An exclusive interview with Bodil Erikson, Executive Vice President, Volvo Cars of North America by Birgitta Lauren
Bodil Eriksson, Senior Vice President of Product, Marketing & Communications, Volvo Cars of North America
Bodil Eriksson, Executive Vice President of Product, Marketing & Communications at Volvo Cars of North America sat down with me at the Los Angeles Auto Show to discuss Volvo’s many projects, new cars, design secrets, as well as a soon-to-come US manufacturing plant and some projections for self-driving vehicles. Bodil, a charismatic, strong, and charming woman who cannot go too long without her Swedish salt licorice and knäckebröd, loves working in New York, having come from Volvo in Gothenburg.
Volvo is rebranding and relaunching itself as the luxury automobile of choice for a particularly US-based market with a line of new cars. The first launch is the XC 90 SUV that just took home the SUV Motortrend of the Year Award and the North American Truck of the Year Award. “This puts a feather in our cap and will help consumers show that Volvo is back.” she explains proudly.
The new Volvo XC-90 T6, exterior
“We have a brand-new design team under the direction of Thomas Ingenlath, Senior VP Design, who has taken Volvo to a whole new level in design. They have interestingly understood Scandinavian design in a way we have never managed before. Based on an architectural foundation, this new understanding helps designers make fantastically beautiful and unique cars. Our Scalable Product Architecture is flexible in height and in length. The dimension between the front wheels and the first axel is a measurement that to the eye says “this is a luxury vehicle”. Every detail and every seam are chosen with the utmost and extreme attention to detail. Nothing gets swept under the rug, not even the key, which has garnered a lot of attention for its uniqueness. We ask ourselves: how do people buy?, how does a luxury consumer experience his or her car? In regards to the key, it needed to match the car in high design, feel, functionality and delicious eye-candy dimensions.”
How did Orrefors come into the picture?
“Robin Page joined the Design team as VP Interior Design from Bentley. He treats and uses Scandinavian design with great care from the perspective of raw material and frugality. He often comes back to the idea of how much beauty can be found in Sweden. While the design language is very much about clean, simple and calm lines, there is also room for some “jewelry”. The Interior design team under Robin thought it would be lovely to include the Swedish tradition of incorporating crystal. Thus the collaboration with Orrefors to design the twin-engine shift stick was born. We also have a tiny Swedish flag and 1959 marked on our safety belts, as a nod to our heritage and to the year in which Volvo invented the safety belt (for which the patent was later given up to promote safety across car manufacturers).”
Interior detail T8 Orrefors gearshift
How did Volvo get here?
“Back in 2007, Volvo developed a long term vision for our continued commitment to safety. 1.3 million people die in car accidents annually. Volvo’s Vision 2020 states that, “No one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo Car. As the company developed a new strategy over the next couple of years, we started to address the big societal questions that, in our perspective, an automotive company would need to respond to. It was about the safety and the environmental challenges, including the growth of megacities with huge problems relating to congestion. We identified the need of the connected car as an enabler to these challenges and a future consumer expectation. This is the larger picture behind the Vision 2020.”
“Early on, autonomous driving was identified as a key component in our long term strategy. There is a lot of talk today about autonomous driving, but solely from the technological perspective. At Volvo we look at it from a human perspective. People love to drive their cars, but there are parts of their daily commute that is ‘broken’ and boring, with intensive and congested traffic situations. We know from our research that consumers are very open to the thought of delegating the driving to the car in those situations. While fully autonomous cars are not yet developed, our new cars do have very advanced semi-autonomous driving capabilities. We just announced that our All New S90 will have our Semi AD Pilot Assist as a standard feature, one of the most advanced of its kind on the market. Our new interior, with integrated and connected touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, a great sound system from Bowers & Wilkins, and a simple soothing design allows the driver to arrive at her/his destination feeling relaxed instead of stressed out because of traffic.”
Do you think autonomous driving could result in lost driving skills, just like we have forgotten how to remember phone numbers due to cell phones?
“No. We firmly believe that consumers in the future will also want to drive! If we can delegate the tedious parts of a commute, autonomous driving will improve the quality and the time spent in your car. Volvo Cars just revealed an autonomous driving concept, C26. This concept shows how the future driving experience could look using three different drive modes drive, creative or relax mode. There is a documentary on www.futureofdriving.com about this.
In 2017, Volvo’s Autonomous Drive project “Drive Me” will see 100 consumers in fully autonomous cars on certain roads in Gothenburg. The project is done in close cooperation with the Swedish road authorities. A future with autonomous cars is exciting from many aspects, such as road efficiency with 5 lanes instead of 3. Parking structures that are designed totally different will enable you to leave your car at the entrance and ask it to park itself and then come pick you up later. Imagine how much more efficiently space could be used!”
I heard an announcement of Volvo manufacturing in the US soon?
“Yes, our first manufacturing plant is being built in Berkeley County, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. It will be ready in 2018 to produce our next generation of S60 mid-size Sedans for the US and global markets. The XC90 was the first of a new generation of cars. Come 2019, that will be the oldest car in our showroom and by 2020, we will have launched nine all new models. Exciting times indeed for Volvo Cars!”
How do you find working for Volvo in the USA?
“It’s a privilege to be a part of this comeback. Volvo just celebrated 60 years in the US and there is a strong and warm feeling for the brand here. Now, we need to take everything that is great about our heritage and re-launch the brand with our new cars to be relevant for today’s luxury consumer. They look for something new and a bit contrarian to the established set of brands. We have so much news coming all the time; the timing of our technology and design could not be more right.”
The new Volvo V90 on location.
Photos: Volvo Car Corporation