Saab History

Saab’s Technological Innovations in 1992 at the Geneva Motor Show

the Saab 9000 Prometheus, a prototype made by Saab in the early 1990's that featured a joystick instead of steering wheel!Saab Controlled by a Joystick

After GM took over 50 percent ownership of Saab cars in 1989 and brought in investment money, a number of innovations took place and new Saab models were introduced. Two well-known models to come out of this period were the Saab 9-3 and the Saab 9-5 (period until 2000). Precisely because of this, the presentation of models and innovations from Saab at the Geneva Motor Show in 1992 was particularly interesting.

The Joystick-Saab

One of the biggest innovations presented that year was The joystick-Saab, as Saab’s contribution to the European project EUREKA PROMETHEUS smart highway program. A Car without a steering wheel has been developed by Saab, and presented in Geneva and beyond, so one prototype reached the British Isles where it was tested by automotive journalists and even the BBC newsroom.

Saab 9000 Drive-by-wire
Saab 9000 Drive-by-wire

Saab 9000 Drive-by-Wire (1992)

The idea was simple, but still a little harder to implement – Drivers will use an aircraft style joystick linked to a car computer (instead of the usual steering wheel). Saab Engineers borrowed the idea from technology for a fighter plane they have designed. They believe it could be safer and more concenient than conventional steering. But even then, they expected and estimated that passengers and casual passers-by could be shocked by this concept.

Joystick Saab in UK

In the left-hand drive prototype, reveled in Britain that year, the driver holds the joystck, in the right hand while resting his arm on a rest. Sensors pass information about the car’s position to a computer. This is then relayed by tiny wires to a hydraulic system that changes the direction of the car. The system, known as active steering, has been developed as part of a research programme by major European companies to improve safety and lessen the impact of traffic on the environment “Eureka Prometheus”. According to this concept, The steering system is totally controlled by a Computer and was the first of its kind in the world (at that time).

Newspaper clipping from the Daily Telegraph 11th March 1992 - Car without a steering wheel joins the jet set.
Newspaper clipping from the Daily Telegraph 11th March 1992 – Car without a steering wheel joins the jet set.

Increasing car safety first and foremost

Even then, Saab’s engineers had safety at their core, By putting it to one side of the driver, the instrument panel can be designed for the best safety in a crash and they can cut out the steering column, which often causes injuries. According to their idea, It will make driving more relaxed. The driver applies only slight hand movements and has no need to raise his arms. The tests have gone very well and we are working towards the day when the steering wheel may disappear altogether.

The tests showed excellent results and the engineers who worked on this project hoped that in a couple of years this innovation might be the standard in the automotive industry. But, as we can witness today, this concept did not go beyond the development phase. Even in today’s most modern cars like the Tesla models, we don’t have a joystick, but the steering wheel is still present.

1992 – Numerous Saab innovations are introduced

That year, at the Geneva Motor Show, Saab presented numerous innovations, including some pioneering developments in the automotive industry.

Saab showed an ECOSPORT version of 9000 model at the Geneva Motor Show. It included other novelties that were most likely to be included in the new models in the next few years. They include an overnight heat storage accumulator to eliminate cold starts, ultra violet headlamps to give a better view in poor visibility, a solar roof-panel to energise the automatic ventilation system when the car is parked in the sun, in addition to a more powerful, low-emission engine…

Saab 9000 Ecosport Prototype
Saab 9000 Ecosport Prototype

It looks like Saab at that time were quite ahead of the times because BMW come out a few years later with the E39 5 series with “latent heat accumulator” ( the “Latent Heat” module is an option that replaces the aux heater. It is a heat storage cell using a brine solution that “exchanges” heat with the coolant system. It is supposed to be able to retain heat for several days – enough to begin heating the car in less than 2 minutes – even in very cold weather. More prevalent on European cars apparently and we’ve seen a few high-end Mercedes that have solar panels to power the ac system on hot days when the engine is off.

At the executive end of the market, manufacturers do tend to be ahead of the times. Fair to say that Saab played their part.