A flower vase on the dashboard was a popular Volvo accessory in the 1950s. Today, this would be unthinkable – not because we don’t like flowers, but because today’s accessories are developed together with the car itself – and must comply with Volvo’s tough demands in terms of quality, safety, environmental performance and appearance. So the vase of flowers may not quite match up – but Volvo’s new Park Assist Camera (PAC) certainly does.
A new accessory – PAC, or Park Assist Camera – has been introduced with the new refined Volvo XC90. As the name suggests, this is a camera that helps the driver to park in tight spaces or reverse up to a trailer without the risk of irritating minor damage. In combination with the door mirrors, the system provides a significantly better view to the rear.
So what, the cynic might say – small cameras have been around for some time and there are probably cheaper systems on the market that are just as effective as Volvo’s.
“No, I don’t accept that,” says Ragnhild Koch, head of the six-member group of product managers that decide which accessories should be developed for Volvo cars.
Developed with the car
“Among other things, PAC has undergone all of our crash safety and environmental performance tests, plus every conceivable test for electronic disturbance, and also meets our tough conditions for operation in extremely high and low temperatures.
“Quite simply, like all of the accessories we design, PAC is verified and approved by Volvo. So it’s a better product than anybody else can offer our customers.
“We ‘shadow’ the development of new car models and are becoming integrated in those projects to an increasing extent,” says Ragnhild Koch. “Just like a car, the development of an accessory does not proceed until all criteria have been satisfied at certain fixed points in the process.”
Some accessories that are integrated in the car and, in some cases, are installed in the car during production – such as engine heaters, the very popular body kits, towbars and roof loading systems – must be developed at an early stage of a new car project. These are subject to the same requirements as the car itself, and are subject to comprehensive endurance and crash testing. A boot spoiler must last as long as the car itself and the colour must be identical to the car’s finish. A spoiler or a body kit for the car is designed by one and the same design department.
Based on customer demand
“Our task is to complement Volvo’s offer to customers with the accessories that they want,” explains Ragnhild Koch. “PAC was developed partly on the basis of a demand from Japan, which is a high-tech country where traffic congestion is severe and parking spaces are small. In other parts of the world, there is a demand for parking assistance from drivers of cars like the Volvo XC90.”
Peter Andersson is product manager with responsibility for interior comfort, active safety and rear-seat entertainment:
“We are first in the chain,” he says. “We are involved in ideas management – gathering information on what the market wants and developing business cases. In the case of PAC, we did not do a great deal of basic development – the technology is obviously known and we use the same display as RTI, Volvo’s traffic information system. On the other hand, all of the components of PAC are matched to the particular model of car and are adapted functionally to RTI – the map display is replaced automatically by the image from the reversing camera when reverse is engaged.
“The days when you bought a flower vase for next to nothing from your Volvo dealer and stuck it on the dashboard are long gone. Now, there is a selective range of accessories, all endowed with Volvo values.”
Many development stages
The development of an accessory takes place in a large number of stages, beginning with a cost estimate. This is followed by design, construction and liaison with potential suppliers. When the design has been finalised, the chosen supplier is requested to supply drawings and price the product. This is followed by a stage in which tools are developed and sample components are produced for verification and outturn testing.
This brings the accessory to the point of series production. Interaction with the new car project continues with the aim of coordinating the introduction with the issue of press materials and publications, and ensuring that the accessory is available from dealers in the requisite numbers at the time of launch. The production of packaging and installation instructions must also be complete by that time.
In the case of a classical accessory, such as a towbar, it is especially important to carry out the work in tandem with the development of the car, since the attachments must be located correctly, and the combination of car and towbar must meet all specified requirements. And drilling new holes in a finished car is not a desirable option. Since Volvo offers up to four different types of towbar, this basic approach is extremely important.
Target groups in detail
Before developing a new car, the target groups for the new model are defined. At this time, the accessories developers also consider which of these target groups might need different products and a series of conceptual sketches for the most important groups is prepared in consultation with the design department.
It is no longer enough to divide car buyers into ‘families with children’ or ‘singles’ – a more detailed classification is needed to meet individual customer requirements. ‘City drivers’, ‘high-tech’, ‘active lifestyle’ and ‘sporty’ are some of the descriptions indicated by tests involving reference groups of young people in product clinics.
“Systems such as PAC, as well as the highly popular iPod adapter, were developed on the basis of studies like this,” explains Ragnhild Koch.
The iPod adapter is connected to the in-car audio system, enabling the driver to operate his iPod with the wheel-mounted controls or by the passenger using the radio controls.
Freestanding business unit
Although designing and developing an accessory is a complex task, it is not the entire job – marketing and sales are obviously also important. As a freestanding business unit within Volvo Cars, Accessories employs a total of one hundred people, almost half in the development area. At the other end are a number of market specialists who support the market companies around the world. Anna Arbius and Lasse Sandström are two of these.
Anna, who is responsible for marketing development, tells us that the range of accessories undergoes constant change:
“Rear-seat entertainment (RSE) is now important, as is navigation by RTI, sensor-controlled parking assistance, body kits and what we term interior comfort and flexibility.
“Items such as towbars, load-carrying systems, child safety components, alloy wheels, mats, and engine heaters are always the base products. However, exterior styling is becoming increasingly important, as are electronics and entertainment features, such as connecting an MP3 player or iPod to the digital jukebox, and twin screens in the rear. In addition, more and more people want simpler RTI navigation, satellite radio and PAC.”
Millions of customers
The accessories business is naturally important given that the customer base consists of almost half a million new-car buyers per year, in addition to several million existing Volvo owners.
“We don’t make accessories for other makes, which enables us to concentrate on refining our products to the maximum and ensuring that they are integrated perfectly with the cars,” says Lasse Sandström, head of Marketing Operations.
“So the products are Volvo to the core. This is important, for example, to ensure that an accessory using electronics does not interfere with other on-board functions – like the radio changing channels when the navigator is started. Things like that can be very difficult to solve, but we market nothing that can cause problems of that kind. In other words, we take the same long-term responsibility for the accessory as the car itself.”
More active approach
A car buyer can now access the Internet and ‘build’ his or her own car based on all of the variants and options on offer. Until now, however, it has been more difficult for the Volvo buyer to choose the desired accessories on the web:
“Accessories have always been something of an afterthought,” explains Anna Arbius. “In effect, all we did was to hand a new-car buyer an accessories catalogue after the car was ordered. We are working to change that by developing a new concept for Volvo dealer showrooms around the world. For example, we now have flexible displays and films dealing with accessories for all models. A more advanced exhibition is now under trial with Italian dealers. This gives customers a greater chance to actually handle the items, and to view films and animations showing how they work.
“Much of my work is also concerned with making accessories available on the Internet and some of the Volvo Cars range can now be viewed on the company’s home page. We are currently expanding this option country by country.”
“Just like films for new cars, films about accessories are being produced following detailed target group studies. These will illustrate the types of role play, music and settings appropriate for selling to different target groups.”
“The accessories sector is also becoming increasingly involved in exhibitions and events, in which we cooperate closely with the global marketing unit, and are able to carefully select accessories that reinforce and complement the messages about the cars themselves,” adds Anna Arbius.
“We must raise the awareness of accessories – both in our own organisation and among dealers and customers. As the range is expanded and adapted to the demands and lifestyles of the various target groups, we can show Volvo buyers how to personalise their cars.
“We must demonstrate that Volvo really has everything for modern people – including in-car entertainment, facilities for carrying and transferring music, and accessories that provide enhanced comfort and a more rugged look, as well as superb navigation equipment and, of course, child safety equipment,” says Anna Arbius.
1. The image on the screen clearly shows a large area to the rear of the car and the tracking lines used to guide the driver. However, the driver must be aware at all times that he or she is fully responsible for driving – although a highly useful tool, PAC remains just that.
2. The camera is mounted discreetly at the rear. The lens may need occasional cleaning.
3. A smart accessory designed for lifting an item such as a bicycle onto a roof-mounted load carrier.
4. Anna Arbius has developed an interactive accessories display for Volvo dealers.
5. Department head Ragnhild Koch and Product Manager Peter Andersson (centre) develop accessories, while Lasse Sandström markets them.
So what is an accessory?
A car buyer can easily be confused by the different terms used to describe ‘extras’. First, he or she chooses a specific model with a certain equipment level (or ‘package’). This is available with a long list of ‘options’ that must be installed in the factory. Then there are ‘accessories’ – some that must be fitted during production and others that are retrofitted by the dealer.
Although the owner is probably unconcerned about where and when the item is fitted, the terms merit some explanation:
Standard equipment is precisely what it says – the equipment level that every new car comes with as standard.
Factory-fitted extras are the various packages that are available to buyers when ordering a car and are fitted in the factory. Examples include Kinetic, Addition and Momentum.
Dealer-fitted extras are items that dealers alone install. Child seats and towbars are familiar examples.
An accessory may either be fitted to a new car prior to delivery or retrofitted to an existing car. Examples include load carriers and floor mats.
An estimated 80% of all accessories are sold with new cars, while the remainder are sold separately for existing cars.
Volvo PAC (Park Assist Camera)
PAC enables the Volvo owner to park and manoeuvre the car more easily, more safely, more quickly and more comfortably. Irritating minor scrapes are avoided and the system is an excellent aid when reversing to hitch a trailer.
PAC is linked to the RTI navigation system and the video camera image is displayed on the same screen, with adjustment for the wide-angle projection of the camera. The system provides the driver with a clear image of a large area behind the car, extending all the way from the bumper. Tracking lines indicate the distance to an object behind the car, enabling the driver to park easily without the risk of colliding with the car behind or hitting an unexpected pedestrian. The lines follow the movements of the steering wheel to simplify manoeuvring.
The camera is activated as soon as reverse is engaged and the RTI screen displays the reversing image until the car has been driven forward for 15 seconds or has reached a speed of 10 km/h. This enables the driver to drive forward and backward as normal when manoeuvring into a parking space, without losing the picture.
PAC is primarily a system designed for greater driving convenience. The driver must never rely exclusively on the camera image, but must also use his or her own judgement and be really observant when reversing. The responsibility at all times is the driver’s own. Although the camera lens has a dirt-repellent coating, it may need cleaning from time to time.
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