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Volvo Concept Coupé

A firsthand look at the Swedish automaker's turbocharged plug-in hybrid

by Hans Aschim in Design on 30 August 2013

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The history of Volvo is a storied one. Various ownership changes over the past decades and an arguable dearth in design innovation—the very quality that made the brand a beloved staple of intelligence in the industry—coupled with a few poor financial years has really put pressure on the brand to deliver. As one of Sweden's last standing global car brands, the Gothenburg-based automaker sought to take a leap forward while paying homage to its own history as well as playing up its surroundings, the beautiful west coast of Sweden. The culmination of this refreshed strategy is embodied in the recently unveiled and highly anticipated Concept Coupé—the brand's newest concept car.

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We visited Volvo's global HQ in the south of Sweden for a firsthand look at the brand's new direction. From the inside out, the Concept Coupé hits the mark on Volvo's mission to revive its innovative, aesthetic, design-centered focus on its cars. The new car is the first offering from recently hired Senior Vice President of Design, Thomas Ingenlath, known for his work on the NILS EV and Bluesport Roadster concept cars for Volkswagen. Ingenlath is known for his ability to take a classic profile and update it with forward-thinking style. The inspiration for the Concept Coupé comes from one of Volvo's most beloved—and arguably most dashing—vehicles, the P1800 sports car.

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While the inspiration comes from the past, the Concept Coupé faces decidedly towards the future. This is representative of Volvo's new design and brand strategy; taking notes from their heritage as a design force while moving confidently in the direction of intelligent luxury. The lines of the car—especially around the grille and rear—are most explicitly P1800-esque. From the floating grille, which appears disconnected from the surrounding hood, to the graphic T-shaped daytime lights, there are plenty of new design signatures making their way into upcoming models. "The face is new, but it also carries more than 85 years of Volvo heritage with great pride," says Ingenlath. Towards the rear of the car, Volvo's classic raised shoulders of its '60s and '70s models are maintained—albeit with a very modern touch. A defined line coupled with rounded curves and negative space give the rear of the car a certain futuristic sophistication, melding classic styling with thoughtful design.

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Though the exterior of the Concept Coupé shines, the interior reveals a major shift in Volvo's design strategy. Taking inspiration from the great legacy of Scandinavian design along with Volvo's local surroundings of the rugged yet stunning west coast of Sweden, Ingenlath along with director of interior design Robin Page, focused on premium materials, craftsmanship and simplicity. "We started with the touch display and designed around it," says Page of the iPad-sized portrait touchscreen that dominates the center console and allows for easy connectivity and actually improves safety. "We've greatly reduced the amount of buttons, with the interactiveness of the touchscreen we aim to reduce distraction," says Page. For easy connectivity, a USB and auxiliary audio outlet are conveniently located on the passenger side door. "Other technology changes faster than cars, so we want our interfaces to be adaptable to new developments," says Page.

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The brand is certainly paying attention to the connectivity desired by drivers, yet the whole of the interior has a uniquely handmade feel. This is accomplished through high-quality materials and craftsmanship, with nearly all of the interior leather and carpets coming from Sweden. For the Concept Coupé, the design team looked to their surroundings for inspiration. A pale wooden veneer calls to mind sun-bleached driftwood while the deep blues and grays along with the shine of the chrome are reflective of the dramatic North Sea coast that surrounds Volvo's HQ. The most striking design signature of the interior is the crystal gear lever—hand-cut by local artisans in Sweden—that catches light and gives the car a certain design-centric luxury that fans of both Volvo and Scandinavian style will certainly appreciate. Sitting in the Concept Coupé, one is literally surrounded by the refined yet comfortable Nordic style and quality the world continues to embrace.

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Under the hood, the Concept Coupé is a major representation of Volvo's mechanical changes to come, built on the company's Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA) which allows for unprecedented commonality in parts across various sizes of models. Additionally, the brand has decided to restrict its engines to a maximum of four cylinders to improve fuel efficiency. The Concept Coupé combines a gas-electric motor with both a supercharger and turbo for a whopping 400 horsepower. With both SPA and a four-cylinder engine maximum, Volvo hopes to both improve its economies of scale from a production standpoint as well as reduce the environmental impact of both producing and driving its cars. Luckily, they've managed to do all of this without sacrificing the driving experience: "Our cars have always been safe, and we're proud of that, but now we're making them fun and attractive," says Ingenlath.

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While the Concept Coupé is a triumphant showing of Volvo's capabilities, it is not an abstraction. "The Volvo Concept Coupé is no futuristic dream car. It is designed to demonstrate the capability of our new architecture: The confident stance, the proportions and the most prominent design signatures," says Ingenlath. From a larger brand perspective, it's clear that Volvo is ready to return to its place as the thinking person's luxury car. "A lot of our customers are fans of good design," says Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson. "We have this rich Scandinavian heritage and we want to capitalize on that with a product that is not only good-looking, but is superbly engineered for safety and performance."

Volvo is releasing additional concept cars to illustrate its revived design strategy over the coming months. Check out Volvo's site for further information about new and upcoming models.

Exterior images courtesy of Volvo, interior images by Hans Aschim

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