Tuesday 16 January 2018

Volvo eases into top gear across expanded range

Slew of new models planned by 2020 as part of $11bn investment, writes Martin Brennan

Stylish and sleek: The new Volvo XC90 has, among its features, active cruise control
Stylish and sleek: The new Volvo XC90 has, among its features, active cruise control

Martin Brennan

When Adrian Yeates, MD of Volvo Car Ireland, launched the all-new Volvo XC90 SUV 7-seater in Dublin, he surprised his audience when he announced: "This will be the oldest car in the Volvo range in five years' time."

Volvo is on a roll with a line-up of new models, new engines, new gearboxes, and a new scalable body architecture - which in layman's language means a chassis that can be adapted for all the new models on the way, along the lines of VW's one-for-all platform set-up.

Not so long ago, the Swedish carmaker was heading the same way as Saab, now out of business. Sales had fallen during the recession and the company was making losses when Ford took it over in 2000. Ford had its own problems, and luckily for Volvo the Zhejiang Geely company of China became the new owner in 2010. The Chinese set about restoring the company's fortunes and amazed the motor world by indicating that it was preparing an $11bn investment to secure the brand and expand a range of news cars, including Geely's own brand into western and other foreign markets.

Volvo had never been a mainstream carmaker and had always put safety before looks, but under Ford, design became a priority as well, and this resulted in the first XC90 in 2002, and today we have the new version which has picked up 18 awards for design, engines and transmissions and has won the Auto Express Car of the Year 2015 and Large SUV 2015 awards. Production for the year is a sell-out and hundreds of orders have been placed in the Irish maket. Word is that the Swedish factory is struggling to meet demand.

Now that Volvo has a common platform and major components which will be shared with four of the eight new models planned for 2020, production costs should be cut drastically and production time speeded up. For smaller models, a second common platform called Common Modular Architecture (CMA) is being designed to cut costs further.

Volvo is returning to its roots with top-class safety features in models such as the XC90 with active cruise control that accelerates and brakes automatically in traffic and systems that stop the driver from inadvertently crashing into oncoming traffic. The plan is to make Volvo models the safest cars in the world and the goal is a zero death safety record by 2020 - that nobody will die in a Volvo, or be killed by one. However heavy marketing on safety will be required, as mainstream players such as Ford, Toyota and VW are upping their safety features.

Volvo sales have been rising and there are hopes to sell 800,000 cars by 2020. The $11bn investment will, apart from new models, will also be used to build new assembly plants in China for the production of Volvo and other Geely models. Although the Swedish subsidiary is being allowed to operate as a stand-alone company, plans to expand production are being focused on China manufactured cars also. Volvos built in China are earmarked for export to the US next year, making them possibly the first completely Chinese made car to be sold in America. This could pave the way for Geely to start marketing its products in markets around the world. Geely is pushing its own brand in Asia and the Middle East, and in some European markets.

All Volvo engines are now in-house design and mated to newly developed transmission units. A hybrid version of the XC90 is on the way.

Sunday Independent

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