Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Saab Automobiles AB is coming of age, Chairman Victor Muller says here at the L.A. Auto Show.

The first vehicle to be conceived and designed by the Sweden-based auto maker is taking shape. And the results are more than satisfying, Muller says of the next-generation 9-3, due out in 2012.

“The proportions don’t require any badges” to communicate its brand affiliation, he adds.

Saab’s “bread-and-butter” car, as Muller describes it, will be powered by a turbocharged direct-injection 1.6L 4-cyl. gasoline engine sourced from BMW AG.

All current Saabs share platforms with products from the auto maker’s former parent, General Motors Co. The last of this lineup is unveiled here.

The Saab 9-4x cross/utility vehicle, shouldered by a version of GM’s TE platform that also supports the Cadillac SRX, will be powered by a choice of two engines: a 265-hp 3.0L V-6 and an optional 300-hp 2.8L turbocharged V-6 with direct injection.

Both are mated to 6-speed automatic transmissions.

Set to arrive on U.S. dealer lots in May and in showrooms in Europe and other global markets three months later, the 9-4x also is distinguished by Saab’s XWD all-wheel-drive system and Bose audio.

The CUV, which will be assembled at GM’s Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, plant, is the last Saab scheduled to share a GM platform.

Because of Saab’s go-it-alone approach to product development, a position adopted since Muller’s Netherlands-based Spyker Cars N.V. acquired the auto maker, it has a tenuous hold on the TE platform.

Asked if Saab intends to stay in the segment, Muller seems incredulous. “It would be pretty awkward to go out of it,” he says.

Muller tells Ward’s talks are under way with “various” auto makers about acquiring for Saab a platform that would accommodate an updated version of the brand’s seminal 92 small car. But he does not identify the OEMs.

A 92 is not in the auto maker’s business plan, so financing also is an issue. And Muller concedes it is not essential that Saab enter the premium small-car segment.

“Not essential, but very desirable,” he says.

Meanwhile, CEO Jan Ake Jonsson says Saab’s relationship with OnStar, GM’s electronic concierge service, will follow the U.S. auto maker’s platforms out the door. Asked whether Saab will negotiate a licensing deal to retain the feature, Jonsson shrugs.

By 2012, the oldest product in Saab’s showroom will be 3 years old, he says later.

Through October, Saab’s U.S. sales tracked 27.4% ahead of like-2009, according to Ward’s data.

emayne@wardsauto.com