Scandinavians, normally the sort to quietly lech at fireplaces, are rather voluble on the subject of design. At the end of two days at the global launch of Volvo’s new XC90, in Stockholm, all of us journalists have heard so much about Scandinavian design that it’s as if those guys have only just discovered clean lines — along with chairs and light-filled houses.
It’s undeniable, though, that Sweden is at the top of the innovation rankings in Europe. Even the launch of the XC90 was a masterclass in pulling off an event of this heft. The unveiling of the car was treated like a messiah making an entry, full of EDM thunder and strobing flashlights. Journalists from every major market were present, stuffing their faces with Swedish goodies. A repeat show was held the next day for VIPs, India being represented by true champions such as Neha Dhupia, Chetan Bhagat and Sunil Manchanda, the producer of Tere Naam.
The drama and fanfare was justifiable, as the new XC90 is Volvo’s biggest undertaking yet. The carmaker has invested 75 billion SEK in its global expansion, and it would take selling 3.2 million units of the new XC90 just to break even (Volvo sold 30,000 units of the old XC90 in 2013). Volvo took 12 years to redesign the XC90, and it must be stated that it hasn’t cut any corners. The car comes with an all-new two-litre, four-cylinder Drive-E powertrain; touchscreen control console; a gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors, a famous Swedish glassmaker; Bowers & Wilkins speakers; and diamond-cut controls for the start button and volume control. The inbuilt Volvo app and cloud does everything except sweep your driveway — from starting the car’s heater in the morning, to finding parking slots (and paying for them) and streaming your favourite music.
The person in charge of its new features is Thomas Ingenlath, senior vice-president of design. Even though the press release has him saying things like “[the XC90] has a strong connection with key elements of the Swedish lifestyle: the generous space, the celebration of light and the focus on wellbeing”, he’s a lot more honest and personable face-to-face. “You can’t have the voices of 740,000 lovers in the back of your head while designing a car,” he says. “People love an individual character. This is not a car that tries to be the loudest; it’s not the kind of car that looks fast even when it’s standing. We’re not a mass producer. We just want to be a serious alternative in the premium market.”
Volvo has also gone to great lengths to make sure that the car’s occupants are safe — the XC90 is the world’s first car to feature automatic braking if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car. Lex Kerssemakers, senior vice-president, confidently tells us, “The more Volvos out there, the less people will get killed. We’re trying to take away the mistakes of our drivers.” The car, which will be launched in India in February 2015, should be ready for reviews and bookings soon after. “If we do not study countries such as India, I should be fired,” Kerssemakers continues. Ingenlath calls the new XC90 a “very sophisticated way of expressing modesty”. We wonder if they realise the irony of trying to sell modesty at a price tag of Rs 60 lakh+.
(The writer travelled to Stockholm as a guest of Volvo India).