The Volvo Your Concept Car (YCC) was recently launched at the New York Auto Show. Designed and engineered from scratch by an all-women team, the effort reflects the German automaker's growing emphasis on women buyers as an important consumer group. In the US, 54 per cent of all Volvo buyers are women and their percentage in Europe is growing steadily. This triggered the idea of an all-women team taking charge of the decision-making on the development of a new concept car at Volvo in 2001.
The idea had the enthusiastic backing of the Volvo Concept Car's management team, as it felt that if it could build a car that satisfied women, it would exceed the expectations of men.
Volvo has a tradition, it says, of listening carefully to what women want. As early as the '80s, an all-women reference group was formed at the company to test and assess new models at early stages of their development. Moreover, during the development of the SUV XC90 model, a women's focus group was convened in California - all potential buyers of this vehicle. The group's views helped shape the Volvo SUV's distinctive features and functions.
For its YCC, the company put up a project team of five highly-experienced women automotive professionals who brought to the project a broad spectrum of experience in various aspects of automotive engineering. The three chief designers, appropriately enough, were also women.
The all-women team was given a clear brief and a free hand to develop a concept car capable of winning the approval of that most demanding Volvo customer category of all - the independent woman professional.
What the YCC project team found was that women customers in the premium segment want everything that men want in terms of performance, prestige and style. But they also wanted things like:
- Smart storage solutions
- A car that was easy to get in and out of
- Good visibility
- A car that could be personalised
- Minimal maintenance
- A car that was easy to park
Hence, the team designed and built a car that had everything women want.
Smart storage goes far beyond where to put the handbag. It relates to what to do with the mobile, keys, computer notebook, briefcase, sports bag for the gym and so many other things women and men carry in their cars. The best place for keeping all the things you want at hand in the car is between the front seats. But that is where you normally find the gear lever and handbrake. So the team moved these things.
In the YCC, the handbrake is electronic and integrated, while the gear levers are by the steering wheel. This frees up space for storage in the centre console, which has a shallow compartment for keys, mobile phones, coins and other small items. This compartment slides over a deeper compartment, big enough for a handbag. Another compartment holds a notebook computer while there is a cool box within easy reach of the driver too. A wastepaper basket completes the theme of sheer convenience.
The team found that women, very often, carried a bag in the rear seat. So they designed that area primarily for storage but with instantly convertible seats for two passengers whenever needed. That is why the rear seats resemble cinema seats - normally folded up out of the way until someone needs them. This frees up a huge luggage space in the rear of the cab, easily accessed through the wide door, while passengers simply lower a seat each as they get in.
Easy to get in and out of
The YCC is a one-off concept car, a Volvo showcase for sharing bright ideas and solutions with the world. The most popular solutions will be those that stand the best chance of appearing in a future production model. The team chose a gull-wing door with a small span for YCC's interior solutions. This makes it easy to stow a bag in behind the driver's seat and increases visibility over the shoulder to the side because the B-pillar has been moved towards the rear. And when the door opens upwards, the drop-down doorsill rotates simultaneously, so getting in and out is so much easier.
Easy entry in to the car was high on the list of what women wanted. When the wing door opens, the drop-down sill below it slides out of the way, so that women need not climb over it. The ride height automatically returns to 'hi' mode. For added space, the driver's seat moves back automatically and the steering wheel moves upwards. The side bolsters on the driver's seat base can also be lowered so that one can get in more easily. The doors of the YCC closest to the driver can be opened automatically by activating its 'auto-open' feature - very convenient for people weighed down by an armful of luggage - for instance, if they are by the rear left wheel, this door will open for them, or if they happen to be at the rear of the car, the tailgate swings opens instead.
The team felt that the actual driving positions and line of vision of drivers is very important for safety and comfort in reaching all the controls. To get things right buyers interested in the car will have their whole bodies scanned at the dealer's premises, and the data on their relative proportions (height, leg length, arm length) is used to define a driving position for them. This is stored in digital form in their personal key unit.
Once they get into the driver's seat and dock their key on the centre console, the seat, steering wheel, pedals, head rest and seat belt are adjusted automatically to suit their build. The result is a fully personalised driving position with the best line of vision. The system warns drivers if their line of vision is faulty by means of the lenticular hologram, which looks like a stylised eye displayed, between the windscreen and the door.
Should the need arise the settings can be altered and stored afresh in the key unit. The exterior design of the car has also been developed specifically to help the driver see perfectly. The YCC also offers all-round flexibility. One can choose the ride height - either 'hi', for those like a commanding view of the road, or 'lo', for a sporty feel.
The bonnet section has also been lowered and the fenders have been deliberately brought into sight while the rear window extends right to the extremities of the car so that the driver knows exactly where the four corners of the car are, says a designer of the YCC exterior.
Minimal car care
Car care for the YCC is also minimal. The YCC has two capless ball-valve filling points like those used for racing cars beside the door on the driver's side; one for petrol and the other for washer fluid. So women don't have to fumble with filler caps or bonnet latches. Hence YCC does not have a conventional bonnet. Hence Volvo service staff are the only ones who need to access the engine for routine service. When service is due, the car automatically notifies a service centre of your choice. The service centre then suggests an appointment for you that you can confirm or reject. The YCC also carries out its own diagnostic checks at regular intervals and notifies your service centre if anything needs attention. This also ensures that any spare parts or materials will be there when they are needed.
Consumers can just press the Car Care button on the control panel and book their car for servicing. The car is covered in Easy-Clean paint. This behaves rather like the coating on a non-stick pan-dirt finds it very hard to cling on in the first place and, if it does, it washes off very easily. The interchangeable seat covers and carpets are also washable. The YCC's tyres are of the run-flat type. Even after a puncture, the car can be driven to a service centre or a suitable place to stop.
Easy to park
Finally it is extremely easy to park. When you want to park the car between two other cars but want to make sure there is enough space, you press the parking assistance button once for the space-check function. If the system says yes, you can then select the 'autopark' function by pressing the button again. The car helps you with the steering to manoeuvre you into the parking space and you only have to control the accelerator, brakes and gearshift.
The YCC is prepared for a low-emission 215 bhp, five-cylinder PZEV engine with an integrated starter-generator (ISG), which has several advantages; it prevents unnecessary idling because the engine shuts off automatically when waiting at places like traffic lights and comes to life again as soon as the driver presses the accelerator. It also provides extra torque at low revs, which means maximum power right from the start. And the ISG provides a 60V power supply, giving scope for even greater user convenience. The YCC has a six-speed Powershift gearbox. You can either choose the fully automatic mode, or use the controls on the steering column to change gear. Powershift means that the car in effect has dual wet-clutch transmission technology, ensuring that your gear changes are always at the right revs. This makes for smooth driving and lower fuel consumption.