When the Ford Motor Company announced its purchase of the Volvo Car Corporation in 1999 for $6.45 billion, it had grand plans to capitalize on the Swedish car manufacturer’s prestigious reputation for safety. Adding Volvo to the Ford Motor Company’s Premier Automotive Group (alongside Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover), Ford planned to expand the Volvo lineup with an emphasis on luxurious, premium sedans, wagons and SUV crossovers that could compete with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
But Ford’s vision for Volvo collapsed among the deep losses from the global economic crisis of 2008; in December that year, Ford announced that it was looking for a buyer to acquire the Volvo Car Corporation. The deal wouldn’t be completed until 2010, when Chinese automaker Geely purchased Volvo for $1.8 billion — the largest foreign purchase by a Chinese car manufacturer ever.
The XC90 shows a well-executed trifecta of industrial, interior, and user experience design.
Attention was drawn to how the mass manufacturer would integrate a luxury brand like Volvo, prompting Geely’s Chairman, Li Shufu, to publicly promise to let “Volvo be Volvo”, stating that “Geely and Volvo are brothers, not father and son”. Upon close inspection of the entirely redesigned Volvo XC90 ($48,900) and in conversation with Volvo’s key members of the XC90 project, it would seem that Chairman Li’s promise has been kept.
The XC90 message is that this is the first product launch in a long series of new vehicles. They will be built using a brand-new architecture, designed from scratch. This architecture, referred to by Volvo employees as the “SPA Platform” (Scalable Product Architecture), allows a single modular chassis design to be shuffled around to fit the needs of several types of vehicles. It’s a footnote that may seem geeky and unimportant, but it’s a significant step for a car company that’s trying to reclaim its independence and re-energize its employees with a new vision.
Under the Hood
Engine: Supercharged and Turbocharged Inline Four
Transmission: Eight-Speed Geartronic Automatic
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Towing Capacity: 5,291 pounds
The XC90 shows a well-executed trifecta of industrial, interior and user experience design, all of which make the XC90 feel technologically evolved and refined on a micro level. With small modifications like the “Iron Mark” arrow that is now perfectly aligned with the diagonal line that runs through the striking new grille, the Swedish flag stitched into the passenger seat and the intuitive touch screen that controls most of the vehicle’s functions, the little things are the capstone of the XC90. Of course, some details come with a correlating price tag, and you won’t find elements like a crystal shifter (made by Swedish glassmaker Orrefors) in the base models of the XC90.
It appears that Gothenburg (Volvo Headquarters) is very proud to be in control of the Volvo Car Company’s destiny after years of operating under Ford. It’s also making a sensible bet that Swedish culture and Swedish design are valuable exports that will help the company stand out as a luxury carmaker. By reclaiming their Swedish identity and putting design first, Volvo hopes to better compete with the luxury German, British and Italian brands in worldwide markets.