CHANGES IN SWEDISH society have affected the way Volvo employees think and work, says Hans Wikman, who led the development of Volvo's new S80 sedan.
Hard times have instilled new determination.
'We are getting things done again,' says Wikman. 'There is a new climate that has helped us to reorganize and to talk about new approaches for the future. It really contributed to the enormous turnaround which the corporation has made.'
Wikman, who studied economics at Umea University, says that in Sweden 'we used to have high salaries, a very high exchange rate, and unemployment was almost unknown. We looked rich, but it was all artificial and exports fell. Suddenly, the kronor lost its value and now we have 10 percent unemployment.'
Volvo workers were also motivated by the failed merger with Renault in December 1993. He says employees had to build a new, different future.
The S80 was the first new model Volvo developed on its own after the merger collapsed. Wikman was put in charge.
He threw himself into the job, spending seven days a weeks in the office.
'It was worth all the trouble just for this moment,' he says. 'Reaction has been so much more positive than we expected.'
Wikman did not enter the auto industry until he was 35. His first career was in forestry, though it was not his first choice.
When he was very young, living in the south of Sweden, Wikman had imagined himself becoming an aviation engineer and perhaps joining the Swedish airforce.
But his family moved to Umea, 460km north of Stockholm. There he met his future wife, a teacher, and he decided to stay. Wikman was always interested in cars.
'I grew up with cars,' he says, 'Volvos, to be precise. My father bought a Volvo every year from 1961, since he drove on a lot of bad roads.'
From age 11 young Hans worked at gas stations and service garages. When he was 18 he bought his first car, a Volvo P544.
'All my life I have been a great admirer of what Volvo stands for,' he says.
After a career as a commercial controller in the sawmill industry, Wikman joined Volvo in 1983 as a junior project coordinator for engine testing.
'Being an economist with a knowledge of cars was a rare thing, and that is probably why they offered me a job,' he says.
Wikman still loves a walk in the woods. When not working he goes hiking in Sweden's forests with his wife and their dog. In the winter they cross-country ski, and in the summer they sail.
Life in Sweden isn't all bad.