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Here's an interesting article I found in yesterday's WSJ about the new XC90 SUV. It also confirms what I mentioned several weeks ago in my other road test article that the entire shipment 0f 6,500 vehicles for this year has already been presold. If you don't have a deposit down for one, you most likely won't get one this year.



Volvo, whose name is synonymous with expensive but safe family wagons and sedans, is launching a sport-utility vehicle that could have a big influence on the safety of other SUVs.

The XC90 doesn't arrive in showrooms until next month, but dealers say there is already strong demand from customers eager to have the latest in safety hardware, from rollover sensors to wall-to-wall air bags.

All 6,500 of the Volvo SUVs to be made this year have already been presold, with customers plunking down deposits to reserve them, the company says. The vehicle will start at $37,000, with the most expensive model costing $45,000.

Advanced safety features aren't new in the luxury SUV segment. Rivals models like the Mercedes-Benz M-class and the Lexus RX300 have similar features as standard equipment. But the lengthy list of leading-edge features in the XC90, and Volvo's decision to highlight them in promoting the vehicle, has some safety experts predicting it will give the industry another big shove toward safer SUVs.


1. Anti-rollover system that automatically backs off throttle and applies brakes
2. Side-curtain airbags in all three rows
3. Roof structure with high-strength steel
4. Pedestrian protection: 7" space between hood and engine cushions the blow if vehicle smashes someone onto the hood
5. Daytime running lights
6. Concealed bar meant to minimize collision damage to smaller cars

"The XC90 is going to raise the bar for safety," says Sean Kane, a partner in Strategic Safety LLC, a motor-vehicle safety-research firm. "What's been lacking in the current crop of SUVs is safety equipment to protect occupants."

It is already having an impact inside Volvo's parent company, Ford Motor Co. Speaking to a group of investors Wednesday, Ford Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford Jr. said the company planned to install the XC90's antirollover system in other vehicles. Many of Volvo's engineers and product directors also work on teams that develop Ford cars.

Heavily dependent on SUV sales, Ford has been at the center of the storm over safety. Federal regulators tied more than 200 deaths and 700 injuries to accidents caused when certain Firestone tires used mainly on Ford Explorers suddenly lost their treads, causing the vehicle to veer out of control.

But the problem is bigger than a single company. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates 9,000 people a year die in 227,000 rollover accidents. A NHTSA study of 1991-1998 fatal crash data found that SUVs as a class had the highest number of rollover fatalities per one million registered vehicles. The study, published in August 2001, found that the SUV rollover fatality rate was 98 per million registered vehicles, compared to 51 per million for small cars, and 32 per million for medium cars. While SUVs have remained popular with consumers despite these statistics, manufacturers are increasingly concerned about the problem, particularly now that the NHTSA is gearing up to conduct more comprehensive, real-world tests of SUVs' rollover potential.

The heightened anticipation for the XC90 is a function of its array of safety features. Among them: electronic sensors that detect if the vehicle is sliding or tipping, and then automatically apply the brakes and ease off the throttle to steady the vehicle.

Inside, too, the SUV has some new touches, like air bags at the passenger's head level that deploy when the sensors notice that the vehicle is headed for a crash. The air bags, which drop down from the ceiling to cover the windows, are designed to keep passengers inside the vehicle. On top of that, the seat belts automatically tighten in a collision. The supply of XC90s is expected to be tight for the next 18 months.

While Volvo hasn't yet released details of its advertising campaign for the XC90, it has sent dealers documents and videos from its crash testing on the cars. Dealers and salespeople can rattle off all of the car's safety features -- some of them have even visited Volvo's crash-test site in Sweden.


The XC90 is critical to Volvo's drive to recover from what Mr. Ford described as a stumble earlier this year when Volvo's sales in the U.S. fell sharply. One reason was that the company lacked new models to put up against competitors.

With the XC90, Volvo is relying on its loyal customers who have been waiting for years for an SUV. Jimmy Gilmore, 41-year-old real-estate developer in Rollingwood, Texas, got tired of waiting and bought a Chevrolet Tahoe this year. But he plans to trade it in for the new XC90, even though he has never driven one.

"I'm a father with a baby on the way. I've got a five-year-old and safety is my No. 1 concern," says Mr. Gilmore, who also drives a Volvo S80 sedan.


The rollover problem with SUVs stems from the fact that many have a higher center of gravity than passenger cars. That causes them to be more susceptible to flipping over in extreme maneuvers, like a series of sharp turns.

Safety advocates, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., have also raised concerns about the damage that heavy, tall SUVs can do to smaller vehicles, particularly in side-impact crashes. The XC90 comes with a bar across the front end, behind the bumper, that is designed to reduce the damage to a struck car.


135 Posts
Re: 10/24/02 Wall Street Journal article on XC90 (JJParker)

Nice article - thanks for posting. http://********************/smile/emsmile.gif

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Re: 10/24/02 Wall Street Journal article on XC90 (JJParker)

Thanks for posting! I had THREE customers who called me, yesterday, to let me know about it and to go get the paper. I was so busy that I did not even have dinner. I am glad you posted it as I did not want to miss it.

You are right about the fact that "if you do not have a deposit on an XC90 by now you are not going to get it this year"...They are all gone, as far as my allocation is concerned!

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