We learned three things about Saab after hanging out with its 9-4x team for a few days in Washington, D.C. One: You have to be taller than 6-foot-3 to work there. Two: You have to be an engineer. (They did bring a marketing guy from Sweden, but it turns out he is an engineer as well.) Three: You have to be an optimist.
Saab has had a pretty tough decade. Becoming wholly owned by General Motors in 2000 after a decade of partial ownership, it has struggled on both marketing and manufacturing fronts. Tight finances demanded shared platforms, which made it difficult to build traditional Saab products. Small budgets made it nearly impossible to achieve the marketing penetration necessary for Saab to attract new customers.
Toward the end of the decade, things looked even more grim. Parent company GM established a date at which the company would either be sold or left for dead. The first unsuccessful purchase attempt was made by Swedish supercar builder Koenigsegg. That fell through. Suitor number two was Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp, and that deal also fell through. Finally, at the 11th hour, Saab was purchased by Dutch supercar builder Spyker. Even through all this, employees kept their heads and hopes up.
"With each new event and new product, we looked at it as this will be our time. This time, it will work. Each time, we knew we had tried too hard to let the next challenge stop us. We are going to succeed," exclaimed Saab's 9-4x product manager while holding on for dear life in the back seat during the press drive. I still can't say if his voice cracked from pride or fear.
While the rest of the world waits patiently for the launch of the new 9-5 Sport Combi, Saab is convinced the 9-4x Crossover will be the hit it has been waiting for here in the States. Saab believes this is the first shared-platform vehicle (its mate is the Cadillac SRX) that truly embodies all Saab's core qualities right from the start.
The all-wheel-drive system is Saab's XWD, a front-drive-based Haldex system. In normal driving, the system splits power 90/10 front to rear. If the situation calls for it, up to 90 percent can be transferred to the rear by the computer-controlled center power coupling.