Volvo sales have been flat-out tanking in the U.S., as Swedish metal moved in September 2008 at a 51% lower rate than it did in the same month of 2007. New product should help Ford's (for now) Swedish unit reverse that precipitous slide, the first sample of which will be seen as an S60 concept to be revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in January. We're a couple months away from seeing Volvo's midsize concept, but the Swedes are showing us a sneak peak at the interior to pique our interest.
Orrefors Crystal is the designer of choice to give Volvo a new take on its trademark waterfall center stack. Designers decided on a real crystal surface that stretches from the navigation screen all the way to the back seats. The look is very high-end and definitely draws the eye, but Volvo states the obvious in saying the heavy and expensive crystal is concept-only. One interesting feature of the S60 concept interior is that its uniquely shaped shifter and center stack buttons detach to become a remote control.
We'd guess that the center stack won't stretch all the way to the back seats in production from, as any back seat in the midsize class needs seating for three in order to survive. Speaking of survival, Volvo really needs a terrific S60 to continue in this brutal automotive market, so the concept reveal in Detroit will be highly anticipated.
VOLVO TEAMS UP WITH ORREFORS TO WORK ON THE NEW VOLVO CONCEPT CAR
Volvo Cars has teamed up with world-famous Swedish glassworks Orrefors to work on the company's next concept car, which will be a first taste of the next-generation Volvo S60. The joint creation, a floating centre stack of hand-made Orrefors crystal, will be shown for the first time at the Detroit international motor show in January 2009.
In the concept car, the graceful, crystal-clear centre stack forms a gentle, calm wave from the instrument panel all the way to the rear seat backrest. "It almost looks like a waterfall from the instrument panel, flowing through the centre of the car," says Volvo Cars design director Steve Mattin.
The crystal panel appears to float above the centre console's functions and controls. It rests softly on rubber pads and with the help of invisible light sources the crystal's shimmering glow can be tailored to match the driver's mood. "If you want to explore the full scope of Scandinavian design, Sweden's glassworks are a natural source of inspiration. Large glass areas are very much part of modern Swedish architecture, creating the special, light transparency," says Steve Mattin.
He adds: "In a concept car, you are able to release your imagination and creativity. Our iconic, super-thin centre stack was the perfect subject. We reinterpreted it and gave it a refined new form. Then it was up to Orrefors to use their superb skill to transform our exciting vision into reality."
Hand crafted down to the smallest detail
The experts at Orrefors were keen to take on the challenge and the result is one of the most unusual and labour-intensive objects in the company's 110-year history. Producing the stack was a challenge - even for the experienced experts at Orrefors. Traditionally, the moulds for the crystal are first chiselled by hand from thick planks of alder wood. After casting, the glass is carefully polished to produce its final, crystal-clear lustre.
"The undulating, slightly twisted shape and the precise dimensional requirements were two exciting challenges we had to face. Crystal is a living material, shaped by living people. We are not used to working with tolerances of tenths of a millimetre. What is more, we're talking here about an exceptionally large piece of glass," explains Orrefors design manager Gunilla Arvidsson.
Crystal-like future plans
In order to meet the relevant strength standards, the finished piece consists of three sections joined together at the Volvo Cars concept car workshops. "The full-size crystal piece in the concept car will not be a production feature. However, it does open up opportunities to use crystal on a smaller scale in the future. We'll have to see how our customers respond," says Steve Mattin.
Creativity and functionality
Although the material in the centre stack radiates uninhibited artistic freedom, the functions that are integrated have been thought through in detail.
* Beside the driver's seat, the crystal console cuts straight through the instrument panel and its upper section forms a navigation screen at the precise height of the driver's instrument dials.
* At the bottom, the four iconic rotating controls protrude from elegant matt-polished recesses in the glass panel. In the middle there is a removable remote control.
* The gear selector has a versatile new shape. In the horizontal position it offers drive in automatic mode. If the driver is in the mood for sporty manual gearchanges, the lever can be flipped up into the vertical position. Beside the gear selector there is also a starter button and parking brake.
* The centre console runs all the way to the rear seat backrest, and under the crystal panel between the individual seats there are two drinks holders that slide elegantly forward when required.
"We've put the focus on ergonomics and safety. With the instrument dials at the same height as the navigation screen, all it takes is a horizontal eye movement to switch between sources of information. Another example is that the controls used when you start and stop driving are a few centimetres from each other near the gear selector," explains Steve Mattin.
At the Volvo Cars design centre, exploring the glassworks in the deepest forests of southern Sweden has been a stimulating adventure. "The clean lines of the Orrefors products have been a true source of inspiration for many years. This was perfect timing for using crystal as a material in a concept car too," says Steve Mattin. For the Orrefors glassworks, their debut as a supplier to the car world has also served as a new creative inspiration.
"Volvo's thin centre stack is an industrial product with an artistic and functional form. It immediately inspires you to think of other application areas. Why not an elegant hanging ceiling light or a table-top ornament of some sort? We'll just have to see," says Gunilla Arvidsson.