The Saab 900 compact - the series that never existed

Saab's history is full of ideas that never came true. The chapter on compact Saabs is particularly tragic. The small series that was always missing. A failure that meant that Saab never came out of the basement, and that the brand no longer exists today.

Saab 9-2 - the first attempt in 1995 based on the Saab 900 II
Saab 900 Compact - the first attempt in 1995 based on the Saab 900 II

There were several attempts to establish a third, compact series. Sometimes on our own basis, then on the platform of the Opel Astra and at the very end as a derivative of the Mini series from BMW. But that alone came to the public eye and came onto the market Saab 9-2x. A Subaru in fair disguise that had nothing to do with Saab.

But which offers a lot of driving fun.

The struggle for the 3rd series began in the 90s. GM had invested 50% in Trollhättan. With Keith Butler Wheelhouse, a GM manager headed the company. He redeveloped, rigorously cut jobs, outsourced parts of the company and sold them. And it quickly brought the manufacturer back into the black.

The development of the new 900 generation was a challenge (900 Saga Part 1, 2, 3,), whose success depended no less than the survival of the company. Lived madness, because never before had anyone placed an almost completed project on a strange, unknown platform. The risk was successful and the Saab 900 II quickly came onto the market for the time.

Pioneer - the compact 3 series (E46)
Pioneer - the compact 3 series (E46)

Saab was making money again

That was in 1993, and the changes in the auto industry in the years that followed were enormous. The German premium brands entered the compact market. First and foremost BMW with the E36 Compact, which rolled out to customers from spring 1994. Audi was working on the A3, which, based on the VW Golf, was to appear two years later, advertised as a “new extravaganza”.

The invasion of the compact class was considered a risk. Back then, premium had to be large, while smaller vehicles were considered to have low margins. Would customers be willing to pay for it?

And Saab? In Trollhättan you saw both the challenge and the opportunities. A compact Saab was projected. Initially based on the Opel Astra F, which was quickly discarded. Then, based on the concept of BMW, a compact model was devised based on the still young 900. The overhangs of the body were cut radically for this purpose.

The result was a design that could have rivaled the Audi A3. In addition, the compact would have passed as a Saab at first glance.

Saab 900 compact

The Saab 900 Kompakt would have been inexpensive to implement. Together with the “normal” 900 it could have rolled off the production line in Trollhättan. Same technology, higher quantities. The idea was amazing. The third series at Saab, it was within reach. That was in 1995. The start was expected by the end of the decade.

Audi A3, 1996
Successful: Audi A3, 1996

But once again everything turned out differently. Keith Butler Wheelhouse was replaced in 1996. His successor Robert Hendry had completely different ambitions. Wheelhouse, who came to Saab through Ford, was never a complete GM man. The Saab and Trollhättan brands have always been closer to him than Detroit.

It was different with Hendry, who only stayed briefly at Göta Älv and who was to climb high at GM. The plans for the Saab 900 Kompakt disappeared in the shredder. For now. In the meantime, Audi had pushed the A3 onto the market. To the horror of GM, it was so successful in the Opel Astra segment that the topic was on the table again just two years later. This time under completely different circumstances. The next attempt had nothing to do with the first idea of ​​a compact Saab.

With pictures of BMW AG and Audi AG (1/1)

5 thoughts on "The Saab 900 compact - the series that never existed"

  • Oh yes, such a compact Saab would be something. There could be another Saab in front of the house in many Saab households.

  • Saab had so many good answers to the changing market. I guess GM has suppressed almost everything out of jealousy or fear of cannibalization. The only satisfaction today is to see the role GM still plays in Europe today, none!

  • That would have had potential! It's a shame that Saab became a pawn and a victim of GM interests and probably also intrigues. There was so much opportunity there.

  • Sounds like a sequel?

    I am excited. Good start. The compacts are an exciting topic across the industry.

    In the last 2 to 3 decades there has hardly been a corporation whose management did not have to be measured by dealing with this question.

    It was one of the most exciting and dominating questions of all, where exactly in which company and for which of its brands the sweet spot is in the model policy.

    There were rows of success stories and misjudgments at the top and bottom of the model range, depending on the ambition and gut feeling of the respective manager.

    The internal competition between VW and Audi is legendary when the Audi boss knew how to understand the A2 in no other way than an act of sabotage on the upscale image (misjudgment).
    While VW said it would attack the A8 with the Phaeton (misjudgment) and with the Touareg (success story) it would have to deal with the topic of luxury SUVs before Audi.

    In hindsight you are smarter. But it is and remains exciting to see what was going on back then, who did what, when and why with regard to which brand.
    It's a shame that Saab is all about omissions ...

    • @Volvaab Right. Sequel follows.

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