Volvo's design evolves with XC60

Volvo design boss Steve Mattin with the XC60 concept: "I wanted to spice up some of the stronger elements and change some weaker parts."
When designer Peter Horbury guided boxy Volvo toward a more muscular look in the 1990s, it was a sea change from two decades of "brick" design. The upcoming XC60 crossover, on sale in early 2010, may look like an evolution of Horbury's styling language. But current Volvo design boss Steve Mattin sees it as another break from the past.

Mattin, 43, spoke with Los Angeles Bureau Chief Mark Rechtin at the New York auto show.

How do you see Volvo's design evolving?

We have had the current design language since the original S80, which was 10 years ago. For Volvo, I saw the design DNA in the car's shoulder, in the V in the fascia and hood, and the vertical look of the front end.

People always say how Volvo always used to be boxy. But before Volvo was boxy, they had cars like the Amazon that had very defined shoulders. I wanted to spice up some of the stronger elements and change some weaker parts.

One of the things was to make the (Volvo badge) on the fascia more connected to corporate identity, more of a premium element than the restrained Swedish approach.

There is a term in Swedish, lagom, which means "it's good enough." It means that Swedes aren't out there bragging. They build "we" products, not "I" products. But Volvo cannot rely just on the safety aspect anymore. We need to have emotion, to make a striking visual impact, because we are a small player.

What other cues are you playing up with the XC60?

The front end has more of a human face. Why do you notice a certain individual walking down Broadway, then three days later you recognize him in Soho? He doesn't have to be remarkably good-looking, just have a certain visual characteristic. He has a self-confident attitude, a certain dynamism. We think we can do that by emphasizing the headlamps and the V shape in the fascia and hood line. We also want to make the shoulder into a huge wedge that flows into the front fender. It also disguises the front overhang by truncating the front corners.

Do you see a family resemblance forming with these elements?

With the XC60, the shoulder will be muscular and athletic, but it might not be executed the same way with our other products. A chef can use the same ingredients in different ways for different dishes. So with the C30, our smallest car has the biggest shoulder, proportionately, because it is daring to be different in its packaging.

What is the next design step following the XC60?

The rear-end graphic of the taillamps is important. Look at the way the lamp graphic lines up entirely around the curve of the hatch, so function follows form. I want to keep developing our strengths, to keep being renewed, rather than have a static application to all vehicles. 

You can reach Mark Rechtin at

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