Volvo unveils commuter concept vehicle
By Mike Hanlon
January 20, 2004
Way back in 1986 and clearly with the future in mind, Volvo took a gigantic leap into market research and development by establishing the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC) just outside of Los Angeles, California. Made up from revolutionary designers, engineers and business mappers, the 15-20 member team of the VMCC was instructed to come up with a radical approach to meet the needs of consumers of the future, and that is exactly what they have done.
While going over the extensive consumer research that on this project goes back to 1998, the VMCC have concluded cars of the future might look like their newly-unveiled Tandem: a modern car that meets the burgeoning needs for an environmentally-friendly, space-efficient and fuel-economical commuter car. The Tandem is a two-passenger, capsule-shaped vehicle whereby the passenger sits directly behind the driver giving it its distinct name, which in design draws obvious comparison to the tandem bike. The narrow cabin occupies a width of only 128-143cm (51-57in.), 30 percent less than the width of a Volvo S60 sedan. Volvo, however, insists that the Tandem still provides as much safety as a standard Volvo sedan.
The Tandem is currently designed to have a variety of powertrains, ranging from a fuel cell to a traditional internal-combustion engine. The reason for this flexibility is because Volvo predict sweeping changes to the development of engines, so that installation of a current mode of engine might very well be obsolete by the time it gets an official release. Now that is forward thinking! However, considering the proposed aerodynamic and safety design features required of the Tandem, Volvo says it would probably reach top speeds of about 90 miles an hour. The in-line cabin would not only be comfortable and stylish, but also be equipped hi-tech displays and active and passive safety systems. Even if some of the features and the look of the car seem too futuristic, a quick perusal of their detailed research supports many of the iconic design features of the Tandem. For example, according to Volvo, more than 77 percent of all trips in the U.S. involve either one or two occupants and 90 percent of all commuting trips involve just the driver. Consumers of today might like to believe in cars to suit-all-needs, but city-based commuters of the future may have to start thinking smaller. Especially if trends continue, where parking spaces decrease and commuter traffic increases, a fact supported by The Federal Highway Administration, which says that almost 50 percent of California's urban interstates are carrying more traffic than they were designed to handle. Add to that demographic projections of a rise in population to 60 million or more by 2040, and cars that take up half the space of standard cars today, start to make a lot of sense. However, despite the extensive research and development, and despite publicising the existence of the Tandem as one of the pet projects of the VMCC, the company is actually still thinking a few years on from now, and do not have plans to release the Tandem into the market just yet. With no real tentative plans for a release, Volvo suggests that the Tandem or its successor might get a release by 2010. The reason again goes back to their market research. According to Volvo the vehicle is still in its infancy and consumers may not yet be ready to accept two-passenger back-to-back cars like the Tandem. However by looking at the Tandem's narrow body, in-line cabin and the projected low-emission adaptable powertrain, it is easy to see what the future holds for production line automobiles.