Lastly, the starter button lies in the traditional center console position just behind the shift lever, though it's now activated by a transponder in the "key" that also controls the passive keyless-entry system.

With only a clay model and a few short weeks to go before the Sport-Hatch's planned debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Michael Mauer had to make a decision. "The prototype shop [in Trollhattan] said, 'Give it to us, we can make it.' I had some concerns. With my former company, we tried the same thing, and after a couple of months we sent it to Italy." But without the twin luxuries of time and money, the new Director of GME(urope) Advanced Design placed his faith in the home team.

Of course, it helped that Saab had recently opened a newly remodeled office building in nearby Pixbo. Fully half of the new space is given over to the Saab Advanced Design Center, including a gymnasium-size studio reserved for Saab-only projects and a smaller studio also used for GME projects. Ringed by second-floor design office windows (or balconies), designers can watch as their creations take shape on the studio floors below.

Saab uses a program called Alias in its design efforts. In one darkened room, the team can watch as life-size 3-D images float in front of their eyes, and they can even conference-call the display with other GM design centers around the world. Once satisfied with the computer models, the mathematical data is fed to one of several large Zeiss CNC milling machines on the studio floor. After a metal-and-foam-framed mock-up of the car is coated in several inches of clay, their articulated arms spend the next several hours slowly carving the new shape. Designers then finish the mock-up by hand-scraping the final contours. Should he be unhappy with a shape, a designer can add clay and rework the shape either by hand or computer (the milling machines can also be used to measure a new contour and feed the data back into Alias).

Back in the prototype shop, the 3-D data from Alias was used to build simple tooling for the Sport-Hatch-specific parts. A 9-3-sedan prototype was used as a donor chassis. "We did a lot of preparation with the math data," said Mauer. "But still, the parts had to be produced, fit, painted and assembled. It's very impressive that this was built in-house." -TM

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