Volvo Car Corporation has partnered with Swedish glassworks company Orrefors to supply a critical component to the interior design of the next Volvo concept car, which will indicate the design direction for the next generation S60 sedan. The joint creation is a floating centre stack of hand-made Orrefors crystal, will be shown for the first time at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2009.
The crystal will extend the Volvo centre stack in a subtle wave formation from the instrument panel to the rear seat backrest.
"It almost looks like a waterfall from the instrument panel, flowing through the centre of the car," says Volvo Cars design director Steve Mattin.
The crystal panel will appear to float above the centre console's buttons and dials, while resting on rubber pads all lit to accentuate the crystal. The colour of the light can also be tailored to match the driver's mood.
"If you want to explore the full scope of Scandinavian design, Sweden's glassworks are a natural source of inspiration," says Mattin. "Large glass areas are also very much part of modern Swedish architecture, creating the special, light transparency. In a concept car, you are able to release your imagination and creativity. Our iconic, super-thin centre stack was the perfect subject. We reinterpreted it and gave it a refined new form. Then it was up to Orrefors to use their superb skill to transform our exciting vision into reality."
Handicraft down to the tiniest detail
The experts at Orrefors were keen to accept the challenge and the result is one of the most unusual and inventive objects in the company's 110-year history. Producing the stack was in itself a challenge beyond the ordinary - even for the experienced experts at Orrefors. Traditionally, the moulds for the crystal are first chiselled by hand from thick planks of alder wood. After casting, the glass is carefully polished to produce its final, crystal-clear lustre.
"The undulating, slightly twisted shape and the precise dimensional requirements were two exciting challenges we had to face," explains Orrefors design manager Gunilla Arvidsson. "Crystal is a living material, shaped by living people. We are not used to working with tolerances of tenths of a millimetre. What' is more, we're talking here about an exceptionally large piece of glass."
Crystal-like future plans
In order to meet the relevant strength standards, the finished piece consists of three sections joined together at the Volvo Cars concept car workshop.
"The full-size crystal piece in the concept car will not be a production feature. However, it does open up opportunities to use crystal on a smaller scale in the future. We'll have to see how our customers respond," says Mattin.
Creativity and functionality
Although the material in the concept's centre stack radiates uninhibited artistic freedom, the functions that are integrated have been thought through in every detail.
- Beside the driver's seat, the crystal console cuts straight through the instrument panel and its upper section forms a navigation screen at the precise height of the driver's combined instrument.
- At the bottom, the four iconic rotating controls protrude from elegant matt-polished recesses in the glass panel. In the middle there is a removable remote control.
- The gear selector has a versatile new shape. In the horizontal position it offers drive in automatic mode. If the driver is in the mood for sporty manual gear changes, the lever can be flipped up into the vertical position. Beside the gear selector there is also a starter button and parking brake.
- The centre console runs all the way to the rear seat backrest, and under the crystal panel between the individual seats there are two drinks holders that slide elegantly forward when required.
"We've put the focus on ergonomics and safety," explains Mattin. "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 centimetres from each other near the gear selector."
For designers at Volvo Cars, exploring the glassworks industry in southern Sweden has been an inspirational adventure.
"The clean lines of the Orrefors products have been a true source of inspiration for many years," says Mattin. "This was perfect timing for using crystal as a material in a concept car too."
For the Orrefors glassworks, the debut as a supplier to the automotive industry has also served as a new creative inspiration.
"Volvo's thin centre stack is an industrial product with an artistic yet at the same time functional form," says Arvidsson. "It immediately inspires you to think of other application areas. Why not an elegant hanging ceiling light or a table-top ornament of some sort? We'll just have to see."
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