Could SAAB’s financial woes be over at last? Don’t be so sure.
It would seem SAAB Automobile NV, the former Spyker company that owns the Swedish car maker, has signed an agreement with Chinese company Zhejiang Youngman Passenger Car Group Co. to form a joint venture to develop three completely new SAAB models — the 9-1, 9-6 and 9-7.
As part of the new venture, Trollhattan will develop the new models while Youngman will provide financial support. It has not been made clear where the new cars will be made, but we believe they’ll be manufactured in China, with assembly for the European and US markets happening in Sweden; although this means Youngman getting regulatory approval from the Chinese authorities for a new manufacturing facility.
This detail could yet scupper the deal. As China goes car crazy — it overtook the US as the world’s largest car market in 2009 — the government is looking to reduce the number of players to just ten, holding 90 per cent of the market by volume. Today, there are over 100 car makers in China. Youngman does not feature in the top ten currently, a fact financial analysts fear may mean the government refuses to let the deal go through. So SAAB’s future rests in the hands of the senior members of the Communist party, which is far from being home and dry.
So what do we know of the proposed new cars? The SAAB 9-1 has been discussed before and will be an entry level model. The Swedes have previously signed an agreement with BMW for the supply of platforms and engines for this car and it was believed it would be based on the next generation MINI/1-Series (front wheel drive). Whether that agreement is still valid now Youngman and other local partner Pang Da are involved is unclear, as we can believe BMW being very nervous about their designs being shared with the notoriously plagiaristic Chinese, especially third hand. Our guess is that agreement may not to be further ratified to show Munich is happy with the new joint venture partners.
Less is known about the 9-6 and 9-7, but it’s believed the former refers to a 9-6X SUV to slot in above the current 9-4X which was co-developed with — and is built by — General Motors when the US company owned SAAB. This car will be unrelated to the previous 9-6X proposal built around the Subaru Tribeca.
Finally, the 9-7 is expected to be a range topping executive saloon to take on the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series.
If they happen it’s possible all may go on sale in the UK, but SAAB needs to address the issue of large diesel engines to enable this, as more than 70% of executive cars sold burn oil. BMW could provide the answers here but, as we say, only if that agreement remains valid.
Failing that, Youngman has existing relationships with VW, with whom it builds MAN trucks locally, and Lotus Engineering, who could be commissioned to design SAAB badged engines.
Pictured is a rendering of how a MINI based 9-1 could look.