Saab is a Swedish manufacturer of premium automobiles, originally grown from a company that manufactured airplanes. Their first models were built with an eye toward the aerodynamics commonly found in aircrafts. The company has changed several hands of ownership over time, even as a wholly owned subsidiary of American manufacturer General Motors for about two decades until 2010. Saab is currently owned by a newcomer in automobile manufacturing called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (Nevs).
The name Saab originally derived from the aircraft company called “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolag,” translating to Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited, founded in 1937. In 1945, the aircraft company began to design their newest project, Project 92, a plan to build a small vehicle that became the Saab 92. The hope was to diversify the company’s business units. The lowercase style of the name as “Saab” replaced the uppercase styling “SAAB” in the 1950s.
The automobile division was spun off and merged with the Swedish diesel-engine manufacturer Scania-Vabis, and later was purchased by General Motors. The original Saab Group now develops military defense and security products and is no longer related to the Saab line of civilian passenger vehicles.
Safety has always been a priority for Saab cars. The company was one of the earliest manufacturers to install seatbelts as a standard feature, and all of today’s Saabs have a floor-mounted ignition which is safer for a driver’s “knee-jerk” reaction in the case of an impact.
Though the company has struggled with insolvency over the last few years, mainly due to the overall problems with the General Motors portfolio, new owner Nevs plans to strengthen the company with a focus on electric-only vehicles. Their first market, China, is the most popular for environmentally conscious vehicles, a sign that NEVS has its finger on the pulse of the future of green technology.
Saab’s current flagship model is the Saab 9-3, which still maintains its design ties to the GM Epsilon platform. It is available only as a sedan, but will soon be available as a station wagon and as a convertible. In several of the past years the model won the title of “Top Safety Pick” in the United States, awarded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The floor-mounted ignition was inspired by the airplanes that the cars were modeled after which contained all of their throttle controls on the floor, but is also an important safety feature.
Saab currently has one model in production, the Saab 9-3 compact executive car. It is only available to customers in Sweden and China for the year 2014, with plans to expand with future models in later years.
In early production, Saab made four prototypes first numbered 92001 through 92004, until the market model was finally produced, unveiling as the Saab 92. That model began production in 1949 and 20,000 units were sold throughout the 1955. Ten years from the start of the automobile design project, the 92 underwent a total redesign and emerged renamed as the Saab 93. That new incarnation of the flagship model became the first to display what has become the trademark Saab radiator grill. Two other models were developed in the 1950s: the 94, which was the first in what would later grow into a line of performance roadsters dubbed the “Sonetts,” and the station wagon-styled 95.
The 1960s brought another revision of the 92, a new model known as the 96, which was the first model to be more extensively exported outside of Sweden, and it sold well. This same decade brought the Saab 99, a completely new Saab that was not at all based on the 92’s design. Designer Sixten Sason created style improvements in the 99, such as the “hockey stick” profile, which are staples of the Saab models to this day. The 99 also was the first to include a self-repairing bumper and headlamp washers, definitive features of the Saab automobile.
In the 1970s Saab teamed up with Fiat to produce the first luxury Saab, the 9000, also the sister car to the Alfa Romeo 164, Fiat Croma and the Lancia Thema. Most importantly in this decade, the 99 was replaced for the first time and redesigned as the 900, the company’s most popular and best-selling model. This model was later spun off in the mid-80s into a popular convertible version.
Through the 1990s and up to 2010, the new 900 model was revitalized into the 9-5. The 9-2x, 9-3x, 9-5x and the 9-7x were developed and produced, though all of the “x” models were shelved after 2011.
Saab has been appointed with the exclusive Royal Warrant for automobiles in Sweden, allowing the Company the title of sole purveyor of automobiles for the Swedish Royal Family.
Saab was the first company in the world to introduce headlamp wipers and washers, and the first company to fit heated seats as a standard feature.