- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Saab's annual output is so small that it's generally viewed as a boutique brand. Producing only 130,000 vehicles annually, Saab certainly fits that definition. What's more, Saab has earned a profit only once in the past decade, so money to finance new car development would be nonexistent, save for the fact that Saab is now 100 percent owned by General Motors.

GM invested $450 million in improvements to a factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, providing Saab with a modern manufacturing facility for producing its 21st-century products. The first of these is the 9-3, to go on sale soon.

Despite being required to use GM global chassis architecture and engine, Saab designers and engineers have maintained their unique (some would say quirky) engineering and styling in the all-new 9-3. The 2003 model is destined to be Saab's biggest seller and is positioned to make a significant impact in the entry-level luxury segment.

Almost defiantly, Saab engineers have differentiated the GM platform and engine with unique design cues and engineering features to create a vehicle that is a genuine Saab. Although it shares platform architecture with the Opel Vectra, made in Germany by GM, and a four-cylinder engine that's used by Vectra and several U.S. models, the 9-3 is not a badge-engineered vehicle.

Differentiation is not confined to just placing the ignition lock on the floor a Saab trademark. The 9-3 body design is perhaps the brand's most appealing ever. Eschewing the hatchback style of previous Saabs, its designers have created a four-door sports sedan with a very contemporary look. It's intended to compete against the Volvo S60, Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4.

What makes the 9-3 stand apart from other GM cars using many of the same components is Saab's mastery of turbocharging. A turbocharger is an exhaust-gas-driven turbine that delivers more air and fuel mixture to the cylinders. Thus, a turbocharged Saab four-cylinder engine can deliver the power of a bigger engine. For instance, the four-cylinder in the base 9-3 Linear model produces 175 horsepower. In the Arc and Vector models, the engine delivers 210 horsepower. That compares with 140 horsepower in the Oldsmobile Alero, which uses the same engine block.

The all-new aluminum engine is 33 pounds lighter than the current model. Saab says it has lower frictional losses, giving more miles per gallon and lower emissions. Using the basic square engine block that it shares with other GM models, Saab engineers increase power output with a combination of the turbocharging and a unique Trionic 8 engine management system.

Even though Saab doesn't make its own turbos, it's the way its engineers use them that makes the difference. Saab engineers put the turbochargers behind the transversely mounted engine. The inboard turbo location warms the front exhaust catalytic converter more quickly, resulting in better fuel economy and lower cold-start emissions.

GM has designated the Swedish carmaker as its worldwide center of excellence for turbocharging. At present, GM doesn't use turbos in any of its models, but with the expertise of Saab to draw on, this could change, especially with small displacement engines.

Saab is unique because it actually creates its own Trionic 8 engine management system. It's a sophisticated system with software that maximizes power by tailoring engine performance to match ignition timing, fuel injection, turbo boost pressure and throttle setting. This helps eliminate unpleasant jerks when letting off or stomping down on the accelerator. Trionic 8 adjusts for sudden changes in throttle position by evaluating all the parameters in milliseconds and selecting the optimum combination.

Dan Chasins, president of Saab Cars USA, says the average transaction price of the 9-3 will be a little bit above $30,000. He expects a lot of conquest sales from present owners of higher-level Asian cars and VW owners.

With the help of the new 9-3, Mr. Chasins forecasts that Saab's sales in the United States will climb from just below 40,000 cars last year to about 70,000 vehicles in three years. On a worldwide basis, Saab expects its sales to climb from today's volume to about 225,000 vehicles annually in three years.

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