Friday, March 03, 2006

Geneva 2006: Saab Aero X Concept

With its Live Green Go Yellow campaign well underway here in the States, I wondered how GM would market its new "green" campaign in Europe.

Well, now we know. However, in the case of the Saab Aero X Concept, maybe they should change the slogan to "Live Green, Go Fast."

Saab Aero X

Before we get into the car's "green" credentials. Let's talk about how it looks. Appearance-wise, it's stunning. Low-slung, with a long hood and short overhangs front and back, the Aero X screams "sports car" even as it sits on a rotating dish in a Geneva convention hall. The car's lines suggest a traditional hatchback, but that is dispelled the minute you open the car to get in. You see, the doors aren't really doors at all. They're the sides of fighter jet-style canopy that slides forward to allow occupant ingress and egress. Truth be told, the first thing I thought of when I saw photos of the car with its roof open was the Maserati "Birdcage 75th" concept by Pininfarina, which was one of the stars at last year's Geneva show. (That's not a bad thing at all, by the way.)

The roof (and the white paint) are about where the similarities end. Whereas the Birdcage was a pure styling exercise, with no hope of ever seeing production, there are features on the Aero X that you can expect to see on future Saabs. The news comes from Bob Lutz himself, via the GM FastLane Blog:
Many design cues of the Aero X will find their way into production in Saab's future models. The front end, for example, or the very unique all-glass wraparound windscreen.
Power for the Aero X comes from an evolved version of Saab's existing BioPower engine technology. BioPower is the name given to the incredibly popular flexible-fuel engine option for the Saab 9-5 currently available in Sweden. Right now, 80% of Saab 9-5 sales there are for the BioPower models. Customers face up to two-month waits for the cars, and demand is only expected to increase now that an optional automatic transmission became available. The 2.0 liter turbocharged BioPower engine available in Europe can run on E85 ethanol (85% ethanol/15% gasoline blend), regular pump gas, or any combination thereof. There is incentive to run the car on E85, however, as the engine makes 180 HP on the biofuel versus just 150 when run on gasoline only.

Aero X raises the stakes. Its 2.8 liter twin-turbo BioPower V6 makes 400 HP running on 105-octane E100 ethanol (100% pure ethanol). 0 to 62 mph comes in 4.9 seconds, and the car has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

The use of E100 as the preferred fuel envisions a possible future where pure ethanol is common. Even so, the Aero X will still run on gasoline if ethanol is not available. Power is delivered to the car's all-wheel-drive system via a seven-speed manumatic transmission.

The Aero X is an audacious concept which demonstrates that high style and performance do not need to be sacrificed as automakers pursue clean, practical alternative fuel technologies. In it, we see the immediate future of Saab through styling cues likely to make it onto future production cars, while also getting a glimpse of where the brand's current BioPower efforts could be headed.

GM's commitment to ethanol power as a bridge to possible end-state solutions like hydrogen fuel cells looks completely serious. If they continue to show the public flexible-fuel vehicles as desirable as the Aero X, they're going to have an easy time selling people on the technology. So far, I'm impressed.

Saab Aero X Concept
Official Website
Transmission: 7-speed double-clutch automated manual
Engine: 2.8L twin-turbo BioPower V6
Power: 400 HP @ 5,000 RP
Torque: 369 lb-ft from 2,000 - 5,000 RPM
0-62: 4.9 sec
Top Speed: 155 MPH (electronically limited)
Base Price: N/A
Watch Official Unveiling Video

All photos courtesy of General Motors.