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What's new? Volvo V40

The Sino-Swedish company’s new premium compact contender has an industry-first airbag to cushion pedestrians from windshield and A-pillar



Volvo has unveiled its newest competitor in the premium hatchback class, the V40, which features a sleek new design accompanied by the latest technology in pedestrian safety: the pedestrian airbag. Volvo is the first OEM to bring the technology to market.

Competing against the likes of the Audi A3, the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and BMW 1 Series, Volvo claims that the V40 enters the market with the luxury look of a compact car and the characteristics and content of a large one. Production is due to start in May 2012 in the Ghent factory in Belgium, following a three-year development program led by chief engineer Sven Gunnar Johansson, and employing around 1,000 engineers at its peak.

Despite the firm’s new Chinese ownership, Paul Mertens, senior vice president of research and development at Volvo, highlights that Volvo has focused on developing this car specifically for Europe. However, it may be localized in future for other markets such as North America and China.

Underpinning the car is the proven C1 platform, which has been fine-tuned to increase ride comfort and improve the handling. This includes employing monotube dampers in the rear, making the front struts stiffer with an additional brace, and introducing new electric steering with a stiffer steering column.

But what really makes the V40 unique is the pedestrian airbag technology it benefits from. The airbag is activated using seven sensors in the front bumper. When a pedestrian hits the sensors, the severity of the impact is measured and, if necessary, the airbag inflates over the windshield and A-pillar (see above).

Mertens explains that in developing the new system, Volvo sought to build on its existing knowledge concerning pedestrian safety. The company already had the pyrotechnic technology to lift the hood away from the engine beneath when
a person hits the vehicle, as well as extensive airbag development experience, but the challenge for the team was to bring the two together in the new system.

Conceptual work, followed by sled testing and further refinement, was carried out on the system at the company’s crash test center in Gothenburg. The pedestrian airbag technology was tested more than 150 times in the lab, with different impactors and pedestrian dummies sent toward the front bumper, hood, window, and A-pillar area. There were around 1,000 computer simulations of it, too. The work formed part of the V40’s wider crash-test program, under which 70 prototypes were used for 130 different full-scale tests, in addition to approximately 25,000 crash-test simulation runs.

Testing of the V40’s 115 VPs – just a single prototype phase was employed – was carried out at other locations too, including Volvo’s biggest test location in Hällered, close to Gothenburg, plus the Kiruna proving ground in northern Sweden.

Important work was also carried out on public roads in South Africa, a country that had never been used to this extent by Volvo before. Mertens says the decision to go there was made because the roads provide a range of conditions including high temperature, high humidity, areas where it is extremely dry, and high and low levels of altitude. So pleased with the results was he, that Mertens has confirmed that Volvo will be testing there again in the future.

Confident with Volvo’s latest premium compact, Mertens adds, “When [CEO] Stefan Jacoby and I drove the prototypes, we were amazed at how fantastic they are to drive. It was a great moment!”


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