June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Jason Castriota, the U.S. designer known for creating the Ferrari P4/5 and Maserati GranTurismo, will head Saab Automobile’s design team to help the Swedish carmaker take on Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Audi AG.
The first assignment for Castriota’s design firm is to create an upscale version of Saab’s current 9-3 model, scheduled for release in 2012, the 36-year-old said in an interview. Aerodynamics will be a focus of the new design, he said.
“It’s absolutely vital we get this car right,” Castriota said from New York late yesterday. “This is Saab returning to its roots, not having to worry about being part of a much larger machine that they were before in the GM organization.”
Saab, sold by General Motors Co. to Dutch supercar maker Spyker Cars NV in February, aims to become profitable by 2012. The turnaround strategy includes releasing premium models more distinct and sporty in their design than when Saab was under GM, according to Spyker Chief Executive officer Victor Muller.
Castriota will play a major role in fashioning the new 9-3 and other models, said Eric Geers, a spokesman for the Trollhaettan, Sweden-based Saab.
“The 9-3 design as made by him is basically done, and I can tell you it is spectacular,” Muller said by telephone, adding that the design will be completed within weeks. “It is truly aircraft-inspired and Swedish-clean.”
The 9-3 was first released in 1998. The second generation, still produced today, hit the streets in 2002. The new version intends to challenge BMW’s 3-series and Volkswagen AG’s Audi A4, Castriota said.
“Those are the benchmark cars,” he said by telephone. “They’re true premium vehicles and the 9-3 also needs to be a true premium vehicle.”
Castriota started his career in 2001 at luxury-car designer Pininfarina SpA in Turin, Italy, where he stayed until 2008. He then worked for Stile Bertone in Italy until September 2009. Last December, he started his own firm, Jason Castriota Designs. The design house has five designers and is based in New York City and Turin.
“I literally started sketching Ferraris when I was about five years old,” he said. “For whatever reason, some kids might kick around a soccer ball, I picked up a pencil and started sketching cars.”
Castriota will become part of the leadership at Saab and will help “define the strategy for the new models,” he said.
Saab is also planning to introduce a smaller car with a tear-drop shape inspired by the 92 model that was in production between 1949 and 1956. Saab is in talks with BMW about using its Mini platform, as well as engines and gearboxes, for that model, two people familiar with the situation said last week.
“A small premium car from Saab is a very important vehicle and is something that could truly help the overall production volume of Saab in a great way,” Castriota said.
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