RICK KRANZ

PhoeniX concept 'tests the limits' of Saab style, designer says

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

GENEVA -- Saab Automobile AB's PhoeniX coupe concept looks like the star attraction in a Transformers movie.

Previous Saab designs may have seemed more suited to, say, a role as a bit player in The Social Network.

"We didn't want to be a wooden spoon in a knife fight," said Jason Castriota, Saab Automobile's executive design director, explaining the concept's in-your-face, over-the-top design. "We are a small player and we need to have a product that stands out."

The PhoeniX, unveiled Tuesday at the Geneva auto show, hints at some styling cues that will appear in future Saab vehicles.

"You will certainly see some of the character from the PhoeniX" in the redesigned 9-3, Castriota said, "but it will be toned down."

The 9-3 is Saab's top-selling model. The redesigned car goes on sale in fall 2012.

Saab newcomer

Castriota is a relative newcomer to Saab, having joined the company last June. His background is in designing exotic cars. In 2001, Castriota joined Pininfarina S.p.A.'s design studio in Turin, Italy, after attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. He was named director of design at nearby Stile Bertone in 2008.

During his brief time at Saab, he has been responsible for styling the redesigned 9-3, the PhoeniX concept and setting the styling direction for Saab's future vehicles.

General Motors Co. sold Saab to Spyker Cars NV in February 2010.

Castriota said the PhoeniX's striking styling was needed to "send a shot out there that would give an indication of where we would like to go." Some people believe Saab no longer exists, he said. Some previous Saab owners have migrated to other brands.

'Aggressive, bold'

The concept "is aggressive, bold, a bit more courageous, and maybe it is not what people are accustomed. That's why there is a bit of shock and awe today. But that is exactly what we wanted," Castriota told journalists Tuesday.

The PhoeniX's exterior design looks ready to sprout wings and fly. Flanking the roof are winglets designed to direct air onto the PhoeniX's rear deck, improving high-speed stability by reducing rear lift forces. The design was inspired by Saab's aviation roots.

The front styling features a stretched interpretation of Saab's three-port grille in which the central wing shape is now dominant. The opening extends the width of the nose, including a deep middle section and narrow outer sections.

Saab's traditional grille bar is evolved into a body-colored bar that resembles a wing. Photo credit: Rick Kranz

Evolved grille

Saab's traditional grille bar is evolved into a body-colored bar that resembles a wing. LED headlamps are at the tips of the wing. The front design theme is likely to be incorporated into future vehicles.

Speaking of Saab's future styling, Castriota said, "Saab could not continue just staying still. It could not continue doing the same evolution just with beautiful proportions and big wheels. It is just not enough.

"We need to diversify and expand. Again, there are limits to that and this [concept] tests the limits of that for sure."

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