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Dudder: Swedish Exotica

It’s nice to see that Volvo’s future product plans are about to catch up with where my dreams were eight years ago.

Recently, in light of the roiling conditions at the Ford Motor Company, the fate of Volvo, like its British Jaguar and Land Rover siblings, seemed to be in question. Apparently, Ford won’t be selling the Swedish brand, despite the fact that the brand has never made the transition from its “safe but boxy” roots to being a recognized player in the luxury segment. That may be why recent reports have Volvo repositioning itself via a greater focus on crossovers and wagons, rather than by trying to expand the reach of the sedans it has worked so hard to make seem sexy rather than merely safe.

In 2000, I worked at a PR firm. My then-boss came into my office one day and asked if I would come up with some ideas for future Volvo products. Apparently, he believed that if the agency was able to show the folks in Gothenburg how much we knew about cars in general and Volvos in particular, we’d be able to secure the business. So I sat down and sketched out a future Volvo product lineup that, in retrospect, makes me seem almost prescient. Here’s what I created:

  • An all-wheel-drive S80 replacement powered by a revised version of the compact Lotus 3.5-liter twin-turbo V8 in mild and wild states of tune. Most of the power would be sent to the rear wheels under acceleration, and the dampers would use quick-response magnetorheological fluid.
  • A sleek “one-box” luxury vehicle that would use the same pieces and be aimed at European gentry wannabes. Giugiaro has produced a number of iterations of this idea for Ital Design, and my version stole his upright seating and copious rear leg room, but placed a glass partition behind the rear seats to reduce the inevitable noise from the luggage area. It was outfitted like a personal jet.
  • A coupe version of the same idea with a sloping roof line reminiscent of BMW’s new X6, on a slightly shorter wheelbase. This also would be available with a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, and support a mid-size sedan.
  • Based on suggestions from my boss—who, it should be noted, had knowledge of the yet-to-be introduced XC90—the next model combined the attributes of a minivan and SUV in a single package. Top of the line model used the V8 while the volume versions were powered by various versions of the inline six. All-wheel-drive was standard, and the middle seats folded their lower cushion forward and their back into the floor to create access to the third row. These seats hinged at the sides and folded in half to increase carrying capacity. A pair of extruded aluminum rails ran front to back and featured power ports for a refrigerated/heated storage unit, center console with an integral display screen on its lower surface, and other items.
  • A Focus-sized crossover, which I codenamed “Back Pack,” even though Pontiac had beaten me to that concept name, anchored the bottom of the range and featured a cargo area suited for traveling to garage sales on the weekend. Various and sundry totes could be attached to aluminum locking rings arrayed around the perimeter of the load area, including an actual backpack finished in brushed pigskin and built around a bright aluminum frame.
  • Its sedan brother sported a fast-sloping roofline and a trunk lid that could rotate into the trunk to divide that area into compartments and provide a docking port for an add-on cargo pod. (As you can tell, I was getting tired by this point.)

Though I’m not here to (Honk! Honk!) toot my own horn, it’s nice to see that I wasn’t that far off on that day nearly eight years ago when I sat down to sketch out Volvo’s future. Of course, the nice thing is that, if these vehicles turn out to be other than what the public wants, I don’t have to worry about my next job. 

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