Hybrid engine. The start into the electrical future

Internal combustion engine or the electric version? A question that is probably as old as the automobile itself and today more relevant than ever. But just over 25 years ago, the topic in the industry is suddenly picking up speed. Prototypes are presented, the race for the production maturity of the hybrid engine has begun.

The hybrid engine. Saab worked on it early. But Detroit prevented the future.
The hybrid engine. Saab worked on it early. But Detroit prevented the future.

With Audi, VW and Toyota mix the usual suspects on the floor of technical innovations. In Sweden, too, the topic is being pursued, but with turbo technology it has already been proven that one can play with the big ones. The race for the next big thing from Trollhättan begins!

Hybrid engine. On par with the big ones

At the beginning of the 90s, you are at perhaps the highest technical level you have ever been in Trollhättan. The 9000 is a technology carrier, the 900 Turbo can compete on the performance, but also in terms of price with cars from Zuffenhausen. At the time, however, car giants such as VW or Toyota are also researching new technologies.

Something with electric drives should be, the future is open, the results varied. Also in Trollhättan one wants to mix on the floor of the large manufacturers, and starts at the beginning of the 90er years with the research and development of hybrid engines.

While cars like the powerful 900 16S or 9000 Turbo are being produced on the tracks, the research center is racking their brains on how to supplement the 900 and 9000 engines with an electric solution. In Sweden, they show themselves innovative and find a solution. A small exclusive test car fleet is manufactured and extensively tested until the engineers in Trollhättan agree at some point. The result is convincing, the drive as good as ready for mass production.

Bad mood in Detroit

With the test results in the luggage, a small delegation from Trollhättan makes his way to Detroit. The Saab engineers believe that they have created the next big innovation after the turbo engine. But in America they showed little enthusiasm for the trials of the Swedes. One does not think much of the idea and the thumb for the hybrid engines show after a short time down, which is not necessarily reprehensible. If you follow the trend in the industry that solutions with electric drives will not have a market.

Because Audi suffers the same fate with VW. 1997 brings out the Audi 80 duo in Ingolstadt in the third hybrid version. Paired with a 1,9 liter machine, in the south of the republic, technology is the key to success. 80 km pure electric drive should have been well, even recuperation was possible. But the opinion in Wolfsburg is the same as in Detroit. After 90 copies is over, the Audi is discontinued. The model was just way too expensive. Way too expensive. At VW sees no future in the electric gimmick from Ingolstadt and decides that the group should focus on diesel direct injection. It will be a decision that will have consequences just under 20 years later.

The end of the future

In Trollhättan you take the decision from Detroit. The subject of hybrid is filed, all prototypes are scrapped. Thus the trace of the development of that time also loses itself, only from stories of former engineers the events of that time can be reconstructed. Too exclusive was the research on just such engines. So remains hidden in which car a hybrid variant could have gone into series at the end. An 9000 in electric glide would probably have been more comfortable than he had been without it, and maybe the 900 / 2 could have had a very different image if rolled into a hybrid version with the dealers.

Electric future. Saab was far. But the race was lost.
Electric future. Saab was far. But the race was lost.

Instead, one relies on GM's V6 engine from Opel, which will soon be found in 9000 and 900 / 2. An aggregate that never really fit Saab and the time.

Toyota won the race for the hybrid engine in the end. 1997 introduces the first Prius to the public. It becomes the symbol of the hybrid car a little later, sells over eleven million times and gives Toyota a (more or less) green image.

The thing with the hybrid engine. She could have taken Saab to a new level in the middle of the 90 years. Instead, it went downhill, the vintages 94 'and 95' are the last in which Saab will once again gain a profit, then you will have to explain to the boardroom in Detroit until the end of year by year, a consistent minus.

The big hit - a last try

In the German automotive industry, the topic of hybrid hybrid 2009 comes up again with the introduction of Mercedes W221. The luxury saloon will be the first hybrid-powered vehicle from Germany. In Trollhättan you never touch the subject again. Why should you? If you are already in 2009 with the development of a pure electric cars busy - while celebrating in Germany for the marketability of the hybrid engine.

20 thoughts too "Hybrid engine. The start into the electrical future"

  • Madness, what could have happened. What could have gone with a 9000 electric four-wheel drive If everything had worked out at the time, what can we drive from Saab today? Probably there would have been an electrical 9-5NG at Tesla level.

  • Tom,

    Thank you for another very good article about the incredible developments of our small car forge. Could 1976 still prevail with the turbo against the commissioned V8 SAAB internally, succeeded in Detroit no more. I can neither condemn nor understand a decision from the context of the time. But it shows me once again how creative SAAB has tackled future issues. The task of self-reliance and thus the participation of GM had in the retrospective too high a price, even if SAAB certainly benefited from it and was allowed to build at least once more 20 years cars.

    These are the articles that make the blog and SAAB so unique. Thanks again.

    Greetings from Eric

    11
    • Thanks, I pass the praise to Jan. The article is from him, during the Saab Festival he had an interesting conversation with a Saab veteran, who was then responsible for the project.

  • archeology

    Fascinating and irritating that such a young story, that of SAAB and its hybrids, can hardly be reconstructed today ...

    So we (humanity) are justifiably worried about preserving centuries or millennia of ancient human knowledge and are frivolously annihilating comparatively recent prototypes and technical documentation?

    Well, it's the way it is, but I do not understand that. Even the conventional 9000 is still amazingly up to date. How can a future-oriented SAAB hybrid be the subject of archaeological efforts?

  • Tesla-level? Hopefully not. With 15 years ahead there would be a world in between. Tesla may be innovative - but Tesla is not a serious automaker.

    9
    5
  • Saab was an incredibly innovative car manufacturer. As far as I know they already had an SUV on the sketching table before others thought about it. Unfortunately, many innovations were too early for the time. Saab would have dropped much more profit if GM did not book many bills on Saab that had nothing to do with Saab at all. Same with Opel. Only one year with another manufacturer and Opel makes profit. Because GM did exactly the same thing here. Losses and bills passed on to the European daughters.

    10
    • That is true. There was an 9-3 SUV that never came on the market. A lost opportunity.

  • The Saab has never taken up again the subject of hybrid propulsion, although fits well into the story, according to the motto, once referenced by GM beat was enough, but that's not true.
    There was at least one concept vehicle, to which you can find a few more information, eg here: https://www.heise.de/autos/artikel/Die-Kraft-der-Regeneration-Saab-BioPower-Hybrid-Concept-415375.html?view=bildergalerie&bild=2

    I think I remember that there were rumors back then that Saab would also be talking about plug-in hybrid in this context.
    If they really did, they may have thought it would be better to tackle the subject the other way around, namely as an electric vehicle plus possibly a small range extender. Otherwise you have two heavy drives that do not complement each other optimally.
    Which would explain why they were relatively early with their e-vehicle and also quite far.

    • The story is true. The powertrain of the study came from GM and has little to do with Saab.

  • Is there more information about that? A small Saab SUV, and not just the 9-3X would have certainly become something very interesting and would certainly have found some buyers who now drive an XC40 or XC60.

    • The SUV is unfortunately the proverbial “black hole”. It is said to have been ready for the series, but was stopped on GM's orders. No prototype survived, at least not officially. That must have been in 2005. When you consider that Volvo only came with the XC2008 in 60 and only survived through this car, the story has a bitter aftertaste.

  • @ Jan_HH, Tom & Eric900,

    fascinating. I could have sworn that this must be Tom's article.
    After a few years of reading, you form a unique way to identify style and author.
    A better instructed so I say thanks to Jan_HH and Tom. Thanks to the author and the publisher.

    The article is once again great and inspiring.

  • @ StF,

    thanks for the link. It's a shame that the “article” (it's more of a message) remains so vague.
    I do not understand what kind of hybrid it should be and how exactly it works.

    It is said that the combustor sends its energy into the electric drive system, which would reduce the fat turbo to a generator. But then there is also talk of a torque boost, which in turn would suggest that the burner and the 3 electric motors could also act on the wheels at the same time ...

    Unfortunately, I'm not smart from the Heise-Geschreibsel ...

    Exciting is the question of GM and the related beatings. A robbery under the threat or exercise of violence is called a robbery. Where are all the patents and documents going? Maybe the founder of NEVS had good reasons when he publicly complained in an interview that they found much less technology than expected at SAAB?

    Maybe the 2006 vehicle fits in well with the picture and the story?

  • For me, the BioPower Hybrid Concept Cabrio looks like it has an electrically driven rear axle, but the front-wheel drive can be the front-wheel drive version of GM's 2-mode hybrid drive (which, as far as I'm aware, never made it to the series) , so the bottom line is a four-wheel drive without mechanical connection between the axles. This is also through this link (http://news.bio-based.eu/saab-biopower-hybrid-concept-auf-dem-pariser-autosalon/).

    At any rate, GM does not remember such ideas. Something I know from the time around 2006 only from Lexus and later from Volvo and PSA. Of course, I can not rule out that GM thought about it and maybe asked Saab to do it a bit. But calling it a pure GM powertrain seems to me to make Saab's share smaller than it was.
    Saab is for me one of the pioneers in the development of electrically driven secondary axle, GM would not really come to mind in this context.

    For BMW and Mercedes, there have been all-wheel-drive versions of the GM 2 rear-wheel-drive hybrid transmission from Allison, in which the four-wheel drive was realized by two cardan shafts. That smells like GM, electric four-wheeler not for me.

  • @ StF,

    Thanks again for the link, research and information. It is also striking that the article in Heise and the youngest link have the same word passages. That sounds like more or less thoroughly rewritten press release from the public relations department of SAAB or his Rabenmutter.

    Since the media probably no one has gone deeper into the matter, as it was up to date ...

    Too bad that it is so, but it is probably the contemporary witnesses (whom Jan_HH met) who today are the only credible and reliable source for SAAB hybrids we have left. That's fascinating and disturbing ...

    I would have thought that the last 25 years would be better and more extensively documented. The Internet is celebrating its 50. Birthday and can celebrate on this occasion right away that it has thoroughly failed in preserving history and stories and to document ...

  • In fact, developments in hybrid engines related to GM date back to 1972. The interest in electric propulsion from the point of view of the Americans was therefore certainly present.

    The drivetrain of the BioPowerHybridConcept was certainly interesting, and this would be attributed to the engineers from Trollhättan - solely from the point of view of the pioneering spirit. However, I suspect that the concept is related to the Voltec drive. This came from the hand of a German engineer who worked for Opel and GM and later switched to BMW and was released at the same time. The principle is similar or expandable, GM used this drive at Chevrolet, Opel set the drive for the later Ampera. The convertible is probably just the Swedish interpretation in conjunction with a BioPower engine.

    Although the concept is certainly interesting, the share from the Swedish point of view should have been rather small.

  • I suspect that it was the absolute exclusivity of the project. The team which was entrusted with this task was very small, not even internally knew all about it. This shows that even then certain things were not allowed to be public.

    The only ones who can report on it today are the engine engineers of that time.

  • TEASER & TIME TOUGH

    Jan_HH, that must have been really exciting conversations. I was hooked on your article like a good teaser. Oh, that would be nice if those involved from that time would prepare the topic. In the SAAB Museum, the prototypes would certainly have room in the hall for a hybrid development ...

    After a tour of the main hall, in which the vehicles are actually stacked literally and with the help of the retracted gallery and you almost succumb to a flood of impressions and information, the presentation of Aero X & Co in the other hall did not affect me skillfully generous, but rather depressingly empty ...

    When it comes to prototypes and interesting developments, the museum, as much as I like it, has in my opinion a breath of fresh air. Your article encourages me in this view. Hopefully the curator will be reading here and hopefully he has an ambitious character. Maybe the museum shines with new information about formerly well kept secrets and secret developments of SAAB engineers at the next festival?

  • @ Herbert Hürsch

    It is always said that the network does not forget anything, but it is likely that things that are rarely called go down in the ranking until the storage space for something else is needed and released.
    To make matters worse with Saab, that just no Saab server more information on their projects ready, since long turned off.

    Also through the archive of the Wayback Machine, I have not found any Saab press information about the BioPower Hybrid Concept Convertible. A bit randomly arranging the search terms in Google has then revealed two English-language pages that skip a bit of the technology of the concept vehicle.

    There have apparently been two versions of it, both of which had the electric rear axle. The first version had a mild hybrid drive with belt starter generator on the front axle (https://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/03/saab_unveils_e1.html), in the second version, the FWD 2 mode hybrid transmission was installed there (https://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/07/gm_adds_twomode.html).

    And if you're looking for it, you'll find something about a hybrid version of the 9-5 NG that was probably obsolete with the sale to Spyker (https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/saab-9-5-get-baby-hybrid).

    It might have been possible a lot if the structures in the group had been different ...

  • Interestingly enough, Swedish scientists have also looked at the period of development of hybrid vehicles:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299986256_Multilevel_governance_and_innovation_system_functionality_Hybrid-electric_vehicle_technology_in_Sweden_1990-2009

    Unless you are particularly interested in economics or economics, it is probably not worth torturing yourself throughout the English text, though it does make a very interesting picture.
    Then, at most section 4 is interesting, which lists the manufacturer activities during this period, in which Saab, however, compared to Volvo and Scania, much less mentioned.

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