Volvo's future: wagons, three-cylinders, and hybrid Polestars

We spoke with Lex Kerssemakers and Thomas Ingenlath in Geneva.

At this year's Geneva Motor Show, I had a chance to sit down with Volvo Cars of North America CEO Lex Kerssemakers and Senior Vice President of Design Thomas Ingenlath following the debut of the all-new 2018 Volvo XC60. The duo discussed the Swedish automaker's recent resurgence as well as Volvo's near and long-term future and how the new EPA leadership affects the company's future products.

The XC60 is a hugely important model for Volvo. Crossovers are all the rage and, despite being seven years on, the outgoing model had its best year in 2016 with more than 160,000 units rolling off dealer lots. It was far and away Volvo's best-selling model and made up a significant portion of the automaker's 540,000 in annual sales. Numbers have been up for nearly every model, and Kerssemakers expects to move 200,000 units of the new XC60 annually.

The new model rides on the tails of the now nearly 2-year-old XC90. While sales have slumped in recent months, Kerssemakers assures us that it's due to availability (the XC90 has been rolling out in new markets) and that sales will pick back up in April. A third of global XC90 sales occur in the US, meaning there are just too few units to go around elsewhere. Kerssemakers says Volvo has been out of sight and out of mind for a long time in the US, and interest in the XC90 will trickle down to the XC60 and upcoming XC40 compact crossover, which arrives at the end of this year.

Ingenlath believes the new clean and detailed design language has done a lot to both increase brand awareness and bring customers into showrooms. Volvo has historically had handsome and timeless designs. The new models are no different and are arguably some of the best looking Volvos of all time. Yes, it's partially Volvo talking up its own product, but the increased sales show that something is working to get people behind the wheel.

Despite the ever-increasing sales of crossovers, Volvo still believes wagons have a place in the market. The V90 is selling as expected, and there will be a midsize V60 to partner the upcoming S60 sedan. Likewise for the S40/V40, though it's unclear if the latter's wagon variant will come to America. Although Volvo is currently focusing on a four-cylinder lineup, Kerssemakers is certain that three-cylinder engines will power US versions of the 40 and 60 series Volvos in order to meet both emissions and fuel economy standards.

When asked about the potential loosening of CAFE standards by the EPA, Kerssemakers said the changes will not affect Volvo's future. The company made a decision in 2008 to move to four-cylinders and hybrids and has no plans to back off from that. Volvo, at least on the surface, is still supportive of the Obama era's 2025 target and is disheartened by other automakers' attempts to roll back the commitments they made to improve fuel efficiency and carbon output.

Despite the focus on efficiency and safety, Volvo is still very serious about Polestar. Volvo acquired the performance outfit a few years ago, and Kerssemakers says the division has a place within Volvo, though it must reflect the brand's ideals and goals. That means electrification and hybridization of some sort. Exactly what that means has yet to be defined, he said, but Polestar and that wonderful shade of blue have not been forgotten.

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