Volvo has always been about safety and durability. Now its new top engineer wants the Swedish carmaker to be exciting too.
While Volvo won't abandon its core values, 'we must be more vibrant, and we must have more attention to detail,' says Hans Folkesson, senior vice president and head of research, development and purchasing.
At Volvo, Folkesson is focusing on putting engineering quality into final design.
'Safety and durability will still come first, but we have to have reasonable performance figures and be fun to drive,' he said. 'We don't have to be the best with super-power and expensive materials, but we have to be in the top two or three to be considered exciting.'
Folkesson, who began his job last month, knows it won't be easy to convince Volvo's senior engineers that the company must change.
'Those changes may put some new restrictions on their work,' he admits. 'But we can't afford to not be on par.'
Folkesson knows a thing or two about excitement. He is a glider pilot in his spare time, and his daily vehicle is a Volvo S60 T5. He also drives German and British cars frequently to benchmark Volvo against its competitors. Folkesson says he approves of the steering feel of BMW and the craftsmanship of Audi. And he likes the way that high-performance levels don't intrude upon the interior quiet of a Jaguar.
Folkesson's world view comes from his experience outside of Volvo Car. The 51-year-old was head of research and development for Volvo's truck business for six years before becoming deputy chief engineer on the car side in 2000.
Before that, Folkesson worked for Skoda under Volkswagen's ownership, and spent his formative years at 'the other Swedish car company,' both before and after General Motors bought Saab.
This experience makes Folkesson rather different from Hans Gustavsson, his predecessor. Gustavsson, a long-time Volvo employee, was promoted to head of commonality programs for Ford's Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands. Besides Volvo, Premier includes Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Lincoln.
'Hans Gustavsson had a long tradition with Volvo, while I worked in a wider environment. But I still believe in Volvo's core values,' says Folkesson. 'I have a passion for reliability. People here will see more deep dives into reliability issues, to see problems that need management support before we do launches.'
Working with Ford
A big part of Folkesson's job will be cooperating with parent Ford and the Premier Automotive Group.
First on Folkesson's list is examining how Volvo can use the same electrical architectures as other Ford brands. By that, Folkesson does not mean wiring harnesses, but rather the software that makes today's cars run.
Since most engines, brakes and suspensions are electronically tuned, using the same software allows different tuning of nearly identical parts. That way a Volvo S40 will not drive like a Ford Focus, even if many of the same parts are used.
'The dimensions of the brakes may be the same, but the activation, feel and electronic stability are all done by software,' says Folkesson. 'There are so many tools to customize that. Everything you see, hear and feel will be a Volvo.'
But the demands of Volvo customers may not correspond with the parts Ford wants to commonize. For instance, should air conditioning systems be shared? That might seem logical enough - but not where Volvo is concerned.
While the capacity of the air conditioning compressor can be the same, Volvo needs stronger heating elements to warm its cars faster in bitter Scandinavian winters.
The same goes for seats. Volvo is proud of its firm, ergonomic seat design, and will not sacrifice that to achieve lower component costs through common purchasing, says Folkesson.
P2 platform was expensive
Not everything has gone smoothly with Ford, which acquired Volvo Car from parent company AB Volvo in February 1999.
For example, there is disappointment that Ford has not integrated Volvo's P2 premium-car platform into its overall lineup.
P2 engineering was complete when Ford arrived, and Volvo has since used the platform for its 60-, 70- and 80-series cars. Volvo's upcoming XC90 sport-utility will also be built on the P2 platform. But Ford has not found a use for it yet.
The P2 platform is equipped for front-wheel drive and a transverse engine. Though many of Ford's smaller cars use that layout, Ford's love of V-6 and V-8 engines for its big cars causes packaging problems in the P2 platform's engine bay.
It doesn't help that the engineering of the P2 platform has been seen as too elegant and expensive for mainstream Fords, says Charlie Moss, an independent auto analyst in London.
But Folkesson says Volvo doesn't need Ford to share the P2 platform anyway.
'We will not sacrifice our brand attributes for having common components and scale,' he said. 'We have reasonable economies of scale with 300,000 units from that platform. We could have more efficiencies at 500,000 units, but the difference would not be that dramatic. We are already making a lot of money from the P2 products.'
Volvo designed the P2 platform to fit its specific needs and strengths. While a north-south engine could have saved money on development and manufacturing, it could have meant compromises on safety and interior packaging, says Folkesson.
'The P2 platform is not the traditional or expected way of doing things in the auto industry, but we have to be special in our solutions,' he said.
The bigger test will be in sharing modules as Volvo creates its next 40 series off the Ford Focus/Mazda3 platform, as well as a future supermini off the Ford Fiesta/Mazda2 platform.
'We want to use modules that have a wide array of derivatives, but which come from a basic toolbox of components,' Folkesson says. 'We'd never just slap our logo on someone else's car.'
Hans Folkesson biography
Title: Senior vice president and head of research, development and purchasing, Volvo Car Corp.
Personal: Married to Lillemor; two grown sons
Education: Licentiate of engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden
1974: Saab-Scania, car division, body-design engineer
1975: Saab-Scania, car division, tool-design engineer
1978: Saab-Scania, car division, analysis engineer
1981: Saab-Scania, car division, manager CAD/CAM
1986: Saab-Scania, car division, chief engineer for technology department
1989: Saab Automobile, chief engineer, body and chassis development
1993: Skoda, vice president, research and development
1995: Volvo Trucks, senior vice president, research, development, sourcing and quality
2000: Volvo Car Corp., deputy senior vice president, research, development and purchasing
March 2002: Present job