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Volvo's product-led revolution

XC50 seen: Volvo dsplayed this model of a potential XC50 at the New York auto show last April.

No more bricks as Volvo lays out a plan for model expansion

16 Dec 2003

VOLVO will take a leaf out of Blue Oval stable-mate Mazda’s textbook by using a ‘product-led revolution’ to reverse declining sales, according to Volvo Car Australia spokesman Todd Hallenbeck.

Mr Hallenbeck said the Japanese marque served as a shining example of how a revitalised model line-up could radically alter the public perception of a brand.

Mazda lost its identity with a succession of bland, faceless offerings in the mid to late 1990s, but has since gone on to achieve record sales locally with a spate of youthful, dynamic products.

The first clear signs that Volvo planned to do likewise were provided by the S60 R and V70 R, launched last month.

The next salvos in the proposed onslaught will come in the form of the shapely new S40 compact sedan and its wagon counterpart, the V50, which arrive Down Under in June and by October respectively.

The P1 platform, on which the S40 and V50 are based, will also spawn a compact off-roader that is likely to be badged XC50. A five-door, all-wheel drive wagon, the newcomer will be similar in concept to the existing XC70 – albeit smaller and cheaper.

“The XC50 is being heavily pushed by markets outside Europe, but it’s still a ‘what if’ project that’s not even at the prototype stage,” Mr Hallenbeck said.

Despite the non-committal official line, it is more or less certain the XC50 will see production, given the ever-increasing strength of the crossover genre.

Also planned for inclusion in Volvo’s growing soft roader line-up is a three-door, all-wheel drive, all-activity coupe that has been referred to by some as the XC30.

European sources suggest the new compact all-wheel-drive will be twinned with the next generation Land Rover Freelander and it is possible the pair may even share the same assembly line when production starts.

Volvo’s interpretation of the vehicle started life as the AAR (All-Activity Roadster) concept, but it has since evolved into a four-seater coupe with a large sunroof that extends to or even includes the tailgate.

Volvo also plans to re-enter the small-car segment – a category it has not contested since the ungainly looking 440 – with an all-new contender known as the V30.

“I don’t know anything about the V30 but there has been talk that the Safety Concept Car would be the visual basis for the small car,” Mr Hallenbeck said.

“There’s potentially a lot of volume to be gained, but the big question is whether it will pay for itself. We can’t do a Toyota-type car as it still has to be perceived as a premium product.

“I know the A-class makes a lot of sense as providing an entry to the (Mercedes-Benz) brand, but I don’t know if it’s profitable.”

It is believed Volvo is pinning big hopes on the V30 hatchback, which will be pitched at a more youthful audience than the marque’s current demographic. Some industry observers suggest the newcomer’s styling will draw some cues from the classic (and now collectible) ES 1800 sports wagon introduced in 1971.

This vehicle has volume-selling German badges in sights – such as the VW Golf, Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz Sports coupe and BMW 3 Series Compact. However, toppling these well-entrenched contenders will be no easy task.

Although the V30 may follow the design theme of the Safety Concept Car, the production version is unlikely to carry over the concept’s radical rear-hinged back doors and see-through windscreen pillars.

At the opposite end of the scale, Volvo’s flagship C70 coupe and convertible will make way in 2005/06 for a steel-roofed drop-top in the vein of the Mercedes-Benz SLK and Lexus SC430. The all-new replacement is tipped to wear the C50 badge and it is likely to undercut both C70 variants on price.

“When you look at the security issues and the way the market is going, it (a folding steel roof instead of a canvas top) makes a lot of sense,” Mr Hallenbeck said.

“But boot space is an issue because with existing steel-roofed convertibles there is virtually no storage space with the top down.

Mr Hallenbeck suggests Volvo’s contender – to be styled by Pininfarina – will address this shortcoming with a novel solution that ensures boot space is not overly compromised when the lid is dropped.

Curiously, Volvo has no plans at present to produce a high-performance R version of the accomplished new S40, but the manufacturer is coming under pressure from certain markets to do so.

“The US, Germany and Australia are pushing very hard for an R version of the S40,” Mr Hallenbeck said.

“We’re not perceived as a performance brand, so we need to offer something really special to change this perception.”

Mr Hallenbeck said the S40 R – if it gets the production green light – would be pitched as a vehicle that offers performance halfway between BMW’s 330i and M3.

Volvo’s product pipeline
June 2004: S40 sedan
October 2004: V50 wagon
March 2005: Volvo XC90 diesel
March 2005: S40 T5 AWD
March 2005: C50 four-seat convertible
October 2005: XC50 soft roader
March 2006: V30 three-door hatch
October 2006: XC30 all-activity coupe
March 2007: Volvo S40 R

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