Erik Åleby, colour and materials designer, talks about how the new XC40 showcases Volvo Cars at its most daring and expressive, and how the beautiful, sustainable materials in its cabin reflect contemporary Scandinavian design.
The new XC40 pushes the boundaries of how the materials inside a Volvo car should look and feel. The simplicity and craftsmanship remain, yet the design team had a remit to take risks and be bolder than ever before. “We were entrusted to do a remix of what Volvo Cars stands for,” says Erik Åleby, colour and materials designer. “The XC40 is for a new group of customers, so it demanded a new expression. We basically had a free hand to come up with some wild ideas and try different materials that we hadn’t used before.”
Inspiration came from everywhere – mostly beyond the world of cars. Street fashion, architecture, high-end designer goods and popular culture all influenced Erik and the XC40 design team. It led them to developing a range of materials that express the unique character of Volvo Cars’ latest SUV. The XC40 comes with Origin décor panels that feature a map of Gothenburg – Volvo Cars’ hometown – etched into the material itself. “On the left door we have part of the archipelago, some islands and a piece of the mainland,” explains Erik. “There’s the Volvo Cars factory on one side of the steering wheel, the city centre in the middle and the eastern suburbs on the right door trim. It’s something new, and it shows that we’re proud of where we come from.”
In the Momentum trim level, the XC40 features an intricate material called Urban Grid, which is made from a combination of matt and high-gloss aluminium that lends the interior a minimalist, premium feel. The Inscription trim level includes décor panels in Driftwood – a distinctive wood treatment unique to the latest Volvo cars. It gives the interior the warm, contemporary ambience synonymous with modern Swedish luxury. “To do a brown wood finish is easy,” says Erik. “To make a light grey wood finish such as Driftwood is very, very difficult. But it’s worth the effort.”
The Cutting Edge décor panels in R-Design models accentuate the sporty, youthful character of the car. Composed of diamond-cut matt black and shiny aluminium rectangles, this material is closer to something that would usually be seen on the outside of the vehicle, says Erik. “We wanted to really connect the exterior with the interior in the R-Design trim level. The process of creating this pattern was a real challenge and no one really believed that we could do it. I think this is something that’s going to be totally new for the automotive industry.”
LED interior lighting highlights the three-dimensional qualities of the décor panels. Along with items like textile floor mats made from 100 per cent recycled material, it underlines Volvo Cars’ willingness to embrace the new while maintaining its focus on sustainability and quality.