Saab Museum: the Concept Cars

In our previous instalment we featured the production cars at the Trollhattan museum. Today we turn our attention to the concepts.

2006 Saab Aero-X
2006 Saab Aero-X:  nmj

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 NMJ (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.

1985 Saab Experimental Vehicle 1
1985 Saab Experimental Vehicle 1: nmj

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

2001 Saab 9x concept car: Niels Moesgaard Jörgensen
2001 Saab 9x concept car: nmj
2001 Saab 9X concept: RH
2001 Saab 9X concept: RH

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

2004 Saab Sporthatch interior: Niels Moesgaard Jörgensen
2004 Saab Sporthatch interior: nmj

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

2004 Saab Sporthatch concept: RH
2004 Saab Sporthatch concept: RH

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

2006 Saab Aero-X: Niels Moesgaard Jörgensen
2006 Saab Aero-X: nmj

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.

2008 Saab 9x Biohybrid: Niels Moesgaard Jörgensen
2008 Saab 9x Biohybrid: nmj

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

2008 Saab 9x Air: RH

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

Saab 9-6 concept
2008 Saab 9-4x “concept” car: RH

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.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “Saab Museum: the Concept Cars”

  1. Of all the marques that are with us no longer, SAAB is the one I miss the most. The ‘proper’ 900 was just so effortlessly cool and I often end up wanting one after reading about them.

    I was also a fan of the 9000 when it first emerged – it did very well against the Rover 800, Audi 100 and Ford Granada in a seminal Giant Test.

    A scourge of concept cars seems to be a sure sign of distress in struggling car makers – MGRover did the same thing, and then of course there was Lotus under Danny Bahar …

    1. That´s a good point. Well observed: lots of concept cars are there to boost morale and distract from a lack of real new production cars. Sometimes it ends alright as something gets made in time to keep the wheels on the wagon. If GM had not been so bloody-minded the final Saabs might have done quite well even if they were not what purists wanted.
      I did not see that review of the Rover/Ford/Audi.
      I´d add Lancia to the list of much-missed brands.

  2. “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.”

    Hmm. It’s always possible to argue the toss on this, but there is a case to be made that by 2005 onwards, Saab was essentially finished no matter what, especially with the looming GM bankruptcy merely a matter of time by that point.

    One of the underappreciated aspects of this rather sorry tale is that Saab’s sales numbers were propped up for some time by the strength of premium brand lease deals in the US – but Saab was only able to maintain competitive lease rates through hugely inflated residuals that GM predictably took a total bath on come the end of the lease, which didn’t help endear them on level 14 at the RenCen. Brand perceptions in this part of the market don’t shift easily, for either good or ill; if you’re a typical buyer in this area of the market, there was really little reason to take a late-era Saab over the Germans or, say, a Lexshushs on any metric other than price. And at least the Toyota would go the distance. Saab never really did shake a not-unjustified reputation for expensive repairs.

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