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Shanghai show: Volvo Universe breaks the mould

Looking forward: The Volvo Concept Universe gives an indication of the Chinese-owned brand's future styling direction.

A whole new Universe for Volvo as Swedish brand gets set to change gears on styling

19 Apr 2011

CHINESE-owned Swedish car company Volvo has spelled out its design future at the Shanghai motor show by unveiling the dramatically different Concept Universe – the first show car produced by Volvo since the company was bought from Ford by Zhejiang Geely less than a year ago.

The “human-centric design language” is reported to have been influenced by Geely chairman Li Shufu who asked the design team “to reflect the serenity in light when the sun is rising or setting” when considering Volvo’s new form.

A blend of design cues from Volvo’s distant past and modern ‘coupe sedan’ lines, the concept is expected to not only foreshadow the next S80 flagship but also the styling direction of the Volvo range.

The design, Volvo says, has been created to “spark a subconscious desire and a feeling of eternal beauty”.

Among the stand-out features is a bulging bonnet that is said to mimic the 1958 Volvo PV544, which was one of the historic Volvos studied by the designers at the Volvo museum before penning the latest design.

18 center imageLeft: Volvo Concept Universe. Far bottom: 1958 Volvo PV544.

The outline of the grille is also said to have been drawn from that car, although the concentric chrome rings within the grille are fresh. The front fascia also has the signature Volvo ‘ironmark’ badge and diagonal slash, although those trademarks were absent from the original PV544.

At the back, the Concept Universe has the high waistline and muscular shoulders in the mould of the latest Jaguars and Maseratis, with ultra-modern tail lights linked across the boot by a bar of LED lights, a la Saab 9-5.

The angular twin exhaust pipe tips are inserted neatly into the rear bumper, along with a sporty rear diffuser.

Unveiling the car at Shanghai, Volvo president and CEO Stefan Jacoby virtually confirmed that the new design would be applied to the next S80 when he told Autocar that the Concept Universe offered “a sneak preview of what people can expect from our next top-of-the-line sedan”.

Mr Jacoby said Volvo would show the concept around the world to gain global feedback from customers.

He said Volvo aimed to become the brand that best understood modern luxury car buyers.

“We are eager to hear what the most demanding Chinese customers think of this luxurious concept (at Shanghai),” he said.

“Later, we will show the design in Europe and the United States in order to bring it into the global context that we are aiming for with all our car models.”

The Concept Universe is said to be just under five metres long, which would put it in the same ballpark as the S80 that, at 4849mm, lines up in the mid-sized luxury car field against competitors such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-class, Jaguar XF and Saab 9-5.

The current second-generation S80 was introduced globally in 2006 ahead of an Australian launch in 2007, indicating that a new S80 is likely within the next three years.

Volvo vice-president of design Peter Horbury likened the Concept Universe to “fine luxury goods”.

“This design feels handcrafted and durable enough to stand the test of time," he said.

"We will compete with the best with our special kind of Scandinavian design. It is unmatched in performance and technology, but without superficiality or complication.

“There is a growing appreciation for this ingenious blend of design and technology among modern luxury car buyers.

“This trend paves the way for our success. We are convinced that our special brand of luxury has a great future.”

Rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors are evident, with a door handle that seemingly connects with the front door handle to create a single unit, similar to the Rolls-Royce Phantom feature, although more discreet.

Inside, the Concept Universe has been stripped of most of its switchgear and replaced with touch screen controls for a super-clean layout.

The concept is a four-seater with a big centre console running through the middle of the cabin – a feature that may not make in into the next S80.

Volvo interior designer Conny Bengtsson said the interior was “tranquil and lounge-like, embracing the passengers”.

The doors are lined with “business suit fabric”, while the steering wheel and transmission shift lever have blue and white porcelain detail in a nod to Volvo’s Chinese owners.

Britain’s Autocar reports that the Concept Universe is not based on a specific platform because the company’s future platform and engine strategy is still being finalised.

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