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Volvo’s long overdue XC90 shapes up

Upcoming: Volvo will finally reveal its long-overdue replacement for the decade-old XC90 in 2013.

Lighter but no larger and with just four cylinders, Volvo’s next XC90 two years away

12 Oct 2011


VOLVO will finally unveil its long-overdue replacement for the decade-old XC90 in 2013, with sales projected to commence in Australia within a year after that.

Underpinned by an entirely new modular vehicle base designed and engineered in Sweden and known as SPA – for Scalable Platform Architecture – Volvo’s second-generation seven-seater luxury SUV will also sire every replacement model from the S60 upwards.

That will eventually include the next XC60 mid-size SUV, plus V70 wagon and S80 luxury sedan successors in the pipeline for a mid-decade debut, when the latter will be known as the S90 or even S100 due to its larger overall dimensions and visual similarity to the Concept Universe/You show cars of this year.

However, despite the exclusive use of more efficient four-cylinder engines with forced induction and/or electrification to help match or exceed the performance of the five, six and eight-cylinder options offered in the existing P2 platform model, the next XC90 will not stray too far from the macho-meets-metrosexual formula that has proved resilient with seven-seat luxury SUV buyers.

This means a similar 2+3+2 cabin layout that favours occupant comfort and practicality over exterior sleekness, as well as a user-friendly cockpit that can accommodate the vast majority of drivers.

But Volvo Car Corporation’s vice-president of global marketing, Richard Monturo, admits Volvo has big shoes to fill in its desire to replicate the existing XC90’s success over the past decade.

18 center imageLeft: Volvo Car Corporation vice-president of global marketing Richard Monturo. Below: Concept You and Universe.

“You know what it says on a shampoo bottle – lather, rinse, repeat we are taking the process and repeating it,” Mr Monturo said.

“We are listening to the customers of today and letting them tell us what they want in the future.”

Mr Monturo hinted that while the next XC90 will not follow key competitors by growing in overall size, it might offer best-in-class packaging due to a larger and longer cabin made possible by new four-cylinder hybrid drivetrains.

Dramatically reduced fuel consumption and emissions will be the upshot of the latter, helped along by the introduction of eight (or more) speed transmissions, improved aerodynamics and significantly reduced mass. The current XC90 tops 2200kg in some guises.

“I think with the global economic crisis and issues with environment etcetera, size isn’t as important as total package,” said Mr Monturo.

“You can do things with inner seats nowadays, you can do things with more elegant lines,and your powertrain strategy certainly informs what you can put out on the front (of the vehicle).

“Looking at the total package of the car, it’s working with the cubic metres, the form factor, the number of seats, the capabilities … and seeing if we can make the package as efficient as possible without going too massive or without going too small. Because I think it is a ‘just right’ SUV from a size standpoint.”

The senior Volvo executive also refuted speculation that having ‘only four cylinders’ will hurt the XC90 in some markets like the USA and Australia.

“I think by the time that car gets to market there will be a big conversation in the category about what constitutes power. And I think that all of us – our competitors included – will be looking at strategies that educate people on output rather than cylinders or displacement or the metrics that were there before.

“And by the way, the same thing happened with computer processors there came a point – with 386, 486, 586, Pentium, one giga-hertz, whatever – that they just stopped making the conversation about how many calculations a processor can do and started talking about the variables of performance and certain application scenarios.

“So I think horsepower, torque, capabilities, all of your specs on acceleration, stopping distances, cornering and handling … that’s definitely going to be the new equation, and it’s just a matter of how quickly the market gets educated on it.

“And everything’s got to be lighter… and the other story about SPA is that we are going to have really exciting stories to tell about CO2.”

With yet another round of minor changes coming during 2012 to help keep the old-timer fresh, Mr Monturo underlined the importance of the XC90 to Volvo since Sweden’s largest car-maker’s ‘independence’ from Ford, as well as the intervening years before the newcomer docks.

While he would not comment on reports that Ford purposely neglected to develop a successor to the big SUV because it intended to save money by offloading Volvo as quickly as possible as part of Ford’s reorganisation under CEO Alan Mulally in 2006, it is clear that devising an XC90 replacement immediately has been a priority for the Swedish top brass.

“Customers still love it … and it was certainly something when we got here we were grateful to have,” Mr Monturo admitted, in reference to his defection to Volvo from the Volkswagen Group alongside CEO Stefan Jacoby in the wake of Geely’s purchase from Ford in August 2010.

“But we thought ‘it’s 12 years into its lifecycle so we had better start thinking about its future’… so certainly we are looking at that entire program in that segment, and thinking how we can continue to remain competitive right now, and staying aggressive.”

Volvo says that continuing strong XC90 sales a decade on from launch has caught it by surprise, with sales so far up by four per cent around the world this year, while Australian volume has edged up 1.4 per cent in 2011, making it the top-selling vehicle in its particular sub-segment four years on the trot.

“It’s still an extremely important model for us,” Mr Monturo added.

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