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Volvo design

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Amyot Bachand
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Barcelona, Spain -- Volvo went through years of safety-oriented, boxy cars. Over the last few years, however, its lineup has become more and more attractive, much to our delight. This is crucial for the Swedish automaker, who's battling against its traditional thinking in order to
David Ancona (Photo: Volvo)
remain competitive in the luxury market. The emerging Scandinavian generations are certainly thinking differently and, in the cold of Northern countries, ideas and lifestyles are warming up faster than Mother Earth. (Just consider the design influence in IKEA's products.) I recently had the privilege to visit Volvo's satellite design studio in Barcelona and to have a talk with the director, David M. Ancona.

Satellite studio
In addition to the company's headquarters in Göteberg and its design center in California, there's now a small satellite design studio in Spain. Aside from the director, the studio only employs six professional designers and one engineer who uses Alias modelization programs (created in Canada). Why a satellite studio? Because Volvo wanted to get closer to its customers. As the director explained to me, design centers located near production facilities tend to create similar vehicles. By moving away from the plants, designers can focus on different ideas inspired by different environments.

Why Barcelona?
Barcelona is a city where the architecture, the joie de vivre, the people's kindness and their culture make an ideal environment for developing new
(Photo: Amyot Bachand,
ideas and concepts. Building a satellite studio means hiring local professionals. Indeed, you have to rely on different individuals who come from different circles to get the results you're looking for, Mr. Ancona told me. It's not a coincidence that Japanese and Korean companies decided to establish so many design centers in California; they wanted to get closer to the American people and to get a better feel of the American trends. Obviously, Volvo's Barcelona studio must turn to the Göteberg mother office or to Ford's Valencia center when its designers want to build a full-scale prototype from their sketches.

Design influence
Here's what designers have to be able to do: looking 5, 7 or 10 years into the future and translating on paper what the consumers' needs and preferences will be. Their suggestions and drawings help the company's executives establish the image and directions of the entire product lineup. A manufacturer's design director has to sway the decision makers in order to sell his new vehicle. True, the engineers have a lot to say, but a boxy car is no longer popular; it must be great-looking, attractive and convenient.
Amyot Bachand
Amyot Bachand
Automotive expert