When Lars Olsson arrived at Saab Automobile AB three years ago to take over responsibility for quality, he was shocked 'that things were so bad.'
The 9-3 facelift - based on a platform from General Motors' German subsidiary Adam Opel - wasn't ready. Quality was poor, and Olsson decided to delay production for 18 months.
The latest-generation 900 was introduced in 1993 using an Opel platform that Saab executives said was 'taken off the shelf to get Saab back on track and make it happen quickly.'
Several years later, Saab wanted to do heavy work on the front and rear to give it more traditional styling. The company also wanted to give the car its first diesel engine.
But Saab was in debt. It could spend only $148 million, and it could not afford to make the quality mistakes it had made with the 900. So the company made some limited changes in the engine and suspension and beefed up the body structure to improve safety.
'We made good handling compromises and reinforced the safety, one of Saab's cornerstones,' Olsson said.
The facelifted 9-3 was introduced in early 1998 - very late. But the delay taught Saab a very important lesson about quality.
'The organization learned so much - how to work to produce quality,' Olsson said.
A year ago, Olsson was rewarded with a promotion; now, he heads technical development.
Saab subsequently redesigned the 9-5 on the Opel Vectra platform, code-named 3001. This time, Saab had more influence and more money - $662 million - and could make more dramatic adjustments.
Saab reinforced the front body structure and used the common rear axle for the 9-5. But the company engineered even bigger differences in the handling to make it more appealing to a Saab driver. Like the redesigned 9-3, the new 9-5 debuted in 1998.
The new Epsilon platform, which will be used for the next 9-3, will be Saab's first 'golden opportunity,' said Olsson.