Volvo Launches Its Smallest SUV During Milan Fashion Week

Volvo’s redesigned lineup has attracted a fresh following for the Swedish automaker since the launch of its award-winning XC90 sport utility vehicle two years ago. Now the brand that once made a name for itself supplying station wagons to the suburbs is targeting the industry’s most in-demand customers – tech-savvy city-dwellers – with its first-ever compact SUV.

The XC40, launched Thursday at Milan Fashion Week, is integral to Volvo’s bid to attract a new generation of luxury car owners. The two-tone crossover with funky, flowing lines meant to evoke the archipelago of Volvo’s Gothenburg, Sweden hometown looks more like a Japanese concept car than an emblem of Scandinavian minimalism. With unexpected curves and cut-outs, the XC40 fits in with similar modern nameplates, such as the Toyota CH-R and Honda HR-V, that have fueled industry sales.

“This is not like a scaled down version of our other cars,” Ian Kettle, the XC40’s lead exterior designer, said at the automaker’s sleek, downtown Milan show space. “We thought of it not as a brother or sister but a cousin – something that shares the larger gene pool but has a distinct identity.”


Volvo is helping its target market, which includes younger, cash-strapped consumers, afford the small crossover, whose all-wheel drive version starts at $35,200. (A front-wheel drive version expected next summer begins at $33,200.) The introduction of the XC40 dovetails with the launch of Care by Volvo, a subscription-based, flat-fee national leasing program. The price, which hasn’t been announced yet, includes maintenance, insurance, and taxes, as well as access to a concierge service that provides car washes, refueling, and possibly grocery and e-commerce delivery. There is no down payment, and customers get a new car after 24 months.

“We are seeing a new way of having a car,” said Volvo President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson. “That’s why we’re offering a flat rate independently of your age or where you live. People living in big cities normally pay a very high insurance fee.”

Care by Volvo allows owners to share their XC40 with friends and family using new digital key technology that lets them unlock and return the car through their smartphone. “It’s really to simplify your life,” said Anders Gustafsson, chief executive of Volvo Cars of North America. That idea extends to the XC40’s attention to storage space: it has a hook for small bags, a pad for wireless phone charging, and a removable waste bin in the center console.

The XC40, which takes its inspiration from urban fashion, science fiction, and robots, completes Volvo’s revamped three-SUV lineup. Designers strived to give the turbocharged, four-cylinder crossover a more youthful, playful vibe to distinguish it from the lineup’s large XC90 and mid-size XC60 SUVs.

People in this segment expect more character from their vehicles,” said Robin Page, senior vice president of design. “It’s like shoes that come in size 8, 10, or 12, all in the same proportion. Think of the XC90 as a polished black dress shoe, the XC60 as a suede shoe, and the XC40 like a really expensive pair of trainers.”


Rochelle GrenierForbes