In our previous instalment we featured the production cars at the Trollhattan museum. Today we turn our attention to the concepts.
Visitors to the Saab museum will notice that prior to the 21st century, Saab did not do very many concept cars but eventually they came and we show them today. The photos are again courtesy of Niels Moesgaard Jörgensen (apart from the odd one marked “RH”).
Perhaps because their cars to some extent already seemed like concept cars, at least until the 1980s, Saab didn’t feel compelled to create marketing fictions. Towards the end of Saab’s time as a going concern, a flurry of concept cars emerged. It must have been a strange working environment, preparing vehicles for a future that might not come. And indeed didn’t.
Like Citroen, Saab laboured under the peculiar constriction that its once radical designs had become traditional. From the ur-Saab of 1950 through to the 9-3 of 2002, Saabs looked very Saaby, barring the small-scale runs of roadsters and the 9000 of 1984. Those features included overt aerodynamic shapes such as wraparound windscreens, a distinctive
swooping C-pillar and a fast-back profile. The challenge lay in keeping Saab modern while retaining the core of loyalists and attracting new customers. At one point GM boasted that Saab customers had the highest
number of degrees and higher qualifications of any brand. Later they regretted that this demographic was not large enough to attract such people. The concept cars
had the job of signalling a new style for Saab that would square the circle of winning new customers without repelling those for whom nothing else would do. We won´t know if Michael Mauer’s vision would have worked
as the firm ceased trading in 2011. There seemed to be some difficulty in applying the Mauer style to production Saabs. The last 9-5 ended up looking like two different, good cars seen from the front and back and looking like an unhappy third car from the side.
The Sporthatch and AeroX produced approving reactions in the press but were not easily applicable to what customers were buying: CUVs of various types. Would it have made more sense to make concept cars that were at
least related to the vehicles that customers wanted? Vehicles like the Nissan Juke, the Qashquai and Kia Sportage show that customers will buy cars from a brand based on the vehicle format, if that format is the one
that is in fashion. Like Porsche, Saab ended up being tied to a particular format, the mid-sized hatchback. Customers for a large saloon tended to want German. Saab’s entries in the SUV/CUV market were met with little interest, part because they were not very convincing Saabs. So why did Saab produce a cluster of non-CUVs? That these are worthy designs as they are does not compensate for the fact they were not relevant and did not change perceptions of Saab.