By on July 25, 2017

2016 Volvo Concept 40.1 - Image: VolvoThere’s no denying the Volvo 40.1 concept that previewed this fall’s production XC40 appears both to be sufficiently Volvo-like and sufficiently unlike anything else.

If the actual Volvo XC40 maintains this relatively unusual design, Volvo will have a viable, eye-catching alternative to the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, and Mercedes-Benz GLA before most luxury auto brands.

As for the Q3, X1, QX30, and GLA, Volvo isn’t entirely sold on their merits.

As it stands, this subcompact luxury crossover segment is “lacking individuality and playfulness,” according to AutoCar.

Yes, playfulness.

Jaguar, a former Ford Premier Automotive Group partner of Volvo, might change all that with the E-Pace, which features the silhouette of a jaguar cub following its mother on both the windshield and in the puddle lights.

Volvo, however, has a broader stylistic vision for small luxury crossovers; more than just easter eggs or AMG GLA45 graphics. Thomas Ingenlath, senior vice president of design at Volvo, tells AutoCar, “We wanted the XC40 to be a fresh, creative and distinctive member of the Volvo line-up, allowing its drivers to put their personality in their driveway.”

Volvo will therefore supply the XC40 range with more colors — outside and in — than any Volvo in history. There’s talk of orange carpet, for instance, and rugged wood textures.Volvo Concept 40.1 rear three-quarters - Image: VolvoVolvo can insult its rivals’ subcompact luxury utility vehicles, even in a typically polite Swedish way. But the real reason the upcoming XC40 will need to stand out from the pack is the brand’s limited presence in the SUV/crossover market.

The second-generation XC90 was way too long in reaching the market. Though a blessing for Volvo’s U.S. dealers, even in this booming SUV/crossover market the XC90 is on track for 36 percent fewer XC90 sales in 2017 than the first-generation XC90 managed at its peak in 2004. The XC60, which became Volvo USA’s major player at the end of the first-gen XC90’s tenure, averages fewer than 19,000 U.S. sales per year. The Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC averaged 49,000 U.S. sales last year.

With Volvo’s passenger cars joining in with fewer than 2,200 U.S. sales per month, Volvo needs the XC40 to be more than a niche presence in a niche sector. To become a noticeable alternative to the established group of subcompact luxury crossovers, Volvo will shirk the serious and avoid the austere.

Will it work? Nah, flashy design is probably not enough. So look for Volvo to undercut its rivals’ MSRPs, as well.

[Image: Volvo Cars]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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