- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

THE HAGUE | The BioHybrid Saab 9-X Concept car will not drive away with the honors at the ‘Out of the Past Revue’ that will be held Sunday at the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean, Va. The title for the best car at the show will definitely go to one of the antique contenders that have been staged on the front page of AutoWeekend every Friday since 1988.

However, the Saab concept car will definitely get a prominent place mid-field, where in recent years concept cars and previews of new models, such as the Cadillac Sixteen and the Audi R8, have appeared.

The award winning 9-X has been dubbed the forerunner of the 9-1, a new compact model expected in 2010. It will be built on a new global chassis that GM will also use for the next generation Saturn/Opel Astra and small Chevrolet models.

Upon its launch at the Geneva auto show in March, the editors of Autoweek magazine chose the Saab 9-X BioHybrid as ‘Best in Show’. But it is not the only title the Swedish concept car captured this year. It has also been voted ‘Specialty Concept Car of the Year’ by a jury of 25 professional North American automotive journalists. It’s an award for the vehicles that most likely will shape the future of the automobile industry, and that made their North American debut during the 2008 auto show season.

During the award ceremony in the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Mich., members of the jury panel and The Washington Times Autoweekend contributor Arv Voss said: “The Saab 9-X BioHybrid blends organic form with ecologically sound propulsion for both aesthetic and environmental appeal.” While one of his co-members added: “Saab takes center stage with a new design approach for a compact vehicle. With the BioHybrid turbo engine included, we have a winner”.

With the 9-X BioHybrid, Saab continues to reveal its aeronautical roots. They were also shown in 2001 with the Saab 9X concept, that has a long hood and rear-set two-door wagon-like body. With the ‘fuselage’ bodywork without visible handles or door mirrors, the front of the 9-X BioHybrid concept looks familiar as it has themes from the Aero-X Concept that was launched in 2006. The wraparound windshield and the floating roof are reminiscent of the Saab 99 and 900.

With the 9-X BioHybrid Concept, Saab created a four-seater with a shooting brake silhouette and a long roof for more interior space, especially rear head room. The concept also explores the use of active aerodynamics for reducing drag and consequently fuel consumption. Over 43 mph the roof spoiler automatically extends to lengthen the roof line and an under body diffuser is deployed from the bottom of the rear bumper. During heavy braking from over 62 mph, the rear spoiler is raised, adding downforce over the rear axle. This action also reveals a reflector that increases the visibility of the brake light underneath, as an extra warning of heavy braking.

The ‘turbine’ wheels, placed at the corners, the minimal overhangs and the extended roof line provide a different view of a conventional hatchback.The cockpit of the concept car shows a new design. The instrument panel sweeps out from the top of the door molding and arches around the driver. The embedded 3-D graphics appear to be frozen in ice, a Scandinavian design theme that Saab used first in the Aero X.

The level of the white ambient lighting inside the cabin can be changed in intensity from bright and cold to warm and soft. It’s a personalized feature that the driver can program, for instance to reflect the changing seasons.

Of course, a model for the next decade has to have easy access to multi-media in and outside the car. Therefore, Saab has worked together with Sony Ericsson for providing in-car connectivity (Bluetooth or WiFi) with devices such as a mobile phone or PDA. This resulted in wireless interface for streaming data, as well as entertainment and satellite navigation functions for display and use. The interface also allows the simultaneous use of multiple devices by passengers.

Functionality we see in the rear, with a power slide-out floor, that can be activated when the bottom half of the split tailgate is dropped down. Like the floor, the back of the folding rear seats are covered with high friction rubber, which ‘grips’ items and holds them in place. Aluminum bars automatically rise up or down as the tailgate is opened or closed.

Under the hood of the Saab concept car is a 1.4-liter four-cylinder BioPower turbo engine that is backed by GM’s next generation hybrid system of a lithium-ion powered electric motor/generator, which replaced the conventional alternator. Burning gasoline, the combinations deliver 170 horsepower and running on E85, it has 200 horsepower and an impressive 207 pound-feet of torque.

When on the road, the 9-X BioHybrid would have a combined cycle CO2 emissions of just 105 g/km, a European measure equaling 5.9 ounce/mile (E85) and 117 g/km (gasoline).

Saab even gives projected figures for performance such as an acceleration time from 0-60 mph of 7.7/8.3 seconds. A top speed in 6th gear of 134/119 mph for E85 and gasoline respectively is projected. That would not be bad with a fuel consumption (combined cycle) of 6.4 l/100km or 48 mpg (E85) and 4.9 l/100km or 36.7 mpg (gasoline).

After the presentation of the 9-X Concept, we asked, Bob Lutz, Vice-Chairman of General Motors, how close this concept is to production, but he did not want to comment. Nor did he want to give a time line for the production version. It is highly likely that Saab wants to introduce the new model with the biohybrid system. Lutz said, “We are definitely going to do lithium ion. But it is not quite ready to introduce in a production model. That is about two years away.”

The 9-4 crossover will be arriving within a year, according to Jan Ake Jonsson, Managing Director of Saab Automobile, who said Saab is on the move. “The 9-X BioHybrid shows what we can do with respect to design of a compact car. It also proves that we are dedicated to grow by means of extending our portfolio,” he says.

It may be another two years before we see the looks and technology of the 9-X BioHybrid on the roads, but the concept car will be ready for inspection - and photography - Sunday during the ‘Out of the Past Revue’ in McLean.

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