You’ve probably read our news item about the unveiling of Volvo’s design study, the ‘Concept Universe’ at the Shanghai Motor Show. Now, we bring you the design story.
When Zhejiang Geely Holding Co. acquired Volvo, in August 2010, Geely Chairman Li Shufu said “I see Volvo as a tiger. It belongs to the forest and shouldn’t be contained in the zoo,” Li said in Mandarin. “The heart of the tiger is in Sweden and Belgium.”
As confusing the twisted idea of a Swedish tiger is, with that statement, Li Shufu assured buyers in America and Europe that they will continue to have access to Volvos engineered in Gothenburg and built in Europe, maintaining the Swedish heritage. He then set about the task of giving the ‘Tiger’ its fangs.
China has a booming luxury car market that seems to have a ravenous appetite for big cars with lots of leather. Volvo’s entry into the Chinese market might just be the push the brand needed to recover from its $2.6 billion losses during the two years before being acquired by Geely. Li Shifu decided that Volvo had to have the hardware necessary to compete with the Germans, who command a premium over Volvos.
The task that fell upon Peter Horbury, Vice President Design at Volvo Car Corporation, and his designers was to design the next generation luxury sedan to compete with the likes of the S Class, 7 Series and the A8 and ensure the new car flaunts its Nordic heritage. Unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show, stands the Concept Universe, and boy does it flaunt its Nordic heritage. The car is easily distinguished as a Volvo even though some bits of the car are very futuristic and alien.
Jonathan Disley, Designer at Volvo Cars, says inspiration was drawn from a photograph he had come across, where a father was sheltering his infant from elements of the weather by tucking him inside his coat, with just the infant’s head peeking out between the lapels of the coat. As we already know, it takes a designer to even remotely associate an element of design with the source of the designer’s inspiration.
Andreas Nilsson, Designer at Volvo Cars, mentions in the introductory video that the distinguishing element of the concept is the strong character line that runs from the front to the rear, allowing the designers to sculpt other features around it.
The coupe like stance, coupled with the strong crease around the hood, and the futuristic design of the grill and the lights, makes for a very distinct and an eclectic confluence of design elements. While we are unable to put in words why the design of the Concept Universe is bang on Scandinavian, we’re sure very few would disagree.
Jonathan also mentions the influence yesteryear Volvo cars like the PV 444 and the Amazon had on the Concept Universe. The lines for the grill are drawn from the PV 444, whereas the swooping coupe like stance seems to have come from the Amazon.
The grill is a series of shrinking rectangular light strips, positioned at various depths. This is meant to depict the idea of a Universe and functionally the gaps are meant to direct air to the intercooler. In all honestly, as funky as it looks, we doubt people would take to such a design especially when the Germans have conservatively designed fronts that manage to look handsome too. The outside mirrors seem to have the turn signal lamps incorporated in them, which we think look cool!
The alloys also have a surface the has greater depth towards the center. As Jonathan mentions in one of Volvo’s videos , the alloys are dished and give a sporty yet elegant stance.
The interiors befit a concept car of this decade. Volvo mentions in its press release that the touch screen with controls for the electronics, approaches the drivers hand when he reaches for it. If you’re wondering why the front seats have a dark color scheme and the rear a light one, Volvo explains ‘The dynamic feel and the dark colour scheme of the front seats fades seamlessly towards the rear until it fully transforms into a light rear seat haven of calmness.’
As is the norm with concept cars, some of the features on it are definitely not meant for the production version. I’m sure we can forget the suicide doors. How much of the ‘Universe’ grill and the headlights will stay on the production version, remains to be seen.
The interiors though, as geeky they might be, have the odds stacked in their favour to end up in the production version untouched. User focussed interior design and gadgetry, aimed at making the passenger’s life easier, is something that car makers are pursuing with vigour. In this segment, the insides of the car demand the desinger’s and engineer’s attention as much as the the rest of the car does, maybe more.Case in point, the lighting in the new Audi A8, and the Jaguar XJ.
Stefan Jacoby, President & CEO of Volvo Car Corporation also announced at the Shanghai Motor Show, about the Scalable Platform Architecture.
“When our next luxury sedan arrives in a few years, it will be among the first Volvos built on our new Scalable Platform Architecture. All our large and mid-size cars will eventually be based on SPA.” announced Mr. Jacoby.
The Concept Universe has fast forwarded Volvo’s design by a good number of years. If and when Volvo bring this design philosophy to their production cars, how much of a difference it will make to Volvo’s fortunes remains to be seen.
More videos here.
A luxury Volvo for China and the world.
At the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2011, Volvo Car Corporation visualises a masterpiece of Scandinavian Design for car buyers with exquisite tastes.
The Concept Universe is a large, luxurious sedan with a new human-centric design language that honours the beautiful lines of classic Volvo models.
“The Concept Universe offers the world a sneak preview of what people can expect from our next top-of-the-line sedan,” says Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation.
Volvo Car Corporation’s long-term strategy is to be a successful, truly global company with products designed around our customers’ needs and lifestyle.
Scandinavian Design is about understanding and caring about people. Volvo Car Corporation aims to be the brand that best interprets what buyers of modern luxury cars want.
The Concept Universe has been designed to spark a subconscious desire and a feeling of eternal beauty.
It moves towards the future with its coupe-like roofline and contemporary, solid rear, but it also echoes Volvo’s proud heritage by borrowing design cues from classic models of the past.
“Just like fine luxury goods, this design feels handcrafted and durable enough to stand the test of time,” says Peter Horbury, Vice President Design at Volvo Car Corporation. “We will compete with the best with our special kind of Scandinavian Design. It is unmatched in performance and technology, but without superficiality or complication.”
User-focused and pure
The interior of the Concept Universe is a comfortable, cultivated environment that is also user-focused and refreshingly uncomplicated. It is driver-orientated in the front and comfortably relaxed in the rear.
The in-command driver environment has intuitive controls and a touch-screen that approaches the hand when the driver reaches towards it – with everything operated from a seat that is inspired by ultra-comfortable chairs.
Passengers in the rear seat are embraced by pure comfort. The interior moulds into the rear seat and becomes part of the seating environment.
The dynamic feel and the dark colour scheme of the front seats fades seamlessly towards the rear until it fully transforms into a light rear seat haven of calmness. Concept Universe is full of classic forms, materials and textures, used with a twist to create a special contemporary luxury experience.
“The Concept Universe is exceptionally refined, yet with all the simplistic assets that make Volvo champions of the uncomplicated. There is a growing appreciation for this ingenious blend of design and technology among modern luxury car buyers. This trend paves the way for our success. We are convinced that our special brand of luxury has a great future,” Peter Horbury concludes.
“Our aim is to be the brand that best understands what buyers of modern luxury cars want. We are eager to hear what the most demanding Chinese customers think of this luxurious concept. Later, we will show the design in Europe and the United States in order to bring it into the global context that we are aiming for with all our car models,” says Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation.