GOTHENBURG, Sweden - Volvo Car Corp. wants to convince people that it can build a small car without compromising its reputation for safety.
Volvo's new small car, called the 30 series, is expected in 2004 or 2005. It will rival the Mercedes A class, BMW 1 series and Audi A2.
Volvo has not discussed whether the 30 series might be sold in the United States. But the A class, for instance - tiny by U.S. standards - is not sold in America.
"Environmental issues are fueling a trend toward smaller cars," said Hans Folkesson, Volvo's senior vice president for research, development and purchasing.
"We want to do safe, small, environmentally friendly cars," he said. "Customers will demand this, what with the congestion in European cities and concerns about fuel economy.
"We have to challenge the assumption that bigger is safer. We know much more about energy absorption (in vehicle collisions) than we used to."
For instance, much of the steel used in Volvo's XC90 sport-utility is warm-hardened rather than the traditional method of cold hardening, Folkesson said.
Warm-hardened steel is 50 percent stronger than cold-hardened steel. But warm-hardened steel costs substantially more.
The small-car segment is price sensitive, so Volvo must not make its model too expensive.
"We can't make the whole thing out of (warm-hardened steel), but we can do the A-pillar, which makes for a safe crash box," Folkesson said.
In design, Volvo must make the small car look like a Volvo and not a reskinned version of the Ford Fiesta. The two models share a platform.
The 30 series and Fiesta will share components, but Peter Horbury, Volvo's chief designer, said the small Volvo would not be recognizable as having Ford underpinnings.
"Don't assume Ford-to-Volvo is a one-way street. We don't have Ford people telling us what to do," Horbury said. "There are few visible parts you could get away with. Once you start, it's a slippery slope."