US:Volvo's new chief designer sees huge potential for brand, seeks timeless look
Volvo's new chief designer sees huge potential for brand, seeks timeless look
When Volvo Car Corp. hired Steve Mattin to head its design team, it received an experienced eye for luxury cars. At Mercedes-Benz, Mattin was a key player in the design of the current S-Class, E-Class and A-Class cars.
Mattin, 40, spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about his new job.
Why did you make the jump to Volvo?
I had spent 17 years at Mercedes-Benz, straight from university. I was having a great time at Mercedes. I had lots of responsibility and there were lots of new products.
But the opportunity at Volvo was to be in charge of a brand, not just in charge of a team.
Volvo also is a brand with huge potential.
It changed dramatically with the last generation with Peter Horbury's assistance.
Now there are new vehicles coming, like the C70 convertible and C30 hatchback. These could be iconic cars, opening Volvo to new segments and new customers.
There also is the continuing pipeline of cars being redesigned.
When will we see your imprint on Volvo design?
I am making design decisions right now.
The S80 (coming in 2007) is not a radical change.
I would like to take a bigger step and position the brand more strongly to show its image and premiumness more.
What will be the first indicator of your influence?
We have discussed the exterior lights.
Some future products are already frozen, but we are trying to modify them to make them better.
Lights are as much the face of the car as the grille. It's a thing you remember and notice.
There is a recognizability factor, and Volvo hasn't really done anything in that area.
What is Volvo missing that you wish to instill from your experience at Mercedes-Benz?
At Mercedes-Benz, there is an attention to detail, refinement, balance, proportion and innovation. When you look at the car, you see that it is the whole product, yet they also get involved in all the middling details.
Volvo's cars are fairly similar.
What do you see as Volvo's design signature?
The strongest cues are the simplicity of surface development, especially with interiors and items like the floating center stack. That is very Volvo.
As for the exteriors, the Volvo shoulder is more pronounced than that of any other automaker. Volvo has iconic rear graphics and taillights, but they can be accentuated.
Volvo needs a timeliness to its design and identity, something you can visualize in the day or night. I think Volvo should be pushing design as a core value, along with safety, quality and the environment.
Are there any purely Scandinavian design elements you see in Volvo vehicles?
Sometimes it's easier to understand Swedish design if you are not Swedish. If you are in the forest, you don't always see the trees.
Sweden is a little isolated, so if you come in from the outside, you can pick up on the differences.
Take furniture. There is a simplicity in its form language and S-curves, like when you look at the layers or laminated wood which emphasizes the form. You can see that in the Volvo center stack or the shoulder, in the flowing forms.
I think Volvo can follow the example of Bang & Olufsen (audio and video products) in design. Or look at Sony Ericsson and Nokia cell phones, which are more exclusive and exquisite than Motorola, which are more gadgety.
How would you improve on Volvo's existing design?
I want to see more attention to detail, to make its features more iconic. A lot of customers remember the Volvo boxes of the 1970s and '80s and haven't really reconnected with Volvo.
We need to show that Volvo is an exciting brand in new market segments, with more sex appeal. But I don't want Volvo to become too overcomplicated.
There needs to be a balance of details and surface language. You can have beautiful proportions but terrible executions. Or your cars' interiors are so complicated you don't know where to look.
Volvo cars need to make the driver feel at home, comfortable and relaxed.
We can't make it too busy, or take the pleasure out of driving. The Scandinavian way is more relaxed.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....