Ex-VW designer has Volvo on a hot streak

The Volvo Estate Concept -- a sleek and striking representation of what the brand's future station wagons will look like.

Volvo design chief Thomas Ingenlath has been turning heads and winning awards since joining the Swedish automaker from Volkswagen Group 20 months ago. There is a good chance the hot streak will continue at the Geneva auto show.

The Volvo Estate Concept is a sleek and striking representation of what the brand's future station wagons will look like. It also has a sophisticated but simple interior where most buttons have been replaced by a tablet-sized touchscreen in the center console.

Volvo hopes the car will become its third-straight prize winner. The automaker's Concept Coupe was named Car of the Show at the 2013 IAA in Frankfurt by a German auto magazine and its Concept XC Coupe won Best Concept Car at the recent Detroit show from EyesON Design.

The string of victories comes after Volvo successfully lured Ingenlath away from the Volkswagen Design Center in Potsdam, Germany, where he oversaw styling for all VW Group brands. During his two decades at VW Group he also held top design jobs at Audi, VW brand and Skoda.

When Volvo announced Ingenlath's arrival then-CEO Stefan Jacoby called him one of the "most exciting automotive designers" in the industry and said he would "play a central role in Volvo's development toward becoming a top-tier luxury auto brand."

Ingenlath's first real test will be the production version of the second-generation XC90. Current Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson expects Volvo to sell about 100,000 units a year of the new XC90, up from less than 25,000 last year.

The XC90 used to be Volvo's No. 1 global seller but it has been on the market since 2002 – nearly twice as long as its rivals. That fact caused influential U.S. magazine Consumer Reports to pick the XC90 as a one of its new cars to avoid. It said the XC90's utility vehicle/station wagon looks are outdated.

Ingenlath and Volvo's future will depend heavily on whether the company's ability to impress design judges translates into success with car buyers.

You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@crain.com -- Follow Douglas A. on Twitter: BolducANE2014

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