The Insider

VOLVO’S BUILDING BLOCKS

AUSTRALIA AND SWEDEN MIGHT NOT SEEM TO HAVE MUCH IN COMMON BEYOND A MUTUAL LOVE OF GOOD SEAFOOD. BUT AS OUR LOCAL PRODUCTION DIES, SWEDEN – WITH HALF THE POPULATION – SERVES TO DISPROVE THE ASSERTION THAT ONLY BIG COUNTRIES CAN SUPPORT THEIR OWN CARMAKERS.

Seven years ago the prospects for Sweden’s car industry were grim. Saab was already well into its death spiral, and Volvo was in serious trouble.

Sales collapsed during the GFC, falling from 458,000 in 2007 to 335,000 in 2009, with parent Ford desperate to offload it. After a failed attempt to woo VW, Ford flogged it to Geely, practically unheard of outside its native China. Many feared Volvo would follow Saab down the plughole.

It didn’t. Indeed, the brand has enjoyed a Hollywood-style reversal of fortunes. Volvo is now on course to sell 800,000 cars a year by 2020. And while, under Ford, it relied on Uncle Henry for much of its engineering and parts supply, it has now developed two new architectures and a range of engines entirely in-house.

The larger of these platforms (SPA) underpins the XC90 and the forthcoming S90 and V90, and will become the basis for the mid-sized ‘60’ series cars. The smaller one (CMA), jointly developed with Geely, will be launched next year underneath the new XC40. It will be the basis for all Volvo’s small cars as well as Geely’s larger ones.

In a world where even the biggest carmakers are struggling with costs, this minimalism gives Volvo impressive efficiency. The two platforms are closely related, and will underpin models and several from Geely.

Powertrain strategy is just as used downsizing as an opportunity an emissions-enforced necessity. of Drive-E engines share a common with only three major variants: four-cylinder petrols and a four-Performance is then added by forced induction (like the forthcoming triple-charged petrol), hybrid The result will power everything the range-topping XC90. asis Volvo s rger ggest he pin at least 12 Volvo y. s clever. Volvo has nity rather than just y. The new family mmon architecture, : three-cylinder and r-cylinder diesel. more aggressive hcoming 340kW assistance, or both. ng from the V40 to Wrong part of Scandinavia, but it could be termed the Lego approach to product development. Volvo R&D boss Peter Mertens is happy to admit that both architectures have been designed to, as he puts it, “plug and play” with this interchangeable component set. That makes it easy to offer all-wheel drive, and means that more expensive cars can have more advanced suspension systems or – in the future – bigger or faster-flowing hybrid battery packs.

Electrification goes hand in hand with this small-engine strategy. Both platforms support plug-in hybrid powertrains and Volvo is planning to launch pure EVs on both, the SPA-based one coming in 2019.

By 2025 Volvo will be making one million hybrid or pure electric cars a year, and CEO Hakan Samuelsson says the three-cylinder T5 hybrid powertrain will be cheaper than an equivalent diesel within two years of launch.

As premium rivals battle with tougher emissions standards and ever-expanding model ranges, the world’s most sensible carmaker is looking increasingly ahead of the curve. ever

Wrong part of Scandinavia, but it could be termed the Lego approach to product development

Innovative hybrid

The XC40 will launch with a new hybrid powertrain option – based around Volvo’s threecylinder turbo-petrol and a new seven-speed twin clutch gearbox – that is claimed to offer better economy numbers than a comparative diesel engine, both in offi cial tests and real-world use. It uses a 55kW electric motor connected to one of the input shafts of the transmission – the one that does 2nd, 4th, 6th and reverse gears – which can drive the car itself or blend its assistance with that of the IC engine, with the gearbox sometimes in two gears at the same time.