TROLLHATTAN - Saab launches its all-new 9-5 model this week, on the occasion of Saab's 50th anniversary.
European dealers start selling Saab's new top model in September. US customers will wait until April 1998.
The 13-year-old Saab 9000 will be kept in production for two or three more years.
The 9-5 is the second new model since Saab-Scania and General Motors Europe formed their Saab Automobile joint venture in 1989.
The first joint car was the 900, which is based on an earlier GM Vectra. The 9-5 is built on a totally new platform. Both the 9-5 and the current Vectra are based on this platform.
Apart from the front firewall and some floorpan sections, the cars share no common stampings. The 9-5 is the first Saab to feature independent rear suspension. It uses modified Vectra suspension components.
Saab did not break industry development records with the 9-5. Work began early in 1993. The European benchmark is 24 months.
The 9-5 is styled as a sedan, but it features a large rear hatch. The car was designed inhouse under Einar Hareide. The design is evolutionary, showing a clear resemblance to the 9000. The 9-5 has innovative details, but features traditional Saab design touches as well. With a 0.29 drag coefficient, it has Saab's best aerodynamics ever.
Optional comfort features include an air-conditioned glove box and fan-assisted seat ventilation.
This year, Saab plans to sell 15,000 units of the 9-5. During 1998, production should be nearer 50,000.
A wagon version will be added in 1998, and output in 1999 should reach 75,000 units. The Trollhattan factory's capacity is about 130,000 units, but it could be increased. A state-of-the-art paintshop using water-borne processes has just been added to the facility.
Total investment for the Saab 9-5 was a little over Skr5 billion ($624 million). This excludes Skr2 billion ($250 million) spent on the paintshop, which was built by ABB.
The Saab 9-5 sits on a 2703mm wheelbase, 100mm longer than the 900. The total length is 4805mm, which is 20mm more than the 9000. All engines are low-pressure turbocharged. Both 2.0-liter, 150ps and 2.3-liter, 170ps, four-cylinder engines are developments of the current Saab 16-valve unit.
The 3.0-liter, 200ps V-6 comes from Opel but has been adapted by Saab. The V-6 will account for 15 percent of production, with most sold in the US. All engines are front-wheel drive, mounted transversely. Diesel power and high-pressure turbocharging are expected later.
Saab has put extra effort into passive safety. The company conducted car-to-car crash tests with 50 percent overlap because that situation is common in real life accidents. The tests are in addition to the standard barrier tests required by law.
Of the 40 safety tests carried out during the car's development, only 10 were legally required, Saab says.
The company says its front deformable structure protects occupants in impacts at up to 65kph. All 9-5s come with side airbags and Saab's active head restraint to minimize whiplash injuries.