It's been four years since Steve Mattin became the senior vice president of Design at Volvo, and while the brand has introduced several new or refreshed products under his direction-C30, S80 and C70, to name a few-yet until now, he has yet to flex his design muscle to its his fullest. With the introduction of the production versions of the XC60 crossover and the S60 sedan concept, Mattin is showing the world his vision of what Volvo design should be. Both vehicles display what he dubs Volvo's new "DNA." But unlike the now-tired reference to genomics, Mattin's DNA is a "Dramatic New Approach." It brings together a cohesive familial design template to be shared across all of its vehicles, consisting of a V-shaped grille, vertical front end, dominant shoulders running the whole length of the vehicle, and distinctive tail lamps. Inside, Volvo will evolve the brand's signature floating center stack using new material applications-the S60 concept uses Orrefors crystal designed to "look like a waterfall, flowing through the center of the car"-with more natural grains and soft curves.
It's not as if he's abandoning Volvo's past, although he'd really like to forget about some Volvo classics, like the 200 series cars (1974-1993). "We had a period where the [existing] vehicle had become a design hindrance. We need to keep our fundamental ingredients, but interpret them in a new way, by creating vehicles that have more expression and emotion," he says.
Change at the Right Time?
Changing the design positioning of a brand during good economic times can be challenging, but during a global economic crisis-like the one currently battering the industry-it can be downright fatal if consumers, especially the Volvo faithful, have unfavorable feelings about the design direction. Mattin says his team remains focused on the task at hand, largely ignoring the dire headlines that permeate newspapers and airwaves across the world. "In design, we are very lucky in that we see the future and we know we have some great products coming," he says, adding that he is spending a lot of his time keeping his team motivated by allowing them to gain more experience working on multiple facets of design projects, as opposed a single area of the vehicle.
Mattin is confident there's a strong future for the global automotive industry and at Volvo in particular. Still, he cautions up-and-coming designers to be sure they are willing to push the envelope: "You shouldn't go into this business to make money. You come here because you want to leave a little bit of your footprint on the street." Likewise, those climbing the ladder will have to work harder to make a name for themselves as the competition for talent will grow increasingly competitive as automakers shrink their design ranks to improve operational efficiency.