What drives the design, engineering and business development team at the Volvo Monitoring & Concept Center in Camarillo, California, in their pursuit of perpetual innovation?
Lars Erik Lundin, VMCC Vice President & General Manager, has had a 30 year career with Volvo Cars. He headed up the project development of Volvo’s V70, XC70 and S60 models before moving to southern California in August 2001 to run the Volvo Monitoring & Concept Center: “What is so special about being at VMCC is that everybody is super enthusiastic about the work we are doing. For me, VMCC truly reflects the heart of Volvo Cars.”
Ichiro Sugioka, one of the top aerodynamics authorities in the automobile industry, was born in Japan 42 years ago and has lived in the USA since he was seven. With a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Ph.D in aeronautical engineering (fluid dynamics) from California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Sugioka joined VMCC in 1994, working on both the V70 and S60 to create the most beneficial aerodynamic shapes to cut drag and fuel consumption, thereby reducing emissions. “I get a kick out of knowing we have an opportunity to create a future that is good for the world and do it in a way that is profitable for Volvo,” he says. “At Volvo we have raised the bar by taking the most difficult route towards sustainable mobility, but I do not believe there are any short cuts to making life better. For engineers like myself, creativity is about being given a challenge and knowing there is nothing that cannot be solved!”
Kolita Mendis is a Sri Lankan who moved to the US when he was 18 years old, has been VMCC’s structures and safety engineering manager for the past nine years. Mendis says ensuring a vehicle like the Tandem delivers Volvo’s passenger safety promise was very stimulating. “The two big challenges were designing a light-weight car that could withstand a collision with a much heavier vehicle as well as ensuring it ‘looked’ safe to people,” he said. The solutions exceeded Mendis’ expectations: “We developed structural strength and internal crash zones that, together with other novel solutions such as a forward sliding seat to counter whiplash scenarios, means we can deliver Volvo’s traditional levels of safety.” Mendis says the VMCC’s Mobility 2000 project overall has been especially rewarding because “we see we are helping to make the world a better place by solving personal mobility and environmental care issues at the same time.”
The Business Managers
Both Benny Sommerfeld and Dirk Koring can best be described as cultural surveyors probing who the users of Volvo cars are and will be in the future.
Swedish born Benny Sommerfeld, with a degree in applied chemical engineering from Chalmers School of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, has worked for Volvo all his professional life, joining VMCC in 1992. For him, “we’ve developed our own approach to profiling our future customers based on an understanding that a trend is not important in itself. What is important is the extension of that trend, the driving force behind it, and the way we stretch our imaginations to make a solid appraisal of real-life customer expectations.”
Dirk Koring, is German, was born in Australia and lived and worked in Central America, the Caribbean and Europe before joining VMCC in 2001. “In today’s increasingly more homogenous marketplaces, the cars Volvo develops must have appeal everywhere. Probably the single most important trend underway today is the growing role of women, especially younger females, as trend-setters in influencing their peers, boyfriends, husbands and even parents. Studies show that the next generation of women in the industrialized world will probably be higher earners than men. Younger women already have a more focused life script than their male counterparts.”
Some of the designers
Geza Loczi, VMCC’s director of design, was behind Volvo’s V70 and S60 models. He first worked with Volvo in 1983 and was a founder member of VMCC in 1986. He says one of his jobs as a designer is to question the engineers: “That means you have to be really sharp with your design reasoning because neither the engineers nor the customers will accept you saying ‘well, it looks great!’” Working for Volvo in California is not a job, but a lifestyle, says Loczi. “Passion is everything. Getting the right balance is about working with integrity. You have to want to make a difference. Our strength at VMCC is the way we balance the key issues of design, engineering and business in a holistic way.”
Doug Frasher, VMCC’s strategic design chief, has a passion for everything with wheels, two or four, and working for Volvo Cars at VMCC has been an ultimate experience. “My first memory of a car is the Volvo PV that my father ran,” he recalls. Behind Volvo S80 and XC90 models as well as the conceptual Environmental Conceptual Car (ECC), Frasher believes VMCC’s greatest attribute is its holistic problem-solving approach: “We really do distinguish ourselves by seeing the Big Picture beyond design and styling, understanding our cars must touch an emotional chord yet remain timeless and solidly rooted in Volvo’s values.”
Alexis Senter, 30, a graphic designer graduate who joined VMCC in 2002, has a passion for identifying the right color and trim ‘feel’ on all surfaces, including plastic housings, carpets, cloth and leather seat materials and exterior paint. That’s not so easy when trying to take different cultural preferences into the equation: “Europeans are generally more colorful, while in the US people tend to be more conservative. In Japan, it’s pinks and purples, and in South America people like big, strong colors”. Senter is happy Volvo Cars places such importance on getting interior styling ‘right’: “Car makers traditionally have paid more attention to exterior design. We are really challenged to get out of our comfort zones to deliver exciting interior design stuff giving our customers real choice to express their own individuality.”
Tisha Johnson, 33, has worked as an interior designer with VMCC since 1999. “I’m spending a lot of time just now identifying materials we could use in our interiors that is not just recyclable but actually goes beyond bio-degradable, materials that can ‘feed’ the environment,” she says. Johnson says she is driven by the desire to make the world more beautiful, not just esthetically but also in creating products that improve the environment and quality of life. “I buy heavily into the Scandinavian design heritage of Volvo, the equilibrium, harmony and balance."
Volvo Car Corporation sold 415,000 cars in 2003 in more than 100 markets globally. Making cars since 1927 and employing 28,000 people, Volvo Car Corporation is a member of the Ford Premier Automotive Group.