I takes me a little while to get used to new things. I bought Radiohead’s new album The King of Limbs when it came out a few weeks ago and I still don’t like it much. I had the same reaction to In Rainbows, their previous release, a few years ago. This week, I’ve been listening to In Rainbows constantly and I absolutely love it. That’s just how I roll.
So when TV4 from Sweden put a camera and microphone in my face around 5 minutes after the Saab PhoeniX concept had been unveiled and asked for my opinion on the car, I felt a little awkward.
Like many of you, my eyes went to the most controversial element of the car – the flying buttresses – and the only thing my mind could process in those first few moments was the question “Why?” I think my response to TV4 was that I immediately liked around 95% of the car but that I was having trouble getting my head around the rest.
I wasn’t alone, either. Watching the comments come through here on the site, it was pretty clear that the initial reactions were around 50% each way – positive and negative. I was approving a lot of first-time commenters who were coming on site to share their messages of doom about how they’d never buy a Saab if this was the direction they were heading in, etc etc.
That trend changed pretty quickly, though, and by the end of the day people seemed to be getting used to the car a lot more. The day ended at around 80/20 positive. The walkaround video with Jason Castriota sealed the deal and comments to that have been indicative people coming to understand the vehicle a lot better.
Here we are, a few days later, and I’m feeling extremely good about the Saab PhoeniX concept.
The main complaint I’m continuing to hear about the PhoeniX goes something like this – how is it recognisable as a Saab? I think that’s a pretty fair question, too. There’s no doubting that there’s a fair bit of Jason Castriota in this design, as well as all the cues to Saab’s design history that he pointed to in that walkaround video.
My response to that question is this: The visual links to Saab are there if you listen to the explanations and look for them. But the important links between this concept and Saab aren’t just visual. The links are also present in the design philosophy behind the car (aerodynamics, use of technology, use of space, etc). To put it plainly – the links to Saab are not just skin deep. They extend beyond simple visuals and go to the reasons why things are done a certain way.
Let me put it this way – the new Jaguar XJ doesn’t look at all like a Jaguar XJ in my mind. But it is a Jaguar XJ because it interprets everything the XJ that I’m familiar with from the 1980’s in a modern, contemporary way. It’s a big, luxurious and elegant British vehicle.
So, philosophy aside…..
There were two other elements to the release of this car that were extremely important, one of which has been covered pretty well here already whilst the other has flown under the radar a bit.
The one that’s already been covered pretty well is the publicity for Saab that the car has generated. Eggs n Grits has covered the initial press reactions to PhoeniX and I’m pleased to say that they continue. I can tell you that Saab are very pleased with the feedback they’ve received on the car.
That message of continued life and development is so critical to Saab’s awareness mission at the moment. I’m sure dealers would prefer equal attention on the 9-5 SportCombi, the sub-120kg models and the 9-3 Griffin, but I think that will come as a flow-on effect.
Here’s just one example of the turnaround of the press coverage regarding Saab. TV4 weren’t just there to get reactions to the PhoeniX. They also had a crew there who were working on a documentary feature about Saab and the company’s resurrection (I did an interview with them, too). That feature will show later this year. Those of you who are familiar with the treatment that Saab has received from the Swedish media in the last few years will recognise that this is a massive turnaround and very positive for the company.
The other element of this car’s release that hasn’t been covered that much is the significance of the PhoeniX name with this car. It’s not just a fanciful image of a company rising from the ashes.
Most futuristic concept cars that like PhoeniX, are intended as design studies only, are purely for show and aren’t built on anything that’s necessarily linked to production models. They are a chance for designers to shake off the limitations imposed by production requirements and regulations relating to production cars.
The significance of PhoeniX is that it is actually built on the PhoeniX platform that will underpin the next generation of Saab vehicles. The proportions that PhoeniX shows – the wheelbase, front and rear overhangs, etc, are all actually attainable in new generations of Saab cars.
PhoeniX is indeed a flight of the designer’s fancy, but it’s based on very real engineering. And that’s very exciting for Saab because what people are seeing here is something that could be done for real, from an architecture and engineering point of view.
And that’s quite Saabish (moreso than the much-loved Aero-X, in fact).
As for the car itself?
Once again, it’s something that you’ll have to see to for yourself to fully appreciate. If you’re reading this from the north-east of the United States then mark the New York Auto Show down on your calendar as it’ll be there. You have to see this for yourself.
The car is quite raw. They were still attending to some details as they bought it into the venue at Geneva and that shows if you look closely enough. It’s still not finished, to be honest. But if you take a more macro view and look at the shapes, the face and the ideas behind it, I think you’ll see something that’s absolutely fantastic.
The great thing about this car is that it forces you to think. You can’t be ambivalent towards it. I’ve grown to absolutely love it, even if I’d still like to remove those flying buttresses just for appearance sake.
The liquid metal finish emphasises the curves and the musculature of the car beautifully and I look forward to getting more accustomed to that face as it’s production representation flows on to more real Saab models in the future.
I think Jason Castriota’s done a great job for Saab here and I can’t let this post finish without pointing out what an asset he’s been for the company in terms of his presentation of the car. He’s a great spokesperson for the company.