Volvo’s engineering continues to evolve under Chinese ownership

March 25, 2014
Following a period of uncertainty over the nameplate’s future, Sweden’s venerable Volvo Car Corp. is revamping its entire model lineup in an $11-billion international engineering and marketing push that includes plans to eventually export Chinese-made vehicles into the U.S.

Following a period of uncertainty over the nameplate’s future, Sweden’s venerable Volvo Car Corp. is revamping its entire model lineup in an $11-billion international engineering and marketing push that includes plans to eventually export Chinese-made vehicles into the U.S.

A timetable for these imports has not yet been disclosed, although the company has said it would like to see the process unfold “fairly quickly.”

Sold by Ford to China’s Geely for $1.8 billion in 2010, a joint collaboration project between engineers in Sweden and China has some industry observers believing that Volvo’s vaulted technological expertise will overcome any reluctance among Americans who may be wary of purchasing a car produced in China. The complexities of this nation’s automotive regulatory requirements that have thus far hindered China’s entry into the U.S. marketplace are also being addressed by the Sweden/China designers’ alliance.

The main office, product development, marketing and administration operations are mainly based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Since 2011 Volvo has had offices in Shanghai and Chengdu, China. A new Shanghai headquarters hosts a technology center and facilitates functions such as sales and marketing, manufacturing, purchasing and product development.

Production plants are located in Sweden, Belgium, Malaysia and China.

“Volvo is one of the most iconic and best-known Swedish brands,” notes Laura Wood, senior manager at Dublin, Ireland-based Research and Markets. In February the consulting and publishing firm released a 55-page Supplying Volvo 2014 guide for vendors seeking contracts with the OEM. “Its widespread recognition derives from its reputation for leading-edge safety technology and environmental compliance,” she says, adding that the report details Volvo’s product, platform and purchasing strategies.

The automaker is currently selling its cars in more than 100 nations, with the U.S and China garnering the most purchases. Japan ranks as one of Volvo’s key growth markets; January sales there were up by 132 percent.

Founded in 1927 by Swedish ball bearing producer SKF, Volvo – the name means “I roll” in Latin – is on a roll once again with a series of engineering innovations that have received widespread industry acclaim.

Online broadcaster Drivers Talk Radio recently rated the 2015 S60 model as the top pick in its best sport-luxury sedan category. “Volvo’s new modular engine platforms were exactly what the S60 needed to make it a winner” in the station’s awards, according to program host Rick Titus.

Connecting with concepts

“Volvo has been on a winning streak with its concept cars,” says Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo’s senior vice president of design. At the Frankfurt Motor Show its Concept Coupé was named “Car of the Show” by a leading German auto magazine, and the Concept XC Coupé captured two prestigious “EyesON Design” awards – including honors for color, graphics and materials in addition to overall concept innovations -- at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.

“The first four decades of the Volvo history was characterized by classic craftsmanship and high-quality materials. We are merging this vital part of our brand DNA with the more recent focus on technology and smart functionality,” says interior design director Robin Page. “In the Concept Estate we also add the creative side of Scandinavia. The result is an exotic interior with genuine materials and beautiful detailing.”

The just-unveiled Concept Estate’s cabin evokes “the feel of a Scandinavian living room,” according to Ingenlath, who says “the most striking interior design feature is its simplicity. The traditional selection of buttons and controls have been replaced by one large tablet-like touch screen control panel in the center console, bringing the interior firmly into the 21st century.”

Almost Jetson’s-like in appearance, Ingenlath explains that “the basic idea is to organize controls and information in a perfectly intuitive and user-friendly way. Everything is exactly where you expect it to be, making the drive more enjoyable, efficient and safe.”

“In association with Volvo’s specially designed software, the touch screen will be the main control panel for Volvo’s new in-car user experience,” says Page. “It replaces all buttons and controls except for a few crucial functions such as volume, play/pause, hazard warning and window heaters. It also interacts seamlessly with the digital instrument cluster in front of the driver,” he adds.

“Not having to deal with buttons and controls for a growing number of functionalities is like being freed from a pair of handcuffs,” Page points out. “This has made it possible to build a beautiful interior architecture around the portrait screen. The concept car showcases how this user interface will be integrated in our new car generation,” he says.

“Volvo is the company that redefined the Estate car by combining functionality, sturdiness and practicality with performance,” Page continues. “The V70 and XC70 are among the most respected Estates on the market, and the new Concept Estate points to how the company could capitalize on this heritage in its forthcoming models.”

Reaching the cloud

Earlier this year Volvo launched Sensus Connect, an integrated on board navigation and infotainment array constructed around a “Connected Vehicle Cloud” program that “truly offers customers a fully connected experience,” observes David Holecek, the company’s connectivity brand manager. “The cloud-based services allow drivers to find and pay for parking from their car, discover new restaurants at their destination, stream their favorite music seamlessly and much more,” he says.

“Technology should make your life easier. That’s why we listened carefully to our customers when creating Sensus Connect. It’s not about offering a thousand apps; it’s about giving you precisely what you need, before you even knew you needed it,” says Holecek.

Roam Delivery is another innovation. Using digital keys, the service allows food and other merchandise to be dropped off at your car wherever it happens to be…even if you’re not in it.

Based on the functionality of the telematics app Volvo On Call, which also makes it possible to remotely heat or cool the car and see its position or fuel level via a mobile phone, the Roam Delivery digital key tracks when the car is opened and then locked again. Once the delivery is completed, the key ceases to exist.

“By turning the car into a pickup and drop-off zone through using digital keys, it’s now possible to deliver the goods to persons and not just places. The test-customers also indicated that the service clearly saved time,” reports Volvo Chief Information Officer Klas Bendrik, adding that cost-conscious couriers have equally embraced the economics and efficiencies inherent in the program.

“We are now further investigating the technology of digital keys and new consumer benefits linked to it,” Bendrik says. “Today, we can see how our devices are becoming seamlessly linked to one big ecosystem. This ecosystem will likely change the way we own cars, the way we drive cars, but also change what the car can do for you -- even when parked.”

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