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Volvo up-markets itself, announces plug-in diesel hybrid

November 15, 2011|By Susan Carpenter
(Volvo Monitoring Concept…)

Volvo hopes to prompt an adjective other than "safe" when customers think of its cars. In a media event at its Volvo Monitoring Concept Center in Camarillo on Monday, the company showcased an ambitious new effort to up-market its entire vehicle lineup and un-stick the brand from its no-man's-land, stranded between the middle class and premium markets.

Volvo was liberated from Ford Motor Co. in August 2010, and, though it is now owned by the Chinese auto maker Geely, its relationship with its new owner is more financial than industrial, said Volvo Chief Executive Stefan Jacoby. Volvo operates as an independent business, Jacoby said, and will be re-embracing its Swedishness moving forward.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. Auto Show

To demonstrate its new emphasis on discreet luxury, Nordic style and a more strategic, less obtrusive use of technology, Volvo displayed the four-door, four-seat Concept You it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this year, which is making its North American debut at the L.A. Auto Show this week.

The large luxury sedan indicates a new design direction for the manufacturer, using modern-looking sculptured seats that appear to float above the floor and side doors that swing out from the vehicle in opposite directions, as if passengers were entering a living space.

In accordance with the new Volvo tagline, "designed by you," drivers shouldn't have to struggle to operate the center stack controls inside the Concept You. They shouldn't have to rummage through the glove compartment for an owner's manual to learn how to connect with wi fi. Cultivation without complication is the idea Volvo is embracing with its onboard technology, which, in the Concept You, is operated with touchscreens rather than buttons to simplify and de-clutter the controls.

In the Volvo Concept, there are, in fact, two touchscreens -- one in the upper part of the center stack, which activates when the car's infrared camera registers the driver's eye movements, and another between the two rear seats. A heads-up display on the windscreen not only reflects the car's speed, it can also display data from the central touchscreen.

The exterior of the Concept You exemplifies a new Volvo silhouette -- one that indicates the automaker's future direction as an elegant and efficient power player. The future look of Volvo will likely be windswept and coupe-like, with dramatically long hoods and tapered fastback roof lines that convey speed and performance.

In coming years, Volvo's measure of a car's performance will no longer be defined by a cylinder count, however. Starting in 2013, Volvo will downsize all of its engines to four cylinders to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption without similar reductions in power, torque and driveability. The four-cylinder Volvo Environmental Engines will make more power than the company's current six-cylinder motors and use less fuel than Volvo's current four-cylinder power plants.

Horsepower will range from 150 to 300 for gasoline engines and up to 400 with electrification, said Jacoby. The company also plans to add a diesel-electric hybrid to its lineup. Further details on its four-cylinder and diesel-electric plans will be announced at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

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