The future of VolvoMon, 30 Dec 2013
"We lost our way," admitted Volvo North America CEO Tony Nicolosi in his New Jersey-honed Italianate accent. Never an easy thing for an executive to confess. "We gotta go back to our roots. Society is coming back to what we represent as a brand: environment, family, safety. We've just been poor at communicating it."
By the end of this year, approximately 42,000 Volvos will move out the proverbial door -- down 6 percent from 2011. The death of the C70 and C30 certainly hurt sales. Volvo hasn't had a U.S. product launch since 2010. Four years! After enough controversy and hand wringing, Volvo finally acquiesced and announced that the V60 wagon will come to America -- four years after it was first introduced, alongside the S60. Underinvested and undermarketed, Volvo seemed to lay dormant.
Now, flush with cash from Geely -- to the tune of an $11 billion investment over the next 10 years -- the Volvo of tomorrow promises that by 2020 it will become a "top-tier premium brand," selling 800,000 cars around the world. And Volvo's tomorrow resides on a single gamble -- a predictor of looming emissions regulations, of tightening safety standards, of consumer demand, of autonomous driving, of "a new premium," of an electrified future, of the future itself. It is a bold undertaking -- one that smacks of admirable, determined focus but also an air of we know better than you, dear consumer, and you will eventually come around to what we like.
The wheels are set in motion, the checks have been written, the R&D funding all but secure. This gamble is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine across its entire lineup.
The top of Volvo's 4-cylinder range will be mated with Drive-E plug-in hybrid technology, shown in back.
Volvo currently has eight separate engine architectures, a curious mishmash of four-cylinders, turbocharged sixes, and charming yet oddball inline fives. Each has its own gearbox; each has its own ECU. Soon all Volvos big and small, crossover and wagon, S60 and XC90, will share one engine family, in each case bolted to an 8-speed automatic. The family will include gasoline and diesel powertrains, which will share up to 25 percent of their parts. The engine family will be designed and produced in Sweden, on the same line. ECU management will be jointly developed with Denso.
To compete effectively as a premium company, a supercharger pairs with the turbocharger, activating during initial acceleration. Expect around 300 hp with this setup on the highest T6 trim.
And the future for Volvo is electrification -- in the form of a plug-in gasoline hybrid that it calls "Drive-E." This will be available on an entirely new XC90 that will bow in the fall of 2014. Expect 400 horsepower and the ability to drive in electric-only mode, said Volvo.
"What if the customer wants a six-cylinder?" asked one journalist. "There's always the mental block of a four."
"Hah," said Jan-Erik Larsson, the director of Volvo's Drive-E program. "Well, look at Tesla. They don't have any V8s, but look how well they sell!"
This is nothing if not a spectacular bet on Volvo's future. Electrification is a premium, he explained; if anything, he is preparing for electrification in a world without gasoline.
Next January, the V60 wagon will be the first car with this new engine, here producing 240 hp. Interesting enough, Volvo will sell the two current engines -- a T5 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 250 hp and a T6 six-cylinder with 325 hp -- alongside. All three are turbocharged.
In the diminutive V60, this is fine. The question remains whether status-driven consumers (a strong consideration in China, for example) will spend BMW 5-series money on an S80 with a four-cylinder without looking wistfully at the 550i or the Mercedes-Benz E550. Smaller turbocharged engines are a Brave New World against V8s, Volvo says. But for now, a traditionalist case with the V60: despite the turbochargers, the V60's power outputs rise accordingly with cylinder count.
The Volvo Concept Coupe: don't call it a retro P1800.
Thomas Ingenlath is the senior vice president of design at Volvo, tasked with a new interpretation of Scandinavian design. And, as he explained in front of the lauded Concept Coupe that was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show this year, Northern European design leads to a few quirks.
Note the Concept Coupe's T-shaped headlights, LEDs along the lower grille lines, the simple parallel lines on the hood and fenders. The floating grille is a chrome centerpiece: "In a world where everybody's trying to make shutlines as tight as possible, we did exactly the opposite." Proportions are important: the dash-to-axle ratio is fixed across all ranges. The three-sided window line will be interpreted on future Volvos as Ingenlath's explicit order to "don't make it a Hofmeister kink!"
The Volvo XC Concept will carry these design elements, well into the next production XC90. If anything, Ingenlath alluded, it is a crossover interpretation of the Concept Coupe. But if that car harkens the P1800, we say: why not lower the XC Coupe and call it the 1800ES?
Ingenlath defines Scandinavian design as exuding authority and luxury: "It should make you feel special." He came to Volvo after 20 years with Volkswagen, where he drew European minimalism with even more austerity. Scandinavian design "can afford to be more playful," he said. Its functionalism is softer than Bauhaus, and it succeeds where German modernism failed -- at being accessible to the masses.
The Swedish clich
By Blake Z. Rong