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Frankfurt 2011: Volvo ‘Concept You’
Volvo is China’s Swedish takeaway. A year on from its acquisition by a consortium of Chinese money-men, things are now getting serious. Sales are up 21 per cent in the first eight months of the year, the brand - beloved of San Francisco bay-area architects - is the fastest-growing in the US (whatever fastest-growing means), and a factory in Chengdu is due to open before the year’s end. CEO Stefan Jacoby is also making very bullish noises. Given that Volvo’s stand was being hastily extended on Monday - just 12 hours before Frankfurt show press day - to annex the space originally booked by a sadly absent Saab, we should be glad he’s got something to be bullish about.
The Frankfurt hoopla was focused around ‘Concept You’, which evolves some of the ideas set out by the ‘Concept Universe’ earlier this year, and posits a new full-size premium Volvo luxury car. Those with long memories or elderly Scandinavian relatives will spot the debt the new car owes to the PV544, specifically in the curious but effective curving nose treatment and grille. Elsewhere, the body-sides and glass area are Jag XJ - though the C-pillars are tidier - and the rear end has shades of Audi A7. A little derivative, then, but beautifully done.
It’s equally good inside. Suicide doors - regular show car stuff, generally chosen to show off a car’s interior - open onto a cabin that blends a stunning mix of wood, leather and suede. The driver’s seat and the rear compartment are trimmed in contrasting materials, the seats ‘float’, and the overall effect is a tasteful reinvention of Swedish design tropes guaranteed to get Wallpaper magazine readers elegantly excited. Not sure what they’ll make of it in Beijing, though.
The main instrument display is effectively an iPad which uses touch-screen technology to brilliantly simple effect, and ushers in the era of jet-fighter tech where the driver’s retina will trigger commands. There’s another touch-screen in the back, and sitting between the seats - for no apparent reason other than it’s another Swedish design ‘icon’ - is a £28,000 Hasselblad camera.
The ‘You’ - great name guys - is underpinned by Volvo’s new Scalable Platform Architecture, which allows for full electrification, and will form the basis of all future models. None of which - get this - will use anything larger than a four-cylinder engine. Extra power will come instead from ‘flywheel drive’, a KERS-style energy capture system that generates another 80bhp or so. Volvo also claims that 90 per cent of the first ‘SPA’ car to be launched will use all-new components, and there is a definite sense of being liberated from the giant Ford matrix.
As is design director, the near-legendary Brit Peter Horbury, who returns to Gothenburg after a lengthy sojourn in Dearborn. Horbury helped define Volvo’s design vision in the 1990s, and he’s back to do it all over again. ‘It’s a whole new challenge,’ he says, ‘and a completely different world. My new boss has lots of ideas…’ Apparently, some of these reach Peter in the form of poetry.
TG.com will be catching up with Horbury soon. Not just a great car designer, this is a man who has participated in lively nights out with Iron Maiden. But that’s another story…