Autoblog has learned that newly emancipated Saab is already looking to boost its enthusiast portfolio with higher-output engines and performance parts, albeit in a temporarily limited fashion. According to company sources, the Swedish automaker is seeking to enhance the performance potential of its 9-3 and the new 9-5, but it remains hamstrung by agreements signed with Saab's previous owners that lay out chapter-and-verse about what power levels its products can offer through 2012. Why? Because "We can't modify these licensed architectures in such a way that it will compete with General Motors products." In other words, production-line models with stouter drivetrains have been ruled out for the next couple of years, leaving Saab to pursue other ways to bring more power to the people.
As such, company executives have been in talks with leading European Saab tuner Hirsch Performance AG (with whom it has a longstanding relationship) to develop new dealer-installed performance parts to be offered in North America and other markets. As Hirsch is not a well-known entity outside of Europe and diehard Saab enthusiasts, Saab has not yet decided under which name it will market these upgrades. However, these dealer-installed improvements could take the form of everything from ECU upgrades to aero kits, brakes, exhaust systems and other bolt-ons.
Discussions are ongoing, but names under discussion for the parts range include Hirsch, Saab Performance Group (SPG), as well as the Viggen moniker, both of which have been attached to high-performance Saab models in the past. It's possible that different names will be adopted for different markets, leaving the door open for Hirsch in Europe and another designation in North America.
Due to a massive infrastructure development by GM over the last decade, Saab's Trollhatten facility actually has extensive state-of-the-art research and development facilities (in fact, the company is still doing work under contract for GM's Opel division, among other projects). Those facilities include a wind tunnel and emissions testing equipment, both of which figure to be important in the development of these products. Saab engineers will work cooperatively with Hirsch, giving them access to their facilities and engineering expertise. Incidentally, Saab hasn't ruled out eventually purchasing Hirsch and bringing the entire process in-house (as Mercedes-Benz did with AMG), but doing so is not a priority at this time.
What sort of performance upgrades are we talking about? The forthcoming 2011 9-5 with the entry-level 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder puts out 220 horsepower, but the engine can be safely and easily tuned to 260 horsepower before the injectors become a bottleneck (as shown in GM's Kappa roadsters). As far as the 2.8-liter turbo V6 goes, Saab has already developed a 350-horsepower version of that engine that runs on ethanol (the production Opel Insignia OPC that uses the same powerplant produces 325 hp, and the 2010 9-5 Aero delivers 300 hp).
The development of a range of dealer-installed parts illustrates that new owners Spyker are keen to build on Saab's record of 'responsible performance,' and sources we spoke with clearly recognize that performance sub-brands among its premium segment competitors have been critical for building image while fostering their bottom lines. Saab is understandably keen to tap into this potential, but until the related contractual limitations with GM expire, it looks like it will have to use its dealers to complete an 'end around' to reach enthusiasts. After 2012, though, we fully expect the reborn Griffin to add factory-produced performance models to this range of dealer-installed go-fast bits. 2013 9-3 Viggen, anyone?