Lars Erik Lundin is a man in perpetual motion. When he isn't busy at his job as vice president of new projects at Volvo Car Corp., chances are Lundin is outside somewhere moving very fast.
Lundin's hobbies include endurance auto racing, dirt-bike racing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and orienteering. He has also recently taken up gliding.
These outdoor activities give Lundin, 55, an escape from the rigors of leading three vehicle projects simultaneously the Volvo V70 wagon, Volvo Cross Country and the new medium Volvo sedan. The small sedan is called S60 by some in the press, but it is known internally at Volvo as P24.
'It's very stressful when you're going to launch one car, and the next one is in early production startup, and the third is in engineering going to tooling,' Lundin said. 'Three cars with one team it's very complicated.'
'We are working in parallel with the three projects. This is something we have never done before. We used to set up one new project organization for each car.'
The Volvo V70 came first, having arrived on the market about three months ago. The V70 Cross Country arrives in June. The P24 sedan will follow in the autumn.
Lundin describes the various programs as 'almost a three-dimensional matrix organization,' one that has reduced lead times and given Volvo increased flexibility.
For example, suppliers and purchasing people sat in on production meetings with stylists to be sure everyone understood the project from the beginning. Members of the marketing team participated in technical meetings.
'It's a very integrated process compared to 10 years ago,' Lundin said.
After the failed merger with Renault in 1993, Volvo decided that, as a small independent company with limited resources, it needed to find other ways to bring add capability to its development process. So the company used one of its strongest assets the informal, non-hierarchical nature of Swedish culture as a tool. The S80 sedan was the first vehicle to benefit.
'In Sweden you can go to anybody who is your boss's boss and tell him what you think,' he said. 'Sweden is a rather simple country to find new ways of doing projects, because we accept not having a strong line function.'
During the current three-car project, Volvo tried some new team-building exercises to train the module teams in the art of working together, Lundin said.
One exercise involved putting blindfolds on all the members of the team but one. That one person was not allowed to speak. The team then had to come up with a way to use a long piece of rope to form an outline of a car.
'All through the project, we had a researcher from Gothenburg Business University videotaping us in project management meetings,' Lundin said. 'It's amazing how much we change when we can observe ourselves behaving on the video.'
The results appear to be successful so far. V70 sales are already 30 percent ahead of Volvo's targets.
Asked to name a feature on the V70 he is particularly proud of, Lundin chooses one small item a button on the headrest of the front passenger seat close to the driver. The button is designed as a place for a driver to hang his or her coat. Despite safety concerns, Lundin knows drivers will continue to use mobile phones in cars. Since drivers often put their phones in coat pockets, Volvo wants them to at least be with easy reach.
Lundin believes perceptions of station wagons are changing and that Volvo will benefit.
'Station wagons used to be considered just family vehicles, Lundin said. But before I was married, I had a wagon all the time. Wagons have a youth appeal that you can't pinpoint.'
Lundin likes wagons because he can haul his family around. And when he's busy with one of his hobbies he can easily stow his gear whether it be a mountain bike or gliding equipment.
Lundin is approaching an age when many people would decide to relax and do easy things. But he shows no sign of slowing down. Although he doesn't indulge in endurance auto racing as seriously as he once did, he still likes to get out on the track with a Volvo 240.
'It's a great brainwash,' Lundin said. 'When you're on the track, your brain is 100 percent concentrated. If you have project problems or personal problems, you get 100 percent rest from those problems for an hour.'
Once the new Volvo sedan launches in the autumn, Lundin will be facing a possible career change.
'I don't think I will do a new car project in the coming years,' he said. 'After doing a big project, you should not do another one. Perhaps you should move to the marketing side and make sure you close the loop.'