Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Volvo gets emotional over wagons

Volvo’s V90 Cross Country has utility features of an SUV but a lower ride.

Volvo is re-entering the American station wagon market with a vehicle that caters to a driver’s needs, big and small.

The V90 Cross Country hit U.S. dealerships in March and is a raised version of the V90, which is available only online or through Volvo’s overseas delivery program that includes a trip to Sweden. Despite its ride height — it offers 8.3 inches of ground clearance, about an inch shy of the XC90 — and off-road capability, the V90 Cross Country won’t convert SUV lovers, but is instead intended to be a niche vehicle with a Swedish personality.

Volvo is undergoing a brand revival under Geely, the Chinese company that bought the automaker from Ford Motor Co. in 2010. The blockbuster sales of the XC90 large crossover — which sold 92,449 new and XC90 Classic units globally in 2016, more than doubling 2015 sales — are the most obvious indicator of Volvo’s resurgence, and have given the automaker some room to experiment with the final member of its 90 series family.

But Volvo can’t rely on crossovers alone for its resurgence. Wagons have historically been the cornerstone of Volvo’s fleets. The automaker established its dominance in the segment more than 60 years ago with the sturdy and long-lasting Duett, and later iterations soon became status symbols for middle-class American families.

“Volvo is wagons,” Lex Kerssemakers, CEO of Volvo Car USA, told Automotive News in January.

Stefan Saellqvist, Volvo’s global product manager for the 90 series, said now that the brand has established itself, it can focus on more “emotional” and “personalized” design, as evidenced by the smaller convenience features. 

There’s a hook by the front seat to hold takeout or grocery bags, and the trailer hitch retracts at the push of a button. Even the tires, which were developed by Volvo with help from Pirelli, Michelin and Continental, are customized to transition between highway and off-road driving. 

While the wagon has many utility features of an SUV, including cargo space and off-road capability, the lower height allows for a smoother entrance, and for easier access to the roof for storage. 

The hardest part of designing the V90 Cross Country, Saellqvist said, was narrowing the list of convenience features to those that would be the most useful to the most drivers while still giving a customized feel. 

Still, Volvo recognizes that bringing wagons back to the U.S. will be a slow process. Volvo discontinued sales of the V70 wagon in 2011 after larger SUVs and crossovers pushed station wagons aside. 

“Wagons won’t be as big as SUVs,” Saellqvist said. “But there is a market.”

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