TROLLHATTEN, Sweden - The Sensonic clutchless transmission has been withdrawn as an option on the 900 Turbo, but Saab will keep it on the shelf until customers are ready for it.
Saab engineers will keep pace with further developments in clutchless transmissions, said Gary Axon, manager of market planning and analysis.
The Sensonic was not offered in the United States, and it was less popular in Europe than Saab had expected.
Axon said interest in Europe seems to be growing in wheel-mounted Formula One-style paddle gear selection. With such a system, drivers can shift the transmission up or down with finger levers or buttons mounted on either side of the steering wheel. As with a conventional automatic transmission, there is no clutch pedal.
An updated Sensonic system could be launched when the moment is right.
'We were ahead of our time,' Axon said. 'The system was launched in 1993 after six years of development and 1.6 million kilometers of road testing, but being an automotive pioneer is always difficult, and the market was not ready.'
Saab considered launching Sensonic with paddle controls, said Axon, but product planners chose a floor shift 'because paddles would have been an even bigger shock to customers.'
A relaunch must be timed carefully, Axon said. Moving too early risks missing developments in the technology. When the moment comes, said Axon, 'we will be able to throw a huge amount of expertise and experience into the arena.'
Only the United Kingdom market had lived up to Saab hopes for Sensonic, Axon said. Of customers buying turbocharged engines, 30 percent specified the Sensonic transmission.
Around 8 percent of German buyers took Sensonic. 'German motorists like high-tech machinery and the association with competition cars,' Axon said, 'but we have discovered that they don't like to travel more than 30 kilometers to get it, especially when Mercedes, BMW and Audi dealerships are on their doorstep.'
The purchase rate was just 5 percent in Scandinavia and 1 percent in France, Italy and Spain. The system was not even offered in the United States.
Saab dealers in the United States would have had to train dealers for 16 car variations instead of the four they now cope with, which was out of proportion with the likely return, said Axon.
'U.S. motorists are essentially automatic transmission buyers and are very cautious about anything unconventional or complex,' he said. 'The costly implications of product liability were a further problem. You do not lightly give the average U.S. motorist something extra to think about.'