Being an automotive designer can’t be an easy task. Not only do you have to guess what the customer will think is attractive years from today, but you also have to incorporate the marque’s traditional design cues with a contemporary slant. Choose the wrong taillamps, make a shoulder too weak, and all your hard work is subject to harsh criticism by reviewers, which can influence purchase decisions. We assume designers have a thick skin, or at least the courage to stand staunchly behind their styling convictions. Now add the pressure of helping an established brand reinvent itself, and you’re looking at a stress level right up there will SuperBowl coach.
Thomas Ingenlath, Senior VP of Design at Volvo Car Group, may not have to decide between a punt or a fourth and one situation, but he does have to envision what the future of Volvo car design will be. And his decision choices last a lot longer than a football team loss.
Ingenlath joined Volvo in 2012 after spending time in charge of the Volkswagen Design Center in Potsdam, Germany. With more than two decades of automotive design under his belt, he understands the importance of design when creating a new direction for the brand. Having spent time at a German manufacturer, Ingenlath feels he has a good basis to move Volvo into the next phase of its design life. “Volvo is a human-centric brand with an exceptionally strong heritage,” says Ingenlath. “It is exciting to create a new design expression that supports the established brand values as well as the repositioning toward a more distinctive premium brand.
“In my opinion, Volvo design has always had a certain authority. We aim to extend this calm, intelligent and strong side of our brand with a greater potency, modernity and expressiveness. Concept Coupé clearly expresses this direction.”
The Volvo Concept Coupe represents the new design direction for Volvo, and has big goals to add more emotion into the brand. Introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2013, the Coupe was overwhelming accepted by the press and public alike. AutoBlog awarded it the top pick of the show, and if you saw the vehicles that were introduced there, this pick really shows how Ingenlath hit the design nail on the head.
The Coupe is the first vehicle that will use Volvo’s SPA platform, or Scalable Product Architecture. This will be the platform used for all of Volvo’s vehicles, including the all new 2014 XC90 that we believe will make it’s debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Since heritage is important, the Concept Coupe features styling elements that are reminiscent of the iconic P1800 from the 1960s. While these points may not be obvious, they are incorporated into the design so when you look at it, you feel a familiarization with Volvo’s heritage. So what makes this Concept Coupe so appealing? First is the aggressive yet clean front end. The grille “floats” in the nose, the large air intakes hint at the performance, and the T-shaped DRLs are elongated yet project impressive light. The sides of the hood have deep channels that give it great definition, and definitely move the Volvo more upscale in competition with high-end luxury brands. Ingenlath says that this isn’t the final interpretation of the grille with the Volvo badge; we will see that next year on the XC90 first.
From the side, the Concept Coupe really sets the design path. The greenhouse sits farther back, the Volvo rear shoulder area is sleeker yet still pronounced, and the roof is low. Add the five-spoke 21-inch wheels and tires, and the feeling of performance and capability is there. Ingenlath likens it to a lion in a lying down position — even in relaxation mode, you know what the animal is capable of doing.
In back, the Volvo’s broad rear, C-shaped taillamps, and inset exhaust ports are clean, strong, and are proportionally sound. There’s not much to dislike on this vehicle. It looks as if the design was poured rather than sculpted. We hope whatever coupe Volvo brings to market, it stays as close to this design as possible.
Inside, the Coupe shows off its Swedish design heritage. It’s clean, but there’s warmth, with inlays made from naturally aged wood, dark blue carpet, and machined metal details. We love the handcrafted crystal of the gear lever. Chances are that won’t make it into production (no word yet if the car will make it into production), but this elegant touch reminds us of Lalique hood ornaments from classic cars in the 1920s and 1930s when it was all about the details.
Blending the old with the new, the Coupe features a large touchscreen in the center console with an adaptive digital display to relay all the driver information needed. All of these features are designed to work with an autonomous vehicle, which Volvo says it can produce before 2020.
Under the hood of the Volvo Design Concept Coupe is a plug-in hybrid driveline featuring Volvo’s upcoming Drive-E engine technology. This one is a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged powerplant that will produce around 400 horsepower and over 440 lb-ft of torque. We will be writing up more detailed information on the Drive-E technology in January after we attend a Volvo event where we’ll drive these EVs.
One area we didn’t mention was safety. Volvo, while it moves forward with design, will continue to be a leader when it comes to occupant safety. Volvo is not only going to offer safety features after the crash, but will focus on safety features that support the driver and enhance the user experience. More details to follow.
Volvo’s future goals are to aim for an annual sales volume of 800,000 cars worldwide. That’s quite a lofty goal, since U.S. sales are down about nine percent for Volvo for 2013 versus last year. Volvo also plans to focus more on retail sales and less on fleet units. If the company’s designs remain strong, the technology for good fuel economy is true, and the models come fast and furious, there’s a really good chance it will meet those sales targets.
We’ve always been big fans of Volvo. Safety, Scandinavian design, and the new SPA platform will help others see what we’ve been seeing all along. Keep checking back here as we report on the introduction from NAIAS in Detroit in mid January 2014.