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Volvo cuts unique design path amid sister brands

On the same Page: Robin Page, pictured here with the new XC40 in South Australia, has a clearly defined design direction for Volvo and Polestar – and maintains strong connections with other Geely Auto brands.

Global design chief says Volvo, Polestar, Lynk & Co are carving out own positions

7 May 2018

GEELY Automobile’s western-market brands Volvo, Polestar and Lynk & Co all have clearly defined design directions that will ensure differentiation on the street, and in the minds of consumers, as the trio joins forces in the same markets – including Australia – in the coming years.

Speaking to GoAuto at last week’s Australian launch of the all-new XC40 SUV, which shares its platform with the forthcoming Lynk & Co 1, 2 and 3 models, Volvo Cars senior vice-president of design, Robin Page, said there was a high level of communication between the various studios, including Geely in China, to avoid duplication and “dilution” of each brand.

He also said the vehicles manufactured in China are now at a higher quality than in Europe, which is particularly relevant for Australia considering models from all three brands could be sourced from the Asian powerhouse in the years ahead.

Promoted to global design chief last year when Thomas Ingenlath became chief executive of Polestar – replacing Volvo Car Australia’s recently appointed managing director Nick Connor – British-born Mr Page oversees the design of both Volvo and Polestar at the Swedish manufacturer’s Gothenburg headquarters.

Lynk & Co design is the responsibility of another Brit and ex-Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury, and is also based in Gothenburg – but at a separate studio with a different team.

Based in Shanghai, Geely’s studio is led by Guy Burgoyne who, yes, is a British-born one-time Volvo designer – with an Australian accent, having worked for Holden from 2007-12 as head of interiors and, later, advanced design.

“It’s more just being aware of what we’re doing – you know, the challenges, and working together – but not in terms of the design issues of each other’s work because that can cause the dilution of the brand,” Mr Page told GoAuto.

“There needs to be an educated level of ‘we know what’s going on’ because we want to keep everything separate.”

Although Volvo and Polestar models emanate from the same studio, with designers moving between the two brands, Mr Page said this approach had brought a fresh approach to the products and forced the designers to think clearly about what each vehicle and the broader marque represent.

“Actually, it’s been really good for the studio – it wakes you all up when you’re challenged,” he said.

“The way we see it, Polestar is a more aggressive brand, it’s all about the electrification, technology, innovation, it’s our test ground basically for the future – it’s still relevant Scandinavian design, but it’s more super-modern Scandinavian design.

“Volvo is more the human-centric brand, it’s more focused around people and people’s lifestyle and it’s still holds on to that with safety, it’s designed around the way you live, the true Volvo kind of elements.”

Mr Page said Polestar’s reinvention allowed the design team to move beyond what was deemed possible with the Volvo brand, extending the boundaries, which can then filter back to Volvo in a more mainstream form as required.

Using furniture to explain the difference between the two brands, Mr Page said Polestar would be an edgy, super-modern piece made from carbon-fibre whereas Volvo would be a more traditional Scandinavian item that was softer, with fine stitching details and more natural materials.

“One is more an individual riding with that super technology, and the other brand is more about a different type of person, maybe more focused on the family, on the experiences, on activities, that kind of thing,” he said.

“It’s that different take, but they’ve both got elements that can cross over.”

Mr Page said Lynk & Co design also had its own unique direction that has both Chinese and European influences and, compared to Volvo, is “a bit yin and yang, really”.

“They see us as the true Scandinavian design philosophy – Lynk & Co is more alternative, something very different, more connected to the Chinese culture.

It literally is almost an opposite reflection to Volvo,” he said.

“We do something here and they tend to the do the opposite in a completely different way, which is great. They could say we are the light Scandinavian part, they are the dark Scandinavian part, it’s the light and the darkness and far more connected with modern Chinese philosophies – there’s a lot of that thinking in their design, and I think it works quite well.”

On the issue of quality, Mr Page said any sense that China as a production source was not up to scratch is no longer valid, with Geely’s factories rated more highly than those in Europe.

“What we’re finding is that the quality of the cars are actually better in China than they are in Europe,” he said.

“Everyone was worried about quality, but as soon as they started the quality was even higher on score than in Europe.

“To be honest with you, if you talk to the (European) manufacturing guys they’ve put so much automation into the system, you haven’t got that manual adjust.”

Mr Page said the Chinese manufacturing operations set targets to get tighter tolerances and that having less automation allows for finetuning during the production process.

“They’ve got more people on it, less automation, which actually gives you that ability to get tighter on the tolerances … and make finer adjustments,” he said.

“It’s not a massive difference but if you do scores-to-scores and averages, China’s pretty damn good, so we’re not so worried about that now.”

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