When designers talk about concept vehicles, generally they talk about stance, presence, down-the-road graphics, and the like. But then most designers don’t work for Volvo Cars.
It’s not that Thomas Ingenlath, senior vice president, Design, Volvo Cars, and his team aren’t interested in creating vehicles that are inspired and inspiring. So, of the design of the Volvo Concept XC Coupé introduced earlier this year, Ingenlath said, “Every strong brand needs a set of visual keys that makes it unique. Future Volvos will be characterized by the distinctive iron mark in the floating grille, flanked by the T-shaped DRL lights. The larger bonnet with its new topography, the beltline spanning an elegant bow along the length of the car and the sharpened shoulder connecting with the new real light are other important design signatures. They all contribute to the confident stance. The overall simplicity, both exterior and interior, has a strong connection to the Scandinavian lifestyle.”
Which is what is expected from a designer.
What isn’t is this: “Concept XC Coupé also shows how clever engineering makes it possible for us to reinforce our world- leading safety without compromising design, size or weight. Thanks to the extensive use of high-strength boron steel and structures with new, ingenious decoupling, we can make SPA cars”—which refers to the Scalable Product Architecture that is the basis of the vehicles that Volvo will be creating going forward—“more compact and safer at the same time.”
No, hearing about things like boron steel for safety isn’t in the least bit expected, unless the person talking is an engineer or works for a steel company. But a designer? Well, obviously at Volvo.
There is another aspect of the safety focus that continues at Volvo, one, again, somewhat unexpected. They’ve partnered with a Stockholm-based sporting equipment company, POC (pocsports.com), that produces protective equipment for skiers and bikers. About the relationship, Ingenlath said, “POC’s products blend functional design with lightweight, high-performance materials that offer the ultimate sense of freedom and protection when things really get rough. This is perfectly in tune with our aim to make functionality and safety an emotional experience.” Certainly an SUV—even one as highly styled as the Concept XC Coupé—is about, potentially, off-road or otherwise difficult performance, as well as the ability to readily navigate the urban terrain.
While the vehicle does feature design cues that are inspired by POC equipment (e.g., orange details and graphics; matte rubber moldings), Volvo is working with the company on the development of a system that not only detects cyclists and pedestrians, but actually communicates with the cyclists, thereby allowing the cyclist to know that she’s not in peril from the Volvo.
Volvo has been offering the detection system on production vehicles since mid-2013. The Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection system uses a dual-mode radar system that is integrated into the grille; the radar system detects objects, then determines the distance between the car and the object. Then there is a high-resolution camera mounted near the rear-view mirror that classifies objects. If it is calculated that there may be a collision, the system automatically provides a warning to the driver and then can apply full brake force to avoid or mitigate the collision. The communication function would go one step beyond that.
Safety has long been part of Volvo’s automotive culture. In 1959—and it is interesting to note that Ingenlath was born in 1964—the world’s first car, a Volvo PV544, with a standard three-point safety belt was delivered to a dealership in Kristianstad, Sweden.
In 1964, Volvo began work on child safety seats. In 1972 it offered a rearward-facing child seat. In 1999 it offered the world’s first rearward-facing seat for ISOFIX. And in April 2014, it unveiled the Inflatable Child Seat Concept.
This seat was designed by Lawrence Abele, design manager at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center in Los Angeles. The father of two, Abele said, “For me, child safety is always the number-one priority and when we lived abroad with two toddlers, we had to haul bulky child seats through airports and then into taxis.”
So the rearward-facing seat is inflated—in less than 40 seconds—by an integrated pump, which also quickly deflates the seat. The entire package weighs less than 11 lb. and can fit within a weekend bag. It even has a Bluetooth connection that permits remote-controlled inflation.
Speaking of the seat’s construction, Maria Hansson, project manager at the Volvo LA facility, said, “We used a unique material called drop-stitch fabric when creating the prototype of the seat. This fabric is very strong when inflated as it can be brought to a very high internal pressure. It is a quite common technology in the boating industry and was originally developed by the military in an effort to develop inflatable airplanes.”
From steel to sensors to seatbelts to seats: Volvo clearly means “safety.”