By Kevin Miller
A first glimpse of Volvo’s long-overdue replacement for the S60 sedan will occur in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In a move that was surely made before the current economic downturn, Volvo has worked with Swedish glassworks and crystal company Orrefors to create the concept vehicle’s “floating center stack” of hand-made Orrefors crystal. Volvo’s press material states that “the graceful, crystal-clear center stack forms a gentle, calm wave from the instrument panel all the way to the [concept car's] rear seat backrest.”
Volvo Cars design director Steve Mattin says “It almost looks like a waterfall from the instrument panel, flowing through the center of the car.” The crystal panel appears to float above the centre console’s smart functionality. It rests softly on rubber pads and with the help of invisible light sources the crystal’s shimmering glow can be tailored to match the driver’s mood.
Evidently, the crystal center stack is one of the most unusual objects ever produced by the craftsmen at Orrefors in that company’s 110 year history, and its production was quite challenging. Orrefors traditionally creates wooden molds for crystal pieces by hand-chiseling alder planks into casts for the crystal, which is hand-polished after casting. Such a production method makes it difficult to precisely create a large finished product with tenth-of-a-millimeter tolerances such as those found on the Volvo concept’s center stack. The finished piece is 1.6 meters in length, and consists of three sections joined together at the Volvo Cars concept car workshops.
Obviously, the full-size crystal piece in the concept car will not be a production feature. Hopefully, such a level of craftsmanship and engineering will go into the new S60′s family of powertrains, so that Volvo will be able to offer their stylish mainstream sedan with more efficient engine choices than those currently offered in North America. As buyers have recently made the shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, Volvo has been left flat-footed on this side of the Atlantic, with heavy cars that are neither particularly fuel efficient nor particularly exciting to drive.
While more substantial news about the S60 concept wasn’t provided, the concept does provide some modernization of Volvo’s control layouts, including locating the navigation screen in the upper part of the center stack at the precise height of the driver’s combined instrument. Too, the gear selector has a new shape, such that in the horizontal position it offers drive in automatic mode, while the lever can be flipped up into the vertical position for manual (or manu-matic?) gearchanging. Beside the gear selector there is also a starter button and parking brake.
“We’ve put the focus on ergonomics and safety. With the combined instrument at the same height as the navigation screen, all it takes is a horizontal eye movement to switch between sources of information. Another example is that the controls used when you start and stop driving are a few centimeters from each other near the gear selector,” explains Steve Mattin.
While we’ll be looking forward to seeing the S60 concept in Detroit, even more exciting will be the production version of the new S60, which truly can’t come quickly enough. The new model has big shoes to fill, as the current S60, though long-in-the-tooth, has been a sales success for Volvo. The new S60 must continue the S60′s stylish appearance and occupant safety record, while improving on that vehicle’s driving experience, interior space, and fuel economy.
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