Volvo Shifting to All Four-Cylinder Lineup

By Jason Davis | November 16, 2011
Volvo has a goal. The iconic Swede wants to sell 800,000 vehicles globally, per year, by 2020. But an ambitious sales goal is only half the story: It wants to do it with four-cylinder engines. It's a bold statement, and a bolder strategy, especially for a brand competing in a premium market. To outline how the automaker would accomplish this goal, while competing in a tough upscale market, Volvo yesterday opened its Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC, essentially, its Los Angeles area design studios) to the press, and introduced us to a first-handlook at the Concept You, which debuted in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Although it is as stunning in person as in photos, the Concept You, which was on display in the center of the studio, is hardly the most interesting project behind closed doors. Our hosts, including Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volvo, treated us to an authentic Swedish lunch, and several hours of interactive presentations. Here, we were introduced to some of Volvo's most influential company men and designers, including Bjorn Wessman, vice president VMCC, Doug Frasher, strategic design chief, Chris Benjamin, VMCC design director, and Richard Monturo, head of global marketing.
What we learned was that Volvo is finally without restriction to create its own future. In total, we got a condensed history of Volvo design, and its current thoughts on inspiration and direction. At one point, Benjamin led us into an adjacent media room, sans cameras and phones, for a short presentation on SPA, or Scalable Platform Architecture, and some of the animated projects his team was working on. It was during this presentation that Jacoby announced that all of Volvo's future SPA-derived platforms will be powered by four-cylinder engines. There were some harrumphs in the crowd concerning how a premium brand could discredit cylinder count (and the traditional American idea that premium cars exclusively have large, powerful engines). Jacoby and others pointed out that Volvo's future four-cylinder lineup, whether turbocharged, or coupled with electric-motors, will actually outperform the current lineup featuring five-, six-, and eight-cylinder powerplants. Some of that performance will come from an emphasis on intelligent designs and drastically reduced weight, while also incorporating advanced transmissions that provide both comfort and efficiency. Of course, Volvo also stressed cutting-edge technology, like its Kinetic Energy Recovery System and a lightweight scalable platform, meaning the same basic underpinnings can be adapted to suit vehicles of various sizes. The first SPA vehicle will debut in 2015, likely an XC90, and the platform could spell updates to S80, XC60, and potentially, its entire future lineup. Of note, Benjamin's design team showed off (no photos, mind you, but they did include a few digital renderings) several elegantly themed crossovers, advanced renditions and proposals that could be the next XC90, or similar CUV's. Among those designs was a long, low crossover that strongly resembled the vintage 240 wagon. Other notes:
  • Volvo will soon showcase its new line of child seats.
  • The European diesel-hybrid engine will not come to America.
  • Depending on the market, the wagon could be a shape of the past.
  • Volvo's parent company, Geely, from China, has given Volvo complete autonomy and will not be sharing parts or platforms that could weaken Volvo's premium branding.
  • No announcement has been made, nor is expected to be made, on former design chief, Peter Horbury's replacement.
  • The Swedish meatballs were excellent.