Saab plans smaller, greener cars

* Hybrid and electric models * Small 9-1 or 9-2 hatchbacks * Not likely before late 2011...

Saab plans smaller, greener cars

Small hatchbacks, hybrids and electric cars will all play a part in the future of newly liberated Saab.

The first of them is unlikely to be seen until at least late 2011, however. Replacements for the 9-5 saloon and estate, plus a new 9-3 and a compact SUV to be called the 9-4X will keep the company busy over the next 18 months.

Why Saab needs to downsize
However, with new European regulations on average CO2 emissions coming into force in 2015 and swingeing fines for manufacturers which don't comply Saab knows it cannot continue to produce only medium and large cars with petrol and diesel engines.

The downsizing trend that has gathered momentum in the recession is also likely to continue, which would leave Saab vulnerable if it failed to respond.

Saab hinted at a car smaller than the 9-3 when it showed a compact hybrid at Geneva in spring 2008. That car is likely to become reality, badged as a Saab 9-1 or 9-2.

Knut Simonsson, Saab's global brand and sales director, said: 'Before we can build it we must have some stable ground to stand on.'

New owners plan hybrid models
Saab was recently hived off from General Motors and is now owned by the Swedish supercar manufacturer Koenigsegg.

However, it can continue to use GM technology on a 'one-way arrangement', which means the 9-1 or 9-2 is likely to be based on the new Vauxhall Astra platform.

Simonsson says that hybrids are planned right across the range, but there will be no range-extender electric car using the Vauxhall Ampera powertrain.

'It's a good concept and would be a good fit to the Saab brand, but it is not an option for us because it was not included in the (sell-off) deal,' he said. 'We will do it our own way.'

Insiders hint that Saab is likely to go down a similar route to Renault and develop plug-in electric cars, with a network of quick-swap battery replacement stations so that owners are not inhibited by the otherwise limited range.