General Motors plans to give its Saab subsidiary an all-wheel-drive sport-utility derived from the new Buick Rendezvous platform.
The project, code-named GMT 256, has been assigned to a design team. The vehicle will have 'standard Saab features,' a GM source said, such as a turbocharged Saab engine, narrow fixed headlights and a Saab-style horizontally split, chrome-rimmed grille.
GM sources say the vehicle will be built off the same platform as the Rendezvous and its Pontiac sibling, the Aztek. The Saab version could be the first Saab product to be sold only in North America.
A Saab sport-utility would give GM's Swedish unit an entry in the growing niche of so-called 'crossover' vehicles that are based on cars but offer sport-utility features. Lexus and BMW, two of Saab's main competitors, offer upscale entries with the Lexus RX 300 and BMW X5.
Daniel Chasins, president of Saab Cars USA Inc., declined to comment on specific plans. But he acknowledged that Saab's product planners in Trollhattan, Sweden, are interested in that segment and are working with GM to develop concepts. In January, GM announced that it will increase its ownership of Saab Automobile AB from 50 percent to 100 percent.
More product needed
'For our long-term success and to ensure our growth, we need to be more than a two-platform franchise,' Chasins said. 'There's an emerging segment of vehicles that aren't really cars and aren't really trucks. We want to be there, but we need to find a way to do it creatively.'
Saab's current products are the 9-3 and 9-5 cars.
The 2001 Pontiac Aztek debuted at the Los Angeles auto show in January, and the 2002 Buick Rendezvous was shown to reporters last week at the Chicago auto show. The two vehicles share a platform derived from the Chevrolet Venture/Pontiac Montana/Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans.
The GM sources say the GMT 256 design team is starting with the larger structure of the Rendezvous. The Rendezvous' wheelbase is four inches longer than the Aztek's. That helps accommodate a third row of seats in the Buick.
The dimensions of a North America-only Saab would likely be close to those of the Rendezvous, a source said, because GM is not being forced to downsize the vehicle to meet European market requirements.
Filling the niches
Engineers also are studying ways to package Saab's more powerful Opel-based 3.0-liter turbo V-6, now installed in the Saab 9-5 SE. The Aztek and Rendezvous have a different engine: the 3.4-liter pushrod V-6 from GM's minivans.
The GMT 256 would be the next vehicle off a GM platform that is expected to support a wide variety of niche vehicles. Over the past two years, the portfolio of concepts has included an Aztek-like sport-utility for Oldsmobile and a small pickup for Pontiac, says one source.
Those ideas have been scrapped for now. But GM execs still hope to leverage the engineering work and production investment at GM's plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, with additional models.
Mark Reuss, vehicle line executive for the Aztek/Rendezvous, acknowledged at the Chicago show last week that GM is considering producing more derivatives of the platform. Said Reuss: 'We've only scratched the surface on the flexibility of the platform.'