This past month, a new and very interesting car was introduced in the U.S. The car is the Volvo S60 Inscription and what makes it different is that it has an extra three inches of length. Another thing that sets it apart from any of its competitors, or any other car for sale in the U.S., is that it is the first mainstream production vehicle for sale stateside that is manufactured in China.
Will Chinese cars resonate with American buyers?
First off, why are Volvos being built in China? The answer actually makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Geely, a Chinese car company, purchased Volvo five years ago to improve the quality of its own brand. Consider too that Volvos have historically sold well in China and you can see the pairing made sense. With China’s car market growing by leaps and bounds, this move also gave Volvo easy access to a market still loaded with potential.
Geely invested about $11 billion into Volvo and part of that money has been used to geographically diversify production. The first of these new plants to bear fruit is the plant in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Volvo has also just broken ground on a plant just outside of Charleston, South Carolina as a foothold in North America.
In a global economy, having production facilities on various continents will be a tremendous benefit to Volvo in regards to profitability because their production won’t just be tied to European currencies. This can be hugely important while trying to compete on a global scale.
In regards to the production facility in Chengdu, Volvo sent a team from its Swedish headquarters to supervise the construction of the Chinese plant. This same team will also supervise the construction of the plant in the United States. In essence, what Volvo has created in China is a factory that is a mirror image of their plant in Ghent, Belgium.
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During the introduction of the Volvo S60 Inscription, Brand Manager Joe Haslem said that Volvo is taking production in China very seriously and that “A Volvo is a Volvo no matter where it’s built.” So, what’s the product of this new plant like?
Plain and simple, it’s a Volvo in every sense and, aside from a decidedly higher level of trim than other Volvo S60 models, it looks and feels identical to its European brethren.
This particular model has been in production since its introduction in 2010 as a 2011 model and, despite a number of updates, it’s beginning to show its age. However, it is still competes very well within its class and a 2014 styling update will allow this current model to stay competitive until the next generation is released. And, the next version will be the first model produced at Volvo’s new South Carolina plant.
Where the Inscription version does vary is in the aforementioned additional three inches of rear legroom. The reason for more room in back is that this vehicle is being produced for the Chinese market as well. In that market, just about every mid-market and up sedan that is sold is offered in an extended wheelbase model with that additional space dedicated to increasing back seat comfort through additional legroom.
The reason for this? Middle management and up typically don’t drive themselves but rather have drivers to negotiate the treacherous traffic in and around Chinese city centers. So, when these buyers go out shopping for a car, back seat comfort is at the top of their list of priorities. Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac and a host of other manufacturers all offer extended wheelbase sedans in their lower-end models rather than just the upper end, which has typically been the case in the United States and Europe.
Volvo believes that the increased interior space is a selling point that will be well received in the United States as well. In fact, buyers in the United States are just beginning to get access to these lengthened sedans as Infiniti has just begun offering a longer wheelbase version of its Q50 sedan. Look for other manufacturers to start offering longer wheelbase versions of their entry and mid-level sedans as well.
Loaded out with features
The S60 Inscription is available with front wheel drive or all-wheel drive and a host of safety features like a lane departure warning system called lane keeping aid that gently steers the driver back into the lane of travel if the car begins to deviate from that lane.
Other safety features include adaptive cruise control with queue assist, collision warning with full automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection with full automatic braking and a host of other safety and convenience features including active high beam headlights, blind spot information system and park assist pilot that automatically guides the car during parallel parking.
Many of the safety features offered fall into the category of semi autonomous driving. In the case of the adaptive cruise control, the car utilizes radar to follow the car in front of it in traffic and, as the lead car slows, so does the S60. Likewise, when the lead car’s speed increases, the S60 speeds up as well. The same radar system is also utilized by the other safety systems to detect cyclists, pedestrians or other traffic. If the driver does not respond in time and the car senses an impending collision, full braking is automatically applied. These safety features add a degree of safety that cars haven’t had in the past and many reports are showing that cars equipped with these systems are much less likely to be involved in traffic accidents.
Volvo is also introducing a couple of new variations of the S60 this year. A Cross Country version of the S60 offers a higher ride height and ground clearance along with a tougher, more masculine appearance.
The Cross Country has typically only been offered in wagon form so this sedan is something new to the line-up and Volvo says only 500 will be imported for the 2016 model year.
Volvo also recently completed the acquisition of aftermarket tuner Polestar. They specialize in high-performance versions of Volvos and the results are, in a word, spectacular. Though no horsepower numbers have been released yet, these cars are incredibly powerful and amazingly fast.
Volvo has not yet said when they expect the Polestars to go on sale but, when they do, they will offer competition to other manufacturers’ high performance sedans and wagons.
The prices for the S60 Cross Country and Polestar have yet to be announced, but the S60 Inscription model starts at $38,700 and rises to $43,200. While not inexpensive, the S60 does offer a tremendous number of features for the money along with Volvo’s legendary reputation for comfort and safety. For many buyers, that reputation for safety makes that fairly high price a little easier to swallow.
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