Detroit 2013: Volvo Aims to Rival BMW, Mercedes, Transition Underway

We had the opportunity to sit down with John Maloney, the President and CEO of Volvo Cars of North America during the 2013 Detroit auto show. Starting last year, Volvo embarked on a sales expansion plan in hopes of nearly doubling its sales by 2020 and raising the company's image to the same level as the leading German luxury brands. Revised versions of the same five products that are the core of the Volvo lineup will lead the charge.

More Prestige

Maloney made no qualms that turning Volvo into a true competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, means less-prestigious models like the S40, V50, C30, and C70 were no longer part of the plan. The latter two models are technically still on sale this year; Maloney told us that there are enough C30s left for six months of sales, and that the company will have enough C70 convertibles to get through the year.

The shedding of down-market models is part of the reason why American's won't receive the much-lauded V40 hatchback. The V40 also wasn't designed to meet U.S. standards and that it would take "more than just federalizing" the car to bring it here, according to Maloney.

He was also adamant that Volvo would not be "a Swedish German brand" and that it would do premium luxury "on its own terms." Maloney drove home the point that "Volvo will continue to emphasize safety and longevity. … It will differentiate [from other brands] through design, versatility, and easy of use."

On whether or not Volvo will look to mimic BMW and Mercedes with their M and AMG high-performance brands, respectively, Maloney confessed that he enjoyed the S60 Polestar Concept. (He's a self-professed car nut.) However, despite the fun provided by that model, he pointed out that Polestar is Volvo's racing partner and a separate vendor. "We don't have to out-power the Germans. We're not going to be a 500-hp brand. [However, cars like the S60 Polestar] add excitement to the brand." But Volvo enthusiasts could potentially be in luck – Maloney added "there is always a role for halo cars." He didn't elaborate what, if anything, a Volvo halo car would be.

Fewer, Fresher Product

The next two years will be critical for the brand's products. Later this year, Volvo will roll out facelifts for all of its models save for the XC90. The revisions will focus primarily on cosmetic upgrades, to bring all four models in line with the Swedish brand's most-recent design philosophy. Expect to see cues from the V40 make their way onto the vehicles we see here. While neither Maloney nor Volvo PR would confirm timing of when we'd see the facelifts outside of "this year, for model year 2014," a Volvo representative told us that the company will have a big showing at this year's New York auto show, so expect the revised cars this spring at that show. Maloney also pointed out that these revisions will be the first product renewal done by Volvo post-Ford ownership.

Coming in 2014 for the 2015 model year is an all-new XC90 crossover. The XC90 will be the first car to ride on Volvo's new Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA). As the name suggests, SPA will underpin every upcoming Volvo following the 2015 XC90 from 60-series and up. The SPA will exclusively use four-cylinder power, but is also flexible enough to include a plug-in hybrid electric powertrain. Maloney confirmed that the PHEV program is still in the cards for the U.S., and hinted that it could find it's way into the new XC90. Volvo currently sells a PHEV with a diesel four-cylinder in the V60 wagon in Europe, which is "totally sold out, all 1000 copies" according to Maloney.

Also coming with the SPA will be an all-new infotainment system to replace Volvo's clunky and button-heavy Sensus system.

While Maloney refused to comment on timing, he did refer us to the Concept You as an indicator for the next S80. However, he also said the car would remain in the midsize luxury class, competing with the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Lexus GS, and Infiniti M (nee Q70).

We also joined Volvo Car Group President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson for dinner. While his views on Volvo's future product portfolio had more global intentions than Maloney's, Samuelsson voiced a desire to bring the V60 (the wagon version of the S60 sedan) to the U.S. "There is a segment…people who have a sedan and want more versatility but the same efficiency."

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