Ian Robertson, BMW’s Brit board member for sales and marketing, was on hand to pull the covers off the 1.6-litre, 200bhp, BMW engine that’s currently used in the Mini Countryman. The fact that BMW now makes versions of its own engines for its front-drive brand made the Saab deal possible.
But it’s not the first time Saab has turned to the UK for engine supply.
Aside from the early two-stroke engine (which was probably a post-war copy of a German unit), Saab has never built it own base engines.
For a while the teardrop-shape 95 and 96 used a Ford V4 unit, but for the new 99, Saab licenced an engine from Triumph. The slant-four (which was effectively half a Stag V8) was significantly improved by Saab engineers, who then also turbocharged it.
By the time the second-generation Saab 9000 was launched in 1991, Saab’s mainstay engine was still a slant turbocharged four, but had virtually nothing in common with the Triumph original.
Saab sees it expertise in turbocharging and engine management systems and has set up a joint engineering team to tweak the Countryman engine for installation in the new 9-3. Further engine deals are to come, including a diesel engine, and I’d be very surprised if BMW aren’t again the suppliers.
It’ll be good business for BMW, too. The engine will be built at Hams Hall, a factory originally built to supply Rover and Land Rover, so there’s plenty of space to make the estimated 40,000 1.6-litre engines (in various states of tune) that Saab needs each year for the next 9-3.
Victor Muller, the owner of Spyker and then man who rescued Saab from the scrap heap, said that using BMW engines in future Saabs would ‘increase the premium-ness of the brand’.
Indeed. For a marque that is often dismissed in the UK as selling ‘re-styled Vauxhalls’ BMW under the bonnet can only be a good thing.
But one thing that made me smile at the Trollhattan press conference was that, by a quirk of history, Saab has found itself sourcing engines from the current owners of the Triumph brand.