The Holden-Saab story

When I bought 1992 my first Saab, a classic 900 S Sport, the new 9000 CS already rolled into the showrooms. With Trionic engines, unique, and probably the most advanced thing you could get for money back then.

A Saab engine in the Holden Commodore
A Saab engine in the Holden Commodore. Photo Credit: Neil Pogson

What I did not want to understand at the time was why the drives from Södertälje did not show up in other GM models. Saab was 1990 50% to the Americans, who had the say at Göta Älv ever since. Instead, Opel had, with a few exceptions, only average goods and no gourmet food from Sweden.

In my youthful naivete, I suspected the engines were made exclusively for Saab, but I was wrong. In fact, the Opel management Saab sabotaged at that time, where it was possible, and would have closed the engine plant in Sweden today rather than tomorrow.

A Saab engine in Holden?

The little known story behind it was the following: In the year 1993, the GM daughter Holden started the search for a smaller engine for the Commodore. For a possible export offensive in various Asian countries, the used 3.8 liter V6 from Buick was not suitable, tax regulations demanded for smaller displacements. At Holden, there was a great deal of hope in opening up new markets; a powerful engine less than 2.4 liters of displacement would have been ideal. The developers identified two possible candidates: The slightly too large Opel 2.6 liter V6 from English production. Or the Saab Turbo with 2.3 or 2.0 liter.

The direct comparison of both machines was clearly for the engines from Sweden. More modern, more efficient, and with the ability to install both the small and the big machine in the Commodore without modification. The costs also spoke in favor of the Saab construction, so Neil Pogson and his colleague Russ Little set off for 1993 in Sweden in May.

They visited the relatively new production facility in Södertälje, which at the time was an impressive high-tech factory. Production was underutilized at the time and Saab Management was very interested in the Holden project. Close cooperation seemed logical on both sides, and the Australians sent weeks later two Commodore for engine installation in Sweden.

In February 1994 Pogson and Little were back at the Göta Älv and reviewed the progress in prototype construction. The B234 engine had to be installed long and not as usual crosswise, which resulted in some modifications. And then you needed a matching automatic transmission for the Commodore. No problem, because the GM shelf was well filled. From Sweden, the Australians traveled to Frankfurt and on to the transmission plant in Strasbourg.

The GM Hydramatic 350 transmission was to be installed in the Commodore with Saab engine - and was obviously ideally suited for the 350 Nm of the turbo from Sweden. However, only on the paper. The developers had specified their transmission with 350 Nm, but, as one had to admit, only tested up to 280 Nm. It was used at this time at Opel, with 260 Nm maximum load.

After much discussion, 300 Nm torque was accepted as clearance, the transmission sent to Sweden, and soon after, the first Holden Commodore with Saab Turbo engine traveled from Trollhättan to Australia.

Opel makes front against the Holden-Saab project

In the meantime, however, strong resistance to the project formed. The GM provincial principals wanted to see their own factories busy. Who was interested in the plans of Saab and Holden? In the forefront: Peter Hanenberger - at that time GM Vice President and head of the Opel Development Center - takes a stand against the project. Hanenberger was on the way as a hard renovator and cost reducer, the entrance to the descent of the brand Opel may also be moored to his person.

He would have liked to eliminate the Saab engine and replaced the turbos from Södertälje by Opel machines. Although he did not succeed in the following years, Saab rose to turbo competence center in the GM group. But he successfully torpedoed the Holden-Saab project.

Although the developers in Australia were enthusiastic about the Holden-Saab Commodore, the prototypes had to be scrapped with the arrival of the second vehicle. Instead, the 2.6 liter V6 was used. A very bad decision, because the Opel engine did not meet all tax and customs requirements in the targeted countries. The success was missing, the export offensive from Holden to Asia never took place.

In the end only losers

In the end there were only losers. Saab could not increase the number of engine production, Holden did not open up any future markets. And Opel remained sitting on the machines. Hanenberger exemplifies the sad fact that Opel Saab harassed since the first day where it was possible. Ultimately, he failed even in his brutal austerity course and despite backing from Detroit 1998 was not the Opel boss. The powerful employee representatives on the Opel Supervisory Board had enough of his destructive course and prevented his appointment as CEO. Peter Hanenberger, irony of history, was praised to Australia, of all places. But at Holden he should have done a good job.

Saab did not survive GM, nor did Holden. In October 2017 closed, after 69 years, the last Holden factory their doors. And Opel? After selling to the PSA Group, the French drive a consistent course. They realize what GM never did. Opel is fully integrated, the development center in Rüsselsheim filleted. PSA retains only one part in the Group, and transfers the rest to external service providers. The time of provincial princes, intrigues and one-on-one is over. The independence but also.

The complete Holden-Saab story has written down ex-Holden developer Neil Pogson in his memoirs. 10 pages with details, unique pictures and a hitherto little-known piece of Saab history are available here as download.

17 thoughts too "The Holden-Saab story"

  • 12. February 2019 at 10: 31 AM
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    That's just the problem that the poorly managed corporation is dying for - internal views are always being made about what could benefit the customer.

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  • 12. February 2019 at 11: 24 AM
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    Abyssal backgrounds

    That the SAAB engines within the (GM) group could not prevail, I never understood. Even less, however, that the SAAB brand was watered down and condemned to install and offer 1993 1994 cylinders from GM in the 6 and the 900, which were inferior to their own four-cylinder in all aspects - ecologically anyway, despite more cylinders and displacement even in terms of performance ...

    Allegedly, the group wanted to emphasize the premium claim of the SAAB brand with higher cylinder numbers and "better" engines. A Trojan horse. The fact that GM, Opel and Holden have finally put this Trojan on their own farm, is only a weak, but also a certain comfort.

    Either the decision-making level in the (GM) group actually lacked technical expertise, algebra at primary school level and the required foresight, or it was simply too much influenced by personal influence and driven by internal power issues to even think clearly and to be able to do the right thing?

    The bottom line is a very sad post. But also well researched and enlightening. Many Thanks!

    15
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  • 12. February 2019 at 12: 36 PM
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    Pure excitement!
    Great article, thanks for the until now unknown information and details.
    Incredible that within a corporation such destructive interests of a "provincial prince" were possible ...
    SAAB certainly offers even more such "background" information ..., for example, about the various SUV attempts.
    Sunny day!

    11
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  • 12. February 2019 at 12: 52 PM
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    Great interesting story! First the picture puzzle, now the background information about it. The arc of tension has now closed. Many Thanks!
    I love the Saabblog!

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      • 12. February 2019 at 7: 46 PM
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        Well, what's going on today? Thanks for that!

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  • 12. February 2019 at 3: 03 PM
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    Interesting article.
    GM has broken Saab but also Opel GM would put at the door this Peter Hanenberger never knew. If he is still alive he will behave, if he has already left he may turn around to the grave.

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  • 12. February 2019 at 4: 20 PM
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    Typical Opel stop. Have never had a look for the essentials.

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  • 12. February 2019 at 6: 47 PM
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    For me it is - as far as I know or have read - rather "reversed" ...
    ... here is a "Holden" in the Saab and brings me every day where I want ... .. 😉

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    • 12. February 2019 at 7: 46 PM
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      Conversely, it worked. And it is a good engine!

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    • 13. February 2019 at 1: 55 PM
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      Yes, conversely, it worked. In my last Saab, an 9-3 SC with 2,8 liter, 6 cylinder was the engine of Holden. The car was pure driving pleasure. I still mourn for the car, but in the end it was not economical anymore. Well and you know the story, for lack of supplies since 2011, I'm now sitting in the Volvo. And the bad thing is I've gotten used to it and find it actually pleasant. But just this, my last Saab, was just a car that could arouse emotions.

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      • 13. February 2019 at 3: 02 PM
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        After all, you still drive as Swedish as it is on the new car market today.

        On large parking lots, I let my eyes wander over and try to discover Sweden. Even if the parking lot is well filled, it often only succeed because one of my two is there.

        I do not know the registration numbers, but felt less and less Volvos are on the way. I see more trucks from Volvo and Scania than Swedish cars. Sad …

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        • 13. February 2019 at 3: 56 PM
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          The current Volvos (V90, XC90, XC60) are selling well. Especially with the 90er models Volvo was able to woo some customers of German manufacturers.

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          • 13. February 2019 at 4: 56 PM
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            Thanks for the information. Reassuring ...
            With the S90 I had two and the V90 only one encounter in the wild. At the same time, I saw more SAAB 9-5 NG than V & S90 put together. It makes you think ...

          • 13. February 2019 at 11: 32 PM
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            After my - not numerically verified - impression I see here in HH on the few kilometers into the office always very many Volvo, at least significantly more than, for example, Opel. 🙂 Also on my current route to HRO and back there were really many, but unfortunately not a single Saab 🙁 (apart from the few that are actually still luckily seen in HH). Although I personally do not like Volvo's density so much: You can practically see only these new, perverted, totally chunky and somehow completely in design inconsistent huge SUV. Besides, yes, Chinese are anyway ....

            I HATE SUVs (absolutely unaesthetic, in the city completely idiotic wannabe-tractor and "terrain" -Verschnitte, which constantly obstruct the view, especially since the drivers basically choose the models with mafia-disc tint and without turn signals) and LOVE the blog! Hach, that was good! 😉

  • 12. February 2019 at 11: 47 PM
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    Very interesting, thanks

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  • 15. February 2019 at 2: 26 AM
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    My car history from 1985, what | I bought my 1st Saab 9000 in 1985, a 9000i, oh I did not think it was a good car, far to slow (No turbo) ............

    1986 OPEL Monza GSE ... I had seen a great looking car in full color, and I loved the look of this 1 OPEL Monza GSE .... but did not have money to buy new .... I found a 2 yr- 8000 month old one for £ XNUMX.

    I have this Opel for another year, and have a say in the UK it is "it was a Friday afternoon car", and that was another story ...... ..

    Then on 1987 I saw this big gold thing, pass me one day and I thought that looks nice, it was a SAAB 9000 SE (a special UK version, which had the original wood door caps / dash select gear etc, installed especially in / for the UK.
    I had a Saab body kit on the car, which made it into a Carlsson lookalike.

    That B202 2L turbo engine what a fire in your bum, boy put your foot down @ 50mph, and the nose went up, the ass sat squat, and it took off ... .. outrunning anything else around ......

    Memories, eh !!

    Answer

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