Interview: Hans Nilsson, 2011 Volvo S60 Product Manager
Interview by George Achorn, Photos Courtesy of Volvo and the Author
Apr 6, 2010 - 1:25:00 PM
Though Hans Nilsson has been with Volvo for some time, and with many challenges including work on the last S60R, perfecting the new S60 might have been his biggest yet. And we're talking about a guy here who races old 240s against Porsche 944s on the weekends. We sat down with him recently and talked technology, comparisons, and, of course, asked about the future of "R" cars. Read the whole interview below.
Whats the biggest challenge today launching a car like the S60 versus when you launched the last generation?
I was involved in the R cars for the last generation, and we dont have one of those here. But when you compare the base market, there are a lot of challenges in technology and fuel economy. Its very hard to be on par, I would say.
Can you walk us through how this car is dynamically superior to its predecessor?
Oh yes. Its the fourth car on this platform with shared Ford technology. Its the same base as S80, V70, and XC60, and XC70. But they are all totally different in driving characteristics. To have this base, but make a tighter, fun-to-drive car, we basically had to change everything. The geometry for the suspension is the same, but the characteristics are totally different, changed dramatically. It turned out to be many more changes than management thought was needed at the beginning. The goal was to do the most dramatic and fun-to-drive car in the portfolio. We started with that and thought about what to do to meet that goal. It was so many more things than they expected.
You mention the fun-to-drive aspect of the car, and that you worked on the last R cars. How much of a priority was sportiness versus, say, all of the safety systems on the new S60?
The role for the car is as our most dynamic car. That has to be carried through the whole programï¿½exterior design, interior design, seating position, everything you see, feel, and touch, and of course the ride and drive. It all has to tell you the same message all the way through, otherwise [customers] will be disappointed, even if [they] dont understand why. It tells you another picture, and that has been hard, for everyone to understand why some components are important, versus a V70 or an XC60. We dont want another one of those cars. The S60 needs to have this appearance, this way of driving. That has been my job, to be the naughty guy who goes around and tells people, We will not have that. We will do this instead. Some are disappointed, some are quite relieved, but thats the way it is to be a product manager within a car program.
SS: Tell us about the new Haldex system for the all-wheel drive.
We have the new generation four Haldex as stock for the S60 T6 and the D5. I dont know whether youre thinking about the cornering traction control, but thats available on all models. Ill start from the beginning. We really wanted to make the chassis characteristics as sporty as possible, which starts with the springs, struts, and bushings, all that. Steering, brakes, everything has to be changed to cut out the slack in the system. We wanted the car to respond immediately, not like a boat on the water. We then went one step further to use dynamic stability and traction control (DSTC) but added a new level for handing. We took the roll sensor from the XC90 and XC90, which helps on those cars to prevent rollovers, but a sedan like the S60 doesnt just roll over. So we used that roll sensor to detect early on when the car is deviating from where the driver wants to go. It applies brakes early to direct the car smoothly and early and prevents over- or understeer. Its also great for evasive maneuvers.
Then we added cornering traction control, called torque vectoring by some, for conditions of turning in with the throttle on. These situations reduce pressure on the inside wheel, and it starts to spin. But with this system, we brake that wheel and move torque to the outer wheel. The car then pushes you through the corner. Its active up to 55 mph, and its the same on front- or all-wheel-drive cars. If both wheels spin, traction control goes on to reduce engine power.
Torque Vectoring has been billed as both a safety and performance feature by some other brands. Do you view it similarly?
Yes and no, as our system doesnt actually direct power to the Haldex. It brakes inner wheels instead. If you look at Acura, they have three differentials doing all that work. We use just the brakes instead, and it can be used then on both front- and all-wheel-drive cars.
Safety is important to us, but we apply the feature as a handling benefit. And its standard on all the cars. Any S60 will have it.
Youve spend a lot of time in both this new S60 T6 and the last S60R. How do they compare?
This one is of course better. It really is. Its all through a tighter car. The old one was a great handler, but we put more emphasis into the base of this car, the bushings, the steering column, the dimensions of the McPherson struts, and so on. Everything is stiffer; the steering column has double the torsional stiffness, so it is very direct. We have dropped the rear top mounts, which are now plastic instead of rubber to make sure the wheels are in the correct position. DSTC and the 4C suspension are basically the same, so both have those added features. This car is a better handling car though, as weve done a better job with the base.
Walk us through what safety systems are the most significant.
Well that of course is pedestrian detection with full auto braking. What we have done is added a new radar and camera for high efficiency, allowing us to detect and brake earlier, and were more sure what to brake for. Full braking goes up to 1 G, and it will now stop for humans. It can detect 200 objects within a 60-70 meter range. When the camera detects the shape and movement of a human being, we can track them and sense an impending collision. Theres a warning, with a light on the windshield, then full braking if theres no reaction. If you react on the warning or steer away, the system doesnt intervene. Its adjustable based on speed and driving style.
How do you tell the system that, say, a parking meter, isnt a child?
That is the tricky thing. Steam coming up from a manhole, is that something that you should brake for or not? To have a camera accurate enough to detect shapes and learn how humans move, that was difficult. And then of course to confirm it. The team drive 500,000 kilometers all over the world, and has gathered data. Were very sure about the functionality.
This isnt City Safety, and thats a big misconception. That system uses infrared lasers that reflect back and it works like a radar, but with light. If that detects a car, it will brake and avoid a collision. That is also used to pre-prepare the safety restraint systems. But pedestrian detection uses a camera from the cruise control and the radar to select types of objects and react to more things. It also works up to higher speeds, and with a warning first.
What would the system do for say, a deer? Is there special logic for that?
HN: No, not unless the deer looks like a car. The camera is used to identify humans, pedestrians, and a deer doesnt match that body shape or motion. For a deer, wed have to teach the car a deers movements, and even the type of deer. Then you have a kangaroo, or a badger. It becomes very complicated then. So the camera has one way of looking at humans, and thats a long learning process in itself.
Is there still room for R products?
We are not planning an R model for this car. We will do a R-design S60, but not a full-blown R car.
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