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Car confidential: Some progress from Saab

Saab GB was one of few success stories in 2005. While new car registrations dipped 5%, Saab grew its sales by one third.

Much of the success came from successfully tapping into Vauxhall’s slick corporate sales network, to sell an expanding 9-3 range.

But can the momentum last? This year had promised an all-new crossover, the 9-6X, but GM pulled the plug on the reskinned Subaru B9 Tribeca last autumn, when it dissolved its partnership with the Japanese.

The next new model – the all-new 9-5 – won’t arrive until autumn 2008. By then, the 9-5 will be a staggering 11 years old.

The new car had better be worth the wait. Insiders promise the new 9-5 will look sleek and handsome, with a Merc CLS-style silhouette, and Saab will break new ground with four-wheel drive and higher performance engines.

The 9-5 will share the new Epsilon II architecture with Opel and Saturn, but it won’t be just a stretched Vectra. GM Europe boss Carl-Peter Forster told CAR Confidential more flexibility will go into future architecture: “Modular component sets allow us to create vehicles to suit different brand values, from the cost conscious to the dynamic. There may be more than one suspension set up, different steering racks, and three levels of electronics.”

Saab gets the plushest Epsilon components, with a double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear axle biased towards sporty ride and handling. Air springs will also be offered. The architecture also supports four-wheel drive.

Aside from the latest four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, the 9-5 will get a new V6 common rail diesel, while the blown petrol V6 should reach the 350bhp mark to raise the Aero bar.

Despite the 9-6X’s demise, Saab still wants its slice of the SUV market. The 9-4X, due in spring 2009, will fulfil much the same role as the defunct Saabaru II.

The sleek looking but spacious five-seater shares its architecture with the next-generation Cadillac SRX. The X suffix stands for all-wheel drive, the engines are shared with the 9-5. And with the much of the 40,000 annual production run likely to find Stateside customers, the 9-4X will be built in N America.

Nothing else is inked into the product plan, no production version of the Aero X supercar concept, no Saab rival for the Audi A3 – yet. Hardly music to Saab dealers’ ears, especially as the Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi product onslaught continue to gather pace.

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