GOTHENBURG, Sweden - For nearly 20 years, Volvo styling was known for sharp angles and crisp edges. Volvo's fiercely loyal owners took pride in their cars' Scandinavian boxiness.
But in the last six years, Volvo designers have embraced curves and rounded forms across the model lineup - even for wagons. To the untrained eye, Volvo's current model line looks little like the old boxy days.Volvo says its styling needed a dramatic change to achieve a goal of 650,000 annual sales globally. The Swedish carmaker wants to keep existing customers who bought its cars for their safety features but attract new buyers who thought the brand lacked panache.
"In the past, people felt if the car was safe, it had to look like that," said Peter Horbury, the former chief designer at Volvo who last month was named executive director of design at the Premier Automotive Group. "Now, we can say that the car is safe, but it looks beautiful. There can be a desirability to it, as well as it being inherently practical and functional."
Has this new strategy succeeded?
Purists insisted the new look would kill Volvo's uniqueness. They predicted long-term owners would leave the marque en masse.
Three studies - one commissioned by Volvo and two done independently - support Volvo's design strategy. But there are some danger signs.