KNUTSTORP, Sweden - Volvo brought European automotive journalists to this remote Swedish hamlet to demonstrate the ability of its new Cross Country station wagon to handle tough off-road conditions.
But Volvo's real target for its new large-platform, all-wheel-drive wagon will be people who live in city suburbs - and specifically Americans who seldom, if ever, take their vehicles off-highway.
Volvo is betting that those customers are becoming dissatisfied with the truck-like on-road characteristics of their big sport-utilities and are looking for a more civilized means of transport.
Volvo plans to sell about 60 percent of the planned 35,000 annual production of the Cross Country in the USA. There might not be a need for the vehicle but for the huge US market.
Nonetheless, the Cross Country will serve a useful purpose in Europe and further expand the Volvo brand. Volvo is the largest volume brand in Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group of luxury marques that also includes Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Lincoln.
In Europe, the Cross Country is being introduced along with face-lifted versions of Volvo's small cars, the S40 sedan and V40 station wagon. The new S40 and V40 are the last Volvos to use the small-car platform that also provides the base for the Mitsubishi Carisma. The S40/V40 and Carisma are all built at the NedCar plant in Born, the Netherlands.
Volvo has already decided to build the next-generation models at Ghent, Belgium. The future cars, due about 2005, will share components with Ford's own Focus.
The new-model introductions are part of Volvo's aggressive product offensive that began with the debut of the V70 station wagon earlier this year. Volvo also recently introduced the press to its new S60 sedan, designed to compete with the BMW 3 series.
The Cross Country, made at Volvo's factory in Torslanda, Sweden, goes on sale this month in the USA, followed by Sweden and other European countries in early September. The Cross Country is equipped with a single 2.4-liter, five-cylinder, light-pressure turbogasoline engine that generates 200hp. A new Volvo common-rail turbodiesel engine will be added next year.
Ninety-five percent of the power goes to the Cross Country's front wheels during normal driving conditions. When conditions get slippery, power is transferred to the rear wheels via a viscous clutch.
'This car is not for off-roading - it's for bad roads,' said Peter Ewerstrand, product planning director for the Cross Country. 'It's on bad roads and in snowy and icy conditions where the car will come closer to its limits.'
Volvo is hoping the Cross Country will bring more women buyers to the brand. It believes women will be attracted by the security of all-wheel-drive, together with the fact that the Cross Country has neither the size nor the awkwardness of a sport-utility.
The Cross Country's rear seat comes as standard with a 40-20-40 split, a feature Volvo is claiming as a first.
Meanwhile, the S40 and V40 have been extensively updated -though the cars look similar to their predecessors.
Volume of the current S40/V40s will be about 160,000 units a year at NedCar. Of that total, 105,000 will go to Europe and 35,000 to the USA. The two markets have different tastes. In Europe, about 60 percent of buyers will choose the V40 wagon. In America, which favors sedans, only 20 percent will buy the wagon.
The S40 and V40 were originally conceived as BMW 3 series competitors. But now Volvo is launching the S60 sedan to compete with 3 series, leaving the S40 and V40 without a clear market segment. Volvo officials say the S40 and V40 will compete with cars such as the VW Passat and Audi A4 - even though the A4 is a 3 series rival itself.
Volvo will run pan-European advertising campaigns for all the new cars.