Volvo Moves Out of the Boxy Image

by : Glady Reign

The word "boxy" is a big no-no to Simon Lamarre, a top designer at AB Volvo. When Volvo is mentioned what comes to mind is its "boxy" image. Boxy means plain and boring and these adjectives are hated by the designer.

There are numerous efforts on the part of the automaker to erase the boxy stigma attached to its product lines. These efforts are made stronger by the 38-year-old Quebecker, who stumbled into auto styling after following his girlfriend to her native Sweden. He is the latest crusader in the automaker's campaign to banish the Volvo's reputation for sturdy but boring-looking vehicles. The secret formula is to use cutting-edge style, improved ergonomics, reliable OEM parts and ideal . Blending them together would definitely create a fabulous lineup.

"The image of the boxy Volvo disappeared about 10 years ago, and yet four out of five people on the street still say it makes big, boxy cars," said a frustrated Mr. Lamarre, a graduate of the Universite du Quebec Ã? Montreal's environmental design school who grew up in the bedroom suburb of Ste-TherÃ?se, but moved to Sweden 17 years ago.

Lamarre speaks fluent Swedish. He is currently staying with his family near Goteborg on the west coast of Sweden. Earlier, he was spotted at Montreal's auto show for the unveiling of Volvo's first compact model - the Volvo C30.

The Volvo C30, the hatchback version of the Volvo S40, V50 and C70 luxury vehicle range, is a three-door, four-seat car powered by I4 and I5 engines. It uses the same Ford C1 platform and sheetmetal of the dashboard and windshield as that of its siblings. The car was introduced in the United States as a 2008 model with the T5 as the single version.

The Volvo C30 features a wide variety of engines. Petrol engines offered by the model include the 100 horsepower 1.6 liter I4, a 170 horsepower 2.4 liter inline-5, and a 220 horsepower turbocharged 2.5 liter inline-5. Diesel engine offers include the 109 horsepower 1.6 liter inline-4, and a 180 horsepower 2.4 liter inline-5. The upgraded sound system featured in the car includes a digital 5×130 watt ICE Power amplifier from Alpine featuring Dolby Pro Logic II Surround, and 10 loudspeakers from Danish Dynaudio. Said features are primarily aimed to capture that desires of young generation drivers.

In connection with safety features of the car, the automaker equipped it with the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), the latter is used to detect and overcome "blind spots" or "dead areas" in the driver's view to the rear. Volvo's Intelligent Driver Information System (IDIS) is also integrated to the car. Said system is responsible for continuously monitoring the car's preemptive system. The car also features traction control, airbags, electronic stability program, four-wheel anti-lock braking system and seat belts with pretensioners.

The Volvo C30 is the automaker's bid to win the preference of generation Y. The sporty hatchback is especially designed for the 25- to 35-year-old urban singles set, a departure to the usual Volvo market. Lamarre said Volvo is betting big on the Volvo C30 to freshen its image and lure first-time Volvo buyers. "We realized we had to do something new again [after introducing the successful XC90 sport-utility car in 2003]," said Lamarre.

To fill the missing piece in the success portfolio of the automaker, the latter is "taking a big step outside its comfort zone," added Lamarre, who designed the Volvo C30's exterior with its idiosyncratic all-glass hatch and who described his approach as opening up renowned Swedish "form-follows-function" design to global influences.

Experts in the auto industry are impressed by the Volvo C30's appeal and prowess. James Sanfilippo, executive vice-president and senior analyst with auto consultant AMCI in Michigan, said, "That's some of the best small-car architecture in the world right now. They've nailed it. They've gone from under the radar screen to bull's eye."

However, there are also those who are skeptical about the car. Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts said, "That segment is quite difficult to make money in. You have to be both competitively priced but also have a lot of content, putting pressure on your margins." She added, "The No. 1 issue with that strategy is that it has to be an absolutely flawless ownership experience. That's the risk that you run with this strategy of trying to win over a very young consumer."

Lamarre said the sales target for the Volvo C30 is 65,000 units in its first full year. The automaker also hopes that total sales of the car would jump to 600,000 by 2009 from about 400,000 at present.

Volvo has not been a money maker for Ford lately and so it is delivering the Volvo C30 with high hopes. It is scheduled to hit the roads of Canada in April with a base price of $27,495. It will be competing against the Audi A3, BMW's Mini Cooper, Mazda3 and the Volkswagen GTI.