Automotive intelligence: pt. 1
Concept cars are the typically flamboyant, sometimes quirky, stars of motor shows.
Yet they are built for several important purposes, and, certainly from Volvo’s perspective, never intended to attract attention merely for the sake of it.
These unique vehicles are commonly design studies showcasing a new styling language, which was the role of Volvo’s very first concept – the Venus Bilo. In 1933 it set out to gauge public reaction to the streamlined styling trend emerging that decade from the US (and would feature on the 1935 Volvo PV36).
As far back as 1972, however, Volvo produced the first of several particularly prescient concept vehicles that, with their pioneering ideas, would cement the brand’s reputation as a leading innovator in the automotive industry.
1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car
At a time when Volvo had already established safety as a core brand value, it showcased numerous occupant-protection innovations with the Experimental Safety Car.
Firstly, the body acted like an integrated roll-cage, combining a strengthened, reinforced body with pillars and a rollover bar (note the roof ridgeline) made of doubled steel. Telescoping front and rear bumpers could withstand an impact up to 16km/h.
For frontal impacts, the steering wheel could pull away from the driver to avoid or minimise face or chest injuries, while the engine was also designed to slide beneath the cabin, away from harm’s way.
There were also airbags for front and rear seat occupants, automatic pop-up head restraints for the front seats, and, notably ahead of its time, a rear-view camera system that relayed images to a central, dashboard-mounted monitor.
Many of the learnings from the VESC transferred to the legendary Volvo 240 that emerged two years later.
1983 Light Component Project 2000
The automotive industry today is focused intensely on lightweight materials. Volvo was researching these areas from 1979, when the company set out to create a viable prototype for a future car that accommodated at least two people, didn’t exceed 700kg in weight, and used less than four litres of fuel per 100km.
The result four years later was the LCP 2000.
Materials were exotic and highly expensive for the time: plastic body panels covered a body construction comprising aluminium and magnesium, and featuring carbon fibre doorframes.
The wedge-shaped, two-door hatchback never made it into production, but the total energy consumption studies of the LCP’s life cycle – from raw (recyclable) materials through production and service life to eventual scrapping – inspired Volvo’s future environmental strategy.
1992 Environmental Concept Car
The origins of today’s Volvo Twin Engine technology can be traced back a quarter of a century.
Our Environmental Concept Car (ECC) displayed at the 1992 Paris motor show was not only relatively light – just 1580kg – for a large luxury car, it was powered by a hybrid system combining a gas turbine and electric motor.
The electric motor was responsible for driving the front wheels, while the rapid-spinning turbine acted as a generator to either charge the batteries or power the electric motor.
The white paintwork inspired by the purity of a Swedish winter was appropriate for a vehicle that could meet California’s ultra-tough Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle regulations, while the impressively aerodynamic body previewed a new design language that would be first seen in production form with the 1998 Volvo S80.
Read Part 2 of our Volvo Concepts focus in the February edition of I Roll.