Swedish automaker has produced nearly 3.3 million cars in last 50 years
Norcross, GA - On December 12,1949, the Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab began regular production of its first ground-based vehicle-a green Saab 92. The uniquely styled car with its aircraft heritage, aerodynamic profile, front-wheel drive and two-stroke engine rolled off the line a few weeks later, challenging the automotive mainstream. Fifty years, and nearly 3.3 million cars later, Saab's unique approach to designing and engineering cars continues to challenge conventional wisdom.
From prototype to regular production
In 1944, Saab-the acronym of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget or Swedish Aircraft Company Limited-decided to begin making cars as a supplement to its aircraft production. Gunnar Ljungstrom, who had been employed as wing designer at Saab since 1937, was instructed to create a new car. After styling designer Sixten Sason joined the project, an aircraft-inspired and very advanced car gradually emerged.
The first prototype, designated the Saab 92.001, was ready in 1946. One year later, on June 10, 1947, a second car-designated the Saab 92.002-was unveiled. The two cars were used to move Saab's entire car department to Trollhattan and by 1949, Saab was ready to produce 20 pilot vehicles of the new Saab 92 model. The 92 designation was a logical progression from the earlier Scandia (90) and Safir (91) aircraft projects.
Cars instead of aircraft
The area of the Trollhattan workshop that was available for producing cars was only 190,000 sq. ft. and accommodated the entire production process-bodywork panel pressing and body assembly, engine and transmission production, upholstery and painting departments, final assembly and final adjustments.
As the first cars began rolling down the production line, the last Saab 21 propeller fighter aircraft rolled out of the factory. Aircraft production was being moved to Linkoping. The first three regular production cars were ready for delivery on January 16, 1950.
All of them were green
When the first Saab cars hit the showrooms, they produced enormous interest. An estimated 15,000 to 35,000 people lined up to see them. However, production was only four cars a day, and only 1,246 cars were produced in the first year-all the same bottle-green color.
The transversely mounted, two-cylinder, two-stroke engine had a displacement of 764 cc and developed 25 horsepower. The engine and transmission were integrated into one unit and, like all subsequent Saab models, the car was front-wheel drive. The unit construction, all-welded steel body was strong and torsionally stiff, and due to the streamlined body design, the car had a drag coefficient of only 0.35.
Production records in Trollhattan
A production rate of more than 10,000 Saab cars a year was not reached until 1958. The rate then rose swiffly to around 90,000 cars by the mid-1970s. The highest annual total was recorded in 1986, when 134,112 cars rolled offthe production line.
In addition to those produced in Trollhattan, Saab cars were also assembled over the years in Linkoping, Arlov, Malmo, Mechelen (Belgium) and Nystad/Uusikaupunki (Finland). Production today is concentrated to Trollhattan and Nystad, the latter plant producing the special Saab 9-3 Viggen model and all 9-3 Convertibles. The best production year for the Trollhattan factory was 1998, when 107,135 cars were produced (out of a total production of 124,867 cars in that year).