Lynk and CO steers clear of Volvo's looks

A few years ago, as a design director of Volvo Cars, Andreas Nilsson was given a blank piece of paper to design the first vehicles for Lynk & CO, the new brand planned by Volvo’s parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China.

It was the sort of design opportunity the auto industry rarely sees anymore.

“We needed to create something new and unique, with no history or heritage to rely on,” Nilsson said. “There were no design guidelines; we had no brand recognition.”

The opportunity was so big that Nilsson gave up his job at Volvo to tackle the as-yet-unnamed brand.

“It was very inspiring,” said Nilsson, now Lynk & CO head of design and a senior vice president at Geely. “But once you start sketching, it’s not that easy. It was eye-opening about how difficult it is to create something unique from scratch.”

The results are now out there for the automotive world to see: Geely reached into Volvo for resources, but came away with a vehicle that looks nothing like a Volvo.

The Lynk 01 compact crossover is on sale in China, to be followed by the 02, a more sports-oriented crossover, and the 03 midsize sedan. The brand plans to sell vehicles in the U.S. and, by early 2020, in Europe, executives said this year.

Lynk & CO hopes to shake up the traditional retail and ownership model with a no-initial-payment subscription plan, with no-haggle pricing, online vehicle shopping and software that facilitates car-sharing. Other automakers, including its sibling brand Volvo, also are exploring subscriptions as the industry diversifies into providing mobility in all its forms.

“The main difference between Lynk and other brands is that our objective is to sell mobility,” said Alain Visser, Lynk & CO senior vice president.

Nilsson: Create something new.

Design contrast

Nilsson and Lynk’s designers had one mandate: Lynk & CO models could not look like Volvos, even though they would share the Compact Modular Architecture with the Volvo XC40 compact crossover, which already was in the design process.

Nilsson and his team began roughing out the styling for the first Lynk model in August 2013. “We had great proportions but we realized it was very generic and not going the right way. So there was a major retake of the design,” he said.

Final selection for the 01 took place in April 2014, and even as the deadline drew near, Nilsson said his team was still hard at work. “We were a little all over the place, and we realized that we needed to box this in and get something in order,” he recalled.

The resulting design language is distinguished by a contrast between solid, clean surfacing that reflects Lynk & CO’s European roots and intricate surface details that nod to Asian culture. Nilsson calls this contrast “dark.”

“It’s the spice to our brand,” he said.

Lynk touches include a full-width front-end band rather than a traditional grille, and high “cat eye” headlights. At the rear, a horizontal black trim line echoes the front end.

“We worked with a lot of different grilles,” Nilsson said. “Then we said, ‘Hang on — why do we need a grille? We know the conventional grille will probably disappear in the future, so let’s prepare a functional band. Whether it’s for an air intake or sensors, the future will tell.’ ”

Lynk’s interior design follows the same formula. The basic surfaces are clean and harmonious, with more complex forms for air vents, screens and other “interaction points,” Nilsson said. “You can turn this dial up and down, the mix between the calmness and the busyness. We can go more ‘gaming’ for a younger audience, or calm it down for an older audience.”

European versions of the 01 will be produced at Volvo’s factory in Ghent, Belgium, on the same line as the XC40. The Volvo plant has an annual capacity of 290,000 vehicles. Current output is about 230,000, officials said during a recent a tour of the factory as it prepares to start Lynk production in late 2019.

“We have enough capacity to cope with the needs of Volvo, with the XC40, and enough capacity to cope with the Lynk & CO 01,” said Javier Varela, Volvo’s senior vice president for manufacturing and logistics.

‘Strong statement’

Lynk & CO’s Visser said European production plans had not yet been decided for future Lynk models. The 01s for Europe will have electrified gasoline engines, starting with a plug-in hybrid model, and eventually full-electric powertrains. Diesel engines are not planned.

Although the 01 is Lynk & CO’s first product, both for China and Europe, the 02 may have even greater potential, said Nilsson and Mats Faegerhag, CEO of China Euro Vehicle Technology, Geely’s engineering and product development center in Sweden.

“The 02 is a strong statement,” Faegerhag said. To design the 02, the architecture of the 01 was lowered 1.2 inches, shortened, and widened at the rear. The seating position is lower, but still higher than a sedan or hatchback.

Nilsson said: “We’ve been pushing hard for this car because we really believe in it. China might be a rather conservative market, but not for long.”

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