Story: Will Sabel Courtney
MADE FOR CHINA
Quick, what’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name “Volvo”? If you’re like most people, your brain probably went straight for “safety,” and with good reason. For years Volvo has built a reputation based on being the safe car company—the team you choose to survive and drive.
But just being the safe guys from Sweden isn’t enough to cut it in 2011, so Volvo is trying to carve out a new spot in the market as the Scandinavian version of Mercedes- Benz. But to take on the three-pointed star, you need to bring your luxury sedan A-game, especially if you want to compete in the world’s largest car market: China.
And that’s exactly what the Concept Universe, which made its world debut at the Shanghai International Auto Show last April, aims to do: show people from China and around the globe that Volvo has what it takes to be a world-class luxury car company.
While the last decade has seen luxury sedans become increasingly complex, the Concept Universe goes in a simpler direction, in tune with what Volvo Design VP Peter Horbury calls his company’s goal of being “champions of the uncomplicated.” Few excel in cleanliness as well as Swedes (pop your head into an IKEA for proof), and the Concept Universe’s lines are as smooth as auto styling gets. One of the few notes of complexity is the front grille, which lights up in concentric ovals. It’s a simple touch but an ingenious one, giving the otherwise realistic exterior instant concept-vehicle cred.
Even the ICE inside is designed to be simple. While too many luxury whips have tricky electronic interfaces that force you to adapt to their eccentricities, the Concept Universe comes to you—literally. The touchscreen control moves toward the driver’s hand when he or she reaches for it.
GOOD CARS NEVER DIE
When the Concept Universe was announced before the Shanghai show, Volvo President and CEO Stefan Jacoby called it “a sneak preview of what people can expect from our next top-of-the-line sedan”—a car Volvo’s new owners, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, had hoped to use to move Volvo upmarket. Sadly, when journalists got a hold of Jacoby in Shanghai, the tune had changed; he said a full-size luxury sedan wasn’t in the cards anymore, at least for the time being.
But even if the Concept Universe’s vision of a Volvo that can battle the Mercedes S-Class never comes, it won’t pass through history without leaving a mark. A new platform known as SPA, or Scalable Platform Architecture, was designed for the real-world version of the concept. Even if this car never reaches showrooms, the SPA will still find a place as the backbone of the large and midsize Volvos of the future. It seems Volvo has found a new place for themselves in the automotive cosmos—right in the middle of the luxury galaxy.