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Saab 9-4X Concept: Finally, A Saab For the Times?

  • January 12, 2008
  • Concept Cars, Saab
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The World Has Caught Up to Saab…Or So Saab Hopes
For years and years, Saab has been struggling to find a happy medium between maintaining its unique and renowned character and possessing enough mainstream virtues to appeal to an audience big enough to sustain profitable volumes. It’s lucky for them that consumer values may be shifting in ways that make traditional Saab values suddenly more relevant.
What has made a vehicle uniquely a Saab? This has generally meant unique (and sometimes quirky) style, rejection of excess, and small displacement engines with high output, often through turbocharging. Consistent with these values, Saab has rejected many attributes that were up till recently a given for success, such as big and beefy engines and SUV bodystyles (on both those counts, we’ll forget the Saab Bravada…er 9-7X ever existed).
Today, however, those Saab values might be a little more relevant. Ford and others are touting small displacement direct injected turbos, and small premium multi-use vehicles are popping up all over the place. Hmm…has Saab’s time to shine finally come?

9-4X Could be the Most Relevant Saab in Recent Memory
Like many other premium small SUVs entering the market, 9-4X (which this concept previews) will be a compact, car-based utility with sleek, contemporary on-road styling. The concept features a 2.0L direct injection turbo that is E85 capable, and Saab says its dimensions are “right-sized” – in other words, trim and not excessive. The concept also features some neat active lifestyle storage solutions, co-branded with Salomon, one of the premier names in the snow skiing world. And to top it all off, it has an honest-to-goodness rear hatch and capacious cargo room, just like all those classic Saabs were known for. Saab values? Certainly seems so.
But Is it Differentiated Enough?
The concept certainly seems to check all the relevant boxes. Premium eco-chic product positioning? Check. Efficient powertrain? Check. Right size? Check. Relevant entry in a rapidly growing segment? Check.
Problem is, there are numerous other worthy entries entering that same space, all with similar attributes and strengths. Lexus, Volvo, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac (whose entry will incidentally be a platform mate of the Saab and even built in the same factory in Mexico) will all have similar products soon. And of course, there are good competitors already on the market, like the BMW X3 and Infiniti EX. Most of these brands have far stronger brand image and reputation than Saab.
So, unless Saab has some cool and truly unique differentiators up its sleeve, 9-4X could get lost in its segment, much as today’s Saabs unfortunately do. For a brand that practically invented automotive quirkiness, that just doesn’t seem right. Hopefully, the production version of the 9-4X Concept will break that cycle.

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