That’s A Volvo?! Eyes On China, Swedes Unveil Mega-Luxury Concept

The new moves in China are a smart way to recast the company, in a wide-open market. But is the design up to snuff?

Volvo is up with a new concept car that it’s billing as a “masterpiece of Scandinavian Design for car buyers of exquisite tastes.” The vehicle is a ‘luxury Volvo for China and the world’ with an interior that offers a “special contemporary luxury experience.” All told, the design is ‘just like fine luxury goods.’ And it’s part of Volvo’s larger aim to “be the brand that best interprets what buyers of modern luxury cars want.”


Okay, okay, we get it! Volvo’s luxurious! It isn’t just for Walnut Creek rich kids with learners’ permits any more! The so-called Concept Universe debuts at the Shanghai Auto Show tomorrow. It comes with some whiz-bang features. As CNET reports, the front seats have a touchscreen that literally stretches toward you — physically moves — when you reach for it, like a light saber heeding your Jedi powers. And as you approach the rear seats, the cabin color fades from dark to light, creating a sort of grayscale effect. To what end? Dunno. But it looks pretty neat.

China is a blank slate. Volvo is right to try something bold there.

For the exterior, the designers smoothed out all the hard edges that’ve defined some of Volvo’s most memorable models and gave it coupe-like roof-line. The result is a silky silhouette that CNET likens to the Jag XJ (really?). We’re not totally sold on the look. From some angles, all that roundness has a nice effect, vaguely reminiscent of an Aston Martin or a Bentley. From others, it looks like a collision of a Caddy and a Honda Civic hatchback. But the biggest change — and perhaps most original design move — is a fascia that looks far more contemporary than what they’ve managed in the past, with a faintly graphic, op-art appeal. The goal, according to Volvo’s chief designer Jonathan Disley (via Core77): “Without the edges, all lines are infinite, marking distinctive inspiration from Scandinavian furniture design as well as Chinese writing.”

A little background’s in order here. Volvo was sold to China’s Geely Automobile last summer, after a brief and unremarkable stopover at Ford Motor Company. Volvo is clearly doing its damnedest to appeal to the Chinese market, which is smart thinking. The car maker’s image in Europe and the U.S. is pretty much set in stone (see aforementioned Walnut Creek rich kids). But in an emerging market like China, the company can totally reinvent itself as a paragon of luxury, just as Ford managed to convince legions of Chinese people that its cars don’t completely suck. China is a blank slate. Volvo is right to try something brand spanking new there. It’s just too bad the Concept Universe — which will eventually be shown in Europe and America — is something of a misfire. Volvo doesn’t need to evoke Boca to convince China to buy Scandinavian.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.