Accessibility links

Saab Unveils New Subaru-Based Car - 2004-06-10

Terms like synergy and platform-sharing are used a lot these days in the auto industry.

Here is a riddle: when is a Saab not a Saab? Answer: when it is a Subaru.

If that sounds weird, bear with us for a few moments.

Saab has just unveiled a new car, a model called the 9-2X. The company needed to expand its product line and Saab Cars U.S.A. president Debra Kelly-Ennis saw an opportunity to attract younger, less affluent customers.

"As we saw the segment developing, that's really what led us to development of the 9-2X," she explained. "And we wanted to be early in the market and we wanted to do it with a vehicle that would have a tremendous amount of appeal."

Saab has a history of appealing vehicles, but introducing a new car is nevertheless a high hurdle.

"We thought about developing it from scratch ourselves and we realized that would take a long time and it would also take a tremendous amount of capital," explained Debra Kelly-Ennis.

With those realizations, Saab began looking outside its own backyard. Saab, these days, is owned by General Motors - and so is Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries, or at least that part of it that makes Subaru motor vehicles. Saab took a close look at Subaru's lineup, says the engineering editor of Road & Track magazine, Dennis Simanaitis, and exclaimed, "aha!"

"It makes sense," he said. "Let us see what Fuji has. Oh, they have got this really nice WRX. [Subaru Impreza sport wagon]. Okay, let us Saabify it." Saab's Debra Kelly-Ennis says this automaking odd couple has more in common than one might think.

"You have two very like-minded companies with a strong engineering history," she said. "Both have an aircraft heritage, a successful history in rallying and a very similar company mind-set."

Road & Track's Dennis Simanaitis says Saab has kept Subaru's familiar all-wheel-drive and flat-four engine.

"They have retained the good points of the WRX," said Dennis Simanaitis. "What they have changed is the styling and the general presentation of the car. The front-end styling is very Saab. You know, when you see one, your first thought is, 'Oh, that is a Saab.' And your second thought is, "Oh, yeah, yeah, that is the Saab that is based on the Subaru."

The shared platform includes the Subaru's overall body shape. In addition to the new front-end styling, Dennis Simanaitis says, Saab worked to make their version quieter.

"I think they sensed that if there is any one thing that said Subaru, it was the characteristic sound of that flat-four engine," he said. "And so they put in selective bits of soundproofing."

We asked Saab Cars U.S.A. President Debra Kelly-Ennis whether her customers would object to a Subaru-based vehicle.

"Saab customers expect clean, contemporary Scandinavian design, high levels of safety, driver involvement and so forth," she said. "And we felt that we would be able to work with that particular company in developing a product that met our customers' expectations."

And has she been successful?

"We started with a great car and we built a great Saab," said Debra Kelly-Ennis.

The company gets its first all-wheel-drive vehicle, expands its product line, and has an entry-level model that should appeal to new customers. Base price for the 9-2X Linear model is $22,990. Saab or Subaru? The answer is yes - to both.