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Volvo’s U.S. boss hopes drivers “will wake up and start appreciating station wagons again”

Volvo raised more than a few eyebrows in 2014 when it announced the then-new second-generation XC90 would be its oldest model by the end of the decade. Some observed the goal was ambitious; they were immediately eligible for the understatement of the year award. And yet, Volvo is well on its way to making it happen.

The big 90-series Volvos are some of the most notable cars in their respective segments, especially when it comes to design and on-board tech. The brand-new 2018 XC60 unveiled recently offers the same ingredients in a more compact package.

We sat down with Lex Kerssemakers, the head of Volvo’s North American arm, to get insight on what the second-generation XC60 represents for the brand, and what’s next.

Digital Trends: Volvo just updated the entire 90-series lineup – the XC90, the S90, and the two variants of the V90. What lessons were you able to learn from that process and apply to the 60-series cluster?

Lex Kerssemakers: From the start, it was clear that we needed to copy and paste a lot of the technology. The platform is the same, the electrical infrastructure is the same, and the plug-in hybrid T8 technology is the same. Launching a car always comes with hurdles and production issues so we’re past those with the 60, all of the early diseases are out, and that’s a big deal for us.

Volvo XC60
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The Torslanda, Sweden, factory will initially build the XC60. Are you planning on shifting production to Charleston, South Carolina, once your factory there is operational?

No, the first car we’ll build in the Charleston plant is the next S60. It’s on the same platform as the XC60, and it’s coming out next year. We are planning to assemble a second model there but we don’t know which one yet, it’s too early to tell.

The outgoing XC60 is your current best-seller.  Do you expect the new one will be as well?

I strongly believe that customers in the U.S. will wake up and start appreciating station wagons again.

Given the size of the segment I’d say yes. It’s a very popular segment, especially in the United States. SUVs are taking over that part of the market. That’s also one of the reasons why the XC60 did so well last year. The segment is booming, and it’s still a good car. I have big expectations for the new model.

Is there room for a Polestar-tuned XC60?

Absolutely! Yes, of course!  We bought Polestar for a reason. Because we like the brand, we like what it stands for. But, there will always be a very high level of electrification in those cars because Polestar should reflect what we can do from a performance perspective. So, not just a gasoline engine with a lot of horsepower, it should be a little bit more sophisticated like a four-cylinder turbo with electrification.

How many 60-series models will there be?

We’re doing XC60, S60, and V60. The same as the 90-series cluster.

Can you still make a business case for the V60 in the U.S.?

I strongly believe that customers in the U.S. will wake up and start appreciating station wagons again. But I’ve been saying this for ten years and it hasn’t happened yet. SUVs are increasing in popularity, but lower-riding models are still more driver-oriented. Buyers are turning away from traditional sedans, so the sports wagon is the perfect alternative.

Will the V60 come in two variants – normal and Cross Country – like the V90?

To be honest it’s too early to say but most likely yes, because that strategy seems to work.

The XC40 will debut before the end of the year, correct?

Production will start before the end of the year, but we won’t have it in the United States before the end of the first quarter of next year. I have to be realistic. And that’s perfectly okay, because we are still in the middle of launching the new XC60, which will arrive in U.S. dealers in September or October.

Is there a market for Volvo’s upcoming 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine in the U.S.?

I’m not in a rush to bring the three-cylinder engine to the U.S. because our four-cylinders are highly fuel-efficient.

Yes, I strongly believe in the future of three-cylinders. In the 40-series and even in the 60-series models. With or without electrification, though most likely with. You can easily get 180 – 190 horsepower out of a decent three-cylinder engine, and the competition has shown in different parts of the world that a triple can run really smoothly.

I’m not in a rush to bring the three to the U.S., though, because our four-cylinder engines are highly fuel-efficient. I’m not going to push it; there is no need to push it, it will come naturally. In Europe they have to push it to meet all the CO2 regulations. In the U.S. we can wait a little bit.

Let’s recap – you’ve renewed the entire 90 cluster, you’re working on replacing the 60 cluster, and 40 cluster’s overhaul is right around the corner. Will we see another Volvo coupe, or a convertible like the C70?

There are no plans yet. We all want one though, so don’t lose hope. But, we have so much to do. Imagine, launching all of these cars. We are still a relatively small company, so renewing everything in a five-year period is massive. We need to focus on our bread-and-butter cars, and – let’s face it – a coupe and a convertible are nice to have, but they’re not bread-and-butter models. They’re very important for the brand, though.

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