General Motors Corp.’s Saab 9-4X BioPower Concept, which it will unveil at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit later today, optimizes ethanol use and confirms the division’s much-anticipated entry into the cross/utility segment.

"This concept is a clear statement of what our brand is about," says Jan Ake Jonsson, managing director-Saab Automobile, in a statement ahead of the unveiling. "It is also an important next step in our plans to enter new market segments with distinctive product offerings."

GM does not offer a specific timetable for Saab’s entry into the CUV market prior to its introduction, but advance statements from Jonsson hint it will happen within the next five years. He also says Saab intends to enter additional vehicle segments within that timeframe.

"The next five years will see the rate of new-product development accelerate," he adds. "Our target is to have the Saab brand represented in all major segments of the market.

The Saab brand currently offers the 9-7X SUV, which leverages the same platform that underpins the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy midsize SUVs; the 9-3 luxury sports sedan, convertible and sport wagon; and the slightly larger 9-5 sedan. Saab discontinued the 9-2X sport wagon, a joint venture between GM and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., with the ’06 model year.

GM says the all-wheel drive 9-4X concept reflect Saab’s Scandinavian design approach and draws inspiration from the widely acclaimed Aero X concept. The exterior features clean, uncluttered lines, while the 4-seat interior includes a driver-focused cockpit and innovative storage for ski equipment. Saab designers worked with the Salomon ski team to design the storage compartments.

"We focused on incorporating design themes from the Aero X in a crossover execution, adding functional, lifestyle features to support the activities of customers using this type of vehicle," says Anthony Lo, director-advanced design, GM Europe.

The 9-4X also receives an all-aluminum, 2.0L 4-cyl. engine optimized for E85, a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. The mill delivers 300 hp and 295 lb.-ft (400 Nm) of torque, but trims greenhouse gas emissions vs. a comparable conventional engine. Direct injection and continuously variable valve timing also boost efficiency and performance, Saab says.

Saab already sells BioPower-branded versions of its 9-3 and 9-5 sedans in Europe and Australia. In fact, the 9-5 BioPower ranks as one of the best-selling flex-fuel vehicle in Europe. Those models receive either a 2.0L 4-cyl. engine or a 2.3L 4cyl. engine.

In September at Geneva, Saab revealed its BioPower 100 concept, a 9-3 sport wagon equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged engine that makes 300 hp when used with high-octane 100% bioethanol fuel.

Like the 9-4X, Saab’s production BioPower models use E85 bioethanol.

jamend@wardsauto.com