sure that BMW would be willing to sell this engine to Saab.

        Diesel engines from Fiat don’t even have balancing shafts. And there is still no V6.

        Smooth running i4 engines will become an important feature with the recent downsizing trend.

        • Thyl,
          please don’t be so negative.
          BMW is now making its transition from their straight six’ers to the turbo4. The latest engine might be a little bit rough, but BMW will address that if it is a problem for their customer base.

          At the end of the day, sourcing engines from BMW is not the worst thing Saab could do.

          BTW, we still don’t know if the NG9-3 will use GM Diesels (Stop calling them Fiat diesels as they are not)

          • If there’s a beamer hidden under the bonnet the papers will shut up and stop complaining about the engine. And I guess the SAAB tech guys cant keep the fingers in place so the engine will be slightly better when tuned to perfection ;). But most important is that nobody argues with the holy german empire.

            And with one or two steel plates left from the Vauxhall and Opel the papers will how to do without that endless opel/vauxhall whining too.

            These are interesting times, interesting times!

          • Frankly, I am not really an engine freak. If they can dampen the sound, that will be fine with me. Engine are however a crucial component of a car, and being dependent in this field will make innovation difficult. And will manufacturers really be willing to sell Saab their differentiating “crown jewels”, or is Saab forever relegated to the bread-and-butter stuff?

            • But Saab has a big tradition of being dependent on the engine side. DKW 2-stroker, Ford V4, triumph slant 4, GM L850, GM-Fiat 1.9 Diesel single turbo.
              All those engines have been sourced by Saab and although I don’t see them as the crown jewels, Saab has always been very able to tweak them 🙂

              (This is a reply to comment #8 from Thylmuc)

              • You took the words right out of my mouth-Saab has always been a user of Field class B engines-and they in most cases end up being better than the original resellers best.
                And of all the resellers who is the best…most folks will say its BMW-so in my view it is all good and I cannot wait to see the results-so many interesting things happening-Saab is really starting to spin up and I think there will be some fantastic things happening in the next 18 months.

              • The engine in Saab 92 was not sourced from DKW. The engine was a copy of a DKW engine but it was built by Saab. The engine in the prototype (92001) is a DKW engine though. It was taken from a scrapped DKW that was found in the scrapyard next to Saab’s facilities in Linköping. The scrapyard is still there but is now surrounded by Saab.

        • I see it more like this:
          Not binding resources to develop the base-engines allows Saab to do what they are best to:
          1. Re-thinking the whole drive-line and connection to the platform. We see the beginning with the new hybrid-tech and the Phoenix, but I feel confident that Saab will come with even more radical and energy-saving solutions – in some years there might not even be a petrol-engine in a Saab – who knows?
          2. Tuning, refining and adapting the bought elements such as engines to Saab standards. I am f.ex very curious to see how much torque they will be able to get from the small-displacement-bmw-engine.

        • The 2.0T in my 9-3SS sound like a diesel when its idling but I understand thats the nature of the GM Ecotec engine. Goes like stink when I want it to though.

  3. With some help of a friendly pen, Saab’s PR is now correcting the mistake of letting the Phoenix be addressed as “revised Epsilon”. I do believe that’s what it is in one sense, and in another, it indeed is an all-new platform. There is more engineering by press release in this article than actual engineering news, IMHO.

    Which does not mean it isn’t exciting and awesome. Because it has always been!

    • I agree.

      Last year Saab (Victor Muller?) said on several occasions that the new 9-3 would use a development of the Epsilon platform. That was oviously a PR mistake and now they are most likely trying to fix this mistake by putting emphasise on it being a modular architecture.

      If they did decide to develop a completely new platform some time the last 6 months, they would never get the 9-3 replacement done in time. Remember that the design was more or less finished five months ago, and the test mules are already on the road.

    • +1
      There is no significantly new information in that article but the fact that Saab has stopped telling people that if Phoenix is based on the EpsI platform. Which is good as not many people really understands what based on really means.

    • Thank-you for reaching this conclusion and stating it since that was my belief. Markac ‘s comment below about how Saab heavily modifed the Epsilon I platform for the current 9-3, with all the ramifications, was right on. Presumably, they learned a lot from that effort.

  4. The article does not seem competent. First it says something about a modified McPherson front suspension, lateron mentions that also HiperStrut could be used, evidently not recognising that HS is a modified McPherson. Scania is mentioned, but not that several car manufacturers also have such modular approaches.

    • It sounds like they’re intimating that Saab is developing it’s own form of Hi-Per Strut for their own modified McPherson, but without specifics to back it up, it’s just conjecture. I think the value of the article is exactly what Bravada is saying. Even if the Epsilon was a starting point, Saab is wise to just call it an entirely different beast now, and even if it has a common starting point, it’s not at all related to its GM past. Epsilon: Burnt to ashes, reborn as Phoenix. Makes sense for PR purposes, you don’t want journalists saying that it’s an old GM platform that’s been tweaked. You want it to sound like its own animal. I’m happy to help them create that distance in any way possible.

  5. I also think they just talk about the architecture already used now. We interviewed VM (lucky us) and he also mentioned the revised Epsilon platform ie Phoenix as the flexible platform to be used for the new 9-3, 9-5 and the next 9-4X. The 92 now is a different cookie but it is very likely they will not develop a new platform

  6. I remember reading a Swedish interview with Mats Fägerhag during the Geneva show and he said that the PhoeniX platform is based on the Epsilon one, but they’ve changes everything but a few small plates in the middle. And if I remember correctly he talked about some 5-part multi-link suspension, but correct me if I’m wrong.

  7. can not someone explain what they mean with the new architecture. What are modules?
    I’m not so technical, so all the new words and solutions I do not understand it all ..
    Same with the turbo, twin scroll .. is the two fans, or what to call those in the the same turbo then?

    • Not being an expert, think of the modules as specific parts of the car. For example, the engine is such a module. It is mounted in the engine bay via an “interface”, i.e. Defined engine mounts. Hopefully, a specific sets of this mounts is all that is needed to put any desired engine into the bay, maybe via adapters.

      For a modular platform, the four “corners” of the floorpan are important. These contain interfaces to the suspension, and interfaces to each other. The corners are mutually connected via “spacers” that allow to widen and lengthen the floorpan to the desired size. The corners assumably also contain most of the other functional stuff, like brake lines, seat mounts, electric wiring etc. Not sure here. Also required of course are interface for the body that is put on the floorpan.

      The modularity comes from the different interfaces that are intended to give the required space/function flexibility

        • A modular design that can be adapted to different size cars is actually very challenging. The mechanical stability and the cars geometry, i.e. driving characteristics, is fully dependent on the underlying platform. For instance, you cannot just adapt a long platform like for a 9-5 to a much more shorter wheelbase car like the a 9-1/9-2. The geometry of the suspension needs to be rethought, the engine placement and mounting has to be redone, etc. etc.
          Just claiming that this all can be done by simple interfaces is nonsense. Designing those complex interfaces will be as costly as designing (or ‘stealing’) a new platform.
          I, also not being a automotive expert, doubt that Saab can get away with one platform for a whole model line from 9-1 through to a 9-8.

          • I always thought that the Phoenix platform could be flexible enough for 9-3, 9-4 and 9-5 models? Due to brilliant Saab engineers, who said german is the benchmark? It´s swedish! : )

            The reason they cannot do a 9-1,9-2,9-7 and 9-8 models is, I think, they need to make 2 new platforms (a short one and a long one) for these models resulting into another business plan and loans etc.

            But, since I am a complete ignorant in car mecanics I could be talking out of my butt..

          • GerritN,
            are you feeling like your avatar today?

            Phoenix is able to underpin a car from 4,3m till 5,4 m not more and not less. So don’t expect to see a 9-2 based on phoenix.

  8. It might be that they are developing a completely new modular architecture but one or some of the modules are taken from the old Epsilon. If so, “completely new” and “based on Epsilon” might both be true (in some sense) at the same time!

  9. Perhaps the lack of flexibility that Epsilon I was given fault for (a Malibu or Vectra could not have been buit alongside the 9-3, or vice-versa, IIRC) was actually a GM plants’ issue? A manufacturing inflexibility?

    In any case, SAAB modified the Epsilon I platform so extensively for the current 9-3, that they must have learned a thing or two while doing it. And they also have the experience of what GM did to the platform (was it 4 different front sub-frames? IIRC it was something like that), so they could perhaps have looked into Phoenix from a systems integration perspective: we want to get to A, B, and C, and we have X as basis: how do we integrate all of this together without spitting out USD 1 billion or USD 2 billion (which would be the likely cost of a new platform engineered from scratch – GM spent some USD 3 billion on Lambda, IIRC)?

    • It wasn’t strictly a GM plants issue, it was a Saab issue. Saab modified it’s version of Epsilon 1 that underpinned the 9-3SS/SC so much, that the Saab 9-3 could not easily or cost effectively be built in other GM plants. Prior to this, there had been talk (by GM’s bean counters) of moving 9-3 production out of Trollhattan. Saab had effectively prevented this, but spent a lot of money in the process with it’s modifications and improvements. This incurred the wrath of GM which subsequently cancelled or delayed some of the planned models in the 9-3 range. Any chance of a hatch or coupe was gone, and the 9-3X was delayed for years.

  10. Ladies & Gentlemen:
    The platform and Engines of SAAB 99 & SAAB 900 were the most SAABish. They were made in collaboration between SAAB & SCANIA. The era of SAAB & SCANIA’s was one of the greatest for SAAB in terms of Research & Development. It produced SAAB SAABs.

    The platform of SAAB 9000 was a joint effort between: SAAB, Alfa-Romeo, Fiat and Lancia, The aim was to share the cost of production and achieve economies of scale. Four market segments were Targetted, but the overall project was neither successful nor profitable.
    SAAB 9000 was somehow a driver’s car, but, it was no the industrial engineer car.

    The platform & engines of SAAB 9-3 & SAAB 9-5 have been based on Opel Vectra & Opel Omega.

    Would the next SAAB platforms and engines be outsourced or procured from BMW?


    • Osama,
      the Opel Omega was RWD.

      The OG9-3 and OG9-5 were based on GM2900 platform, and that is the reason many people said that the cars where to similar in size.

      No, the next platform is 99,8% Saab, so it won’t be sourced from BMW. But Saab is still searching a platform for a small Saab.

  11. The sound of an engine is sometimes a wonderful thing. For example, pulling hard on the gas pedal in an Alfa Romeo would create a wonderful atmosphere for the driver. As the car accelerates and goes fast, The engine sings a song that brings joy and happiness to the heart. Very Sexy indeed !.

    On the contrary, The sound of an engine of an old SAAB 900 GLE Classic was quite disturbing , and the performance was quite disappointing.
    In a tuned engine, even when the transmission was disengaged and pointing to (N), perhaps the sound of the engine was much much higher than that of an American or a Japanese engine. You’d feel that the whole car is shaking due to its engine’s vibrations. You’d feel as if you are sitting in a shaking factory.
    The car was somehow as heavy as a truck, pulled by a noisy industrial engine. Under the hood, the engine was supposed to deliver 135 horse power, but, actually they were not hp’s, they were donkies instead. There was no Torque in that car. Perhaps that might have been attributed to disproportionate ratios of gears of the Automatic transmission, and the absence of the Turbo (Not all models were fitted with Turbo charging at that time) and the heavy weight of the car.
    Although Many of these problems were resolved in the GM era, nevertheless, SAAB was not happy with being controlled by GM. SAAB has celebrated one year of independence, hoping that its next chapter would be more individualistic and prosperous than before.

  12. I’m just happy to see so many Saab articles about. I get the impression that Auto Express and Autocar are in favour of Saab, given how often they mention Saab. I know Woodz and ‘Saaby’ and a few other SU regulars keep every forum over there busy talking about Saab at any opportunity – which is great to see 🙂

  13. I know ZF was one of the few companies that stayed with SAAB during the hardship 2009.

    There are quite a few variants of 5 links from different groups:
    – GM USA
    – ZF
    – S2AB (ex. Saab chassis guru Magnus Roland) in cooperation with Benteler Gmbh, they have built a superior iduA S4 with the expertise of The REAL Stig, Stig Blomqvist.

    I think Saab should go with Swedsih design and know-how…..

  14. Osama
    Afaik the 99 and 900 engines were developed from Triumph units. I had 99 and 900 turbo and they were great cars

  15. @Mathias / @RedJ – yeah! I like the avatar too.

    Hint to SAAB: Do this logo as the high-level brake light and have it in the accessories catalogue for £99.

    p.s. Not many people have been speaking about the 99 in all the talk of SAAB. I think it was a brilliant car, and started / popularised so many trends*. It started SAAB’s move upwards and was the base for the classic 900.

    * crumple zones, side impact beams, headlamp washers, impact absorbing bumpers, roll protection, heated seats, turbos, twin-cam-16v-turbo, larger wheels, disc-brakes all round, padded roof lining, daytime running lights, built-in child seat mounts, laminated windscreen, rear window demisting, rear passenger ventilation controls, internal safety protection, car lights visible from the side, separation of side and brake lights at the rear… SAAB didn’t invent them all nor were they necessarily the first to use them, but the 99 was an incredible car when compared to what most cars were like back in the days!

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