64th Frankfurt International Motor Show 2011 Interview with Peter Horbury, Volvo

Oct 05, 2011
Author: Daniel Tomicic
Photos: Volvo
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Peter Horbury (51) is quiet force of car design. Far from extrovert superstars, his 30+ year career covers over 50 cars and trucks created under Ford and Volvo brands. Horbury is best known for successful transition of classic Volvo box into contemporary styled premium brand during 90es. When Ford bought Volvo in 1999, they took Horbury back as he left them for Volvo in 1991. Since 2002 he was in charge for all Ford NA models, as J Mays second in command, running a staff of 800. In 2009 he left Ford once again in a move almost unpractised in car design world, he returned to Volvo. As old-new head of design, he set up a new course for Volvo with not one but two concepts presented in less than five months.

Designers often change companies but almost never come back, especially directors.
Well, I was asked nicely “Would you like to come back to Volvo?” I suppose I never got it out of my heart. Passion for brand is very strong thing. I was proud in what we did in Ford in my five years time. I was in America few weeks ago and saw on road all those cars I was responsible for and it felt good. My sense of adventure also took part. I was contacted in time when company was to be sold. Probably to Chinese, we all new that. Why should I leave safe ground of Detroit? - Because it sounds like a great idea, like adventure.

When you were at Volvo for the first time you changed design completely. Was it hard to brake with such a long tradition of conservative design?
The fact is we always followed Scandinavian design rules but, during boxy years, only in term of functionality. Functionality is very important to Scandinavian people, Swedes included. Of course, to carry the family and all things you needed around the big country, best thing was the box. And they made it. Box is to carry people and stuff. What we tried to prove is that you can include other part of Scandinavian design, which is beauty and still keep the functionality. We are looking for simple beauty. Not decorations, but beauty of form. I think first V70 of 2000 was best combination of functionality on back of the car, where you need it and very nice, elegant, sporty, soft, voluptuous front that blend into that functionality and showed you can have both. Using this idea and our history in a clever way, not by doing retro design, but reminding on past on subtle way, creating a brand identity that no one else had.

I guess you had long term vision of Volvo design development and than someone else took over. Now you are back. Was your idea interrupted? Will you continue what you started?
There is no interruption, its progression. Current S60 and V70 look like they do because they came from where they came from. There was no one who came and said all right, now I’m going to throw away everything I hadn’t done and do something very new. Look from the back V60, new S60, you know what it is. It’s a next step off. So, I think it was very good evolution. You could say now we are talking about next revolution but we’re very dependable on history of Volvo and Scandinavian roots to make it different.

Concept You is very fluid and totally opposite to Volvo boxy history.
That is right but it also doesn’t have excessive decoration. It doesn’t have lines that drool aside that are unnecessary but very decorative. We use the surface to make the interest. How the surface moves out as a whole, over the wheel back to the doors and out again over the rear wheels. We don’t use decorative lines that Mercedes or BMW would use. I think that echoes the simplicity of good Scandinavian design. When you take a look at Georg Jensen design it’s beautifully simple but it is the form itself that doesn’t put a lot of details on itself. It’s material that is good and that is craftsmanship that is good. That combination makes Concept You not German luxury car, not Japanese luxury car, not even British luxury car. It’s pure Scandinavian concept.

It looks like its chauffeur’s car. Rear seats has longer window, sunroof is only over rear part of the car…
When you take a look at Chinese market there is a big demand for type of car where there is a paid driver behind the wheel and owner sits in the back. But Chinese market is also different in term there is extended family which is very important. Fact is that grandparents are very important and they sit in the back. So rear seat is very important in Chinese market but we say it’s not a chauffeur’s car but driver’s car. Dark seats, dark carpets and dark wood have more driver orientation toward them. So it’s owner-driver as well so it’s a bit ambiguous. You can say it’s a chauffeur driven car but in the same time it’s driver’s car.

What can you say about new controversial nose introduced on Universe concept?
I wouldn’t say it’s controversial but it’s a reminder on Volvo’s of 40es and 50es - PV444/544 which had that step on the hood. Than the front end flush very much like here. Down below we got inspiration from the Volvo Amazon from 60es. So we use parts of our past but as inspiration not in a retro-repeating way. They are slight reminders that creates very interesting and different look.

Grill is completely different than one from Universe concept.
Yes. It still got feature with vertical bars behind the horizontal ones directing air to intercoolers so it has the purpose. This time we made it a little more elegant and believable let’s say for production.

What key design elements will you carry on from this concept to production models?
Concept You has premiered some details and the feeling of the car that will enter production. Shoulder of the car is different; it develops from float around nose and goes all the way to tail lamps whereas at current cars it’s joint at front fender. This mean shoulder line is lower at the rear which adds more elegance to the car and more market relaxed style.

That is what we’ll see in production?
Oh, I don’t know, we’ll see.

Chinese market is important for every premium brand and since you are also owned by Chinese, does it affect your design even more?
That is very much so, but we are not designing Chinese cars. We’re designing Scandinavian cars to sell it to Chinese customers. We must maintain that difference, otherwise design will be confusing. I think that there are enough qualities in Scandinavian design that will be accepted in China because we offer something different. Design for the people and not technology, design for older to feel good in using… It’s a different approach and that is what I think you need in the market, to create uniqueness.

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