Mats Fägerhag

Mats Fägerhag

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Mats Fägerhag, the former head of R&D for Saab, is now the CEO of China Euro Vehicle Technology AB (CEVT). This small firm's engineers are quietly creating the new CMA scalable architecture for C and B segment Geely and Volvo models.

CEVT keeps a low profile. Is that intentional?

In fact we did have a media event about a year ago but yes, what we do isn’t always something we can discuss all the details of - the Compact Modular Architecture for a next generation of Volvo and Geely vehicles is one of those things. The C segment is very important - in Europe, in China - and we looked into different opportunities. The best thing, we decided, was to do something for the group, and within the group.

What can you say about CMA?

It is a scalable architecture, which means we can vary the length, width, height and wheelbase. The decision to do this was taken in the fall of 2012. There is a whole range of vehicles coming on SPA, a larger architecture, starting with the XC90 later this year. But there weren’t really the engineering resources within Volvo to do another architecture, and then at the same time, Geely wanted to do something similar for smaller cars.

I was asked if I could set up something in Europe to utilise the experience of our engineers, and we decided that it would make sense to base CEVT in Sweden, not far from Volvo Car Group.

How does CEVT fit into the corporate structure of the Group?

It is a separate company, on the same level as Volvo Cars and Geely Auto, with Geely Holding Group above us. I have several very important people on the board of CEVT - Håkan Samuelsson and Conghui An [CEOs of Volvo Cars and Geely Group respectively], as well as Geely Group CEO Daniel Li and Carl-Peter Forster, an advisor to Chairman Li. I would say I have the four best people you could pick to have with me on the board.

Could you name some specifics of how Carl-Peter Forster's advice has helped CEVT?

He has a great understanding of how the Group should differentiate the different brands and what performance levels we should have for the Volvo brand. He is also great at guiding Volvo in how it should compete against its rivals.

Would it not have been more cost effective for Geely to engineer CMA on its own in China?

I would challenge the idea that a European location is more expensive for the work which CEVT does.

How big is CEVT?

Right now, we are 250 people and we will grow to 400.

Is it the typical mix of nationalities which defines the R&D operations of most global car companies?

Yes, but now, we are mainly Europeans and Chinese. We want to combine the experience and the know-how from the Western and Eastern parts of the world. I would compare our work to what bigger OEMs are doing, like Volkswagen with MQB or BMW with the front-wheel drive architecture. For Volvo, we have to get the cost right - in the C segment, you need volume.

Why not keep on developing the Ford C platform which Volvo uses for the V40?

We need to be scalable - that’s why we won’t use the Ford platform [for future smaller vehicles]. It’s all about designing the critical interfaces so that you can meet all the requirements for higher priced sophisticated models as well as for less expensive cars. And it’s much better to develop a new architecture so then you don’t have all the compromises if you are using and adapting one from another manufacturer.

If SPA is for vehicles above the C segment, then CMA must be scalable down to the B and A segments?

No, not A. We are going to scale it down to the B segment for Geely but for a while it will stay for the C segment. We can do everything from a long wheelbase sedan to a hatchback, or an SUV.

What would the minimum and maximum wheelbases be?

Maybe I don’t want to go into too much detail…but we can at least have a bandwidth of 400mm. And then we can raise the seating position from around 620 up to around 700 (mm).

So we’re talking around 2,600mm to…

I can’t say. What I will say is that with this architecture, we must have well defined interfaces. One example is how the front structure is attached to the mid-floor, how the attachment points are defined for the suspension, chassis, etcetera. Then for the scalable elements, you can add pieces: for a low vehicle, a raised vehicle, and for more sophisticated vehicles you can make it more rigid, make it easier for the chassis engineers to set up the suspension.

I can give you another example, which is HVAC systems. Similarity for all modules, and so in the base unit there is one manual control and then you can add automatic controls, up to fully automatic with air filtering. So it’s layers, and you add these and then the engineering is only done once, because you have all the vehicles and all the variants in mind.

Which brand will be first for the new architecture?

We will talk about that at a later stage. I cannot talk about that today.

There will have to be some very big investments in Geely and Volvo plants. That means Ghent (Belgium), Daqing or Chengdu, or all three?

What we are saying is we will invest in Europe, and in China.

Torslanda, where Volvo makes larger models, is close to NEVS’ headquarters - will CMA vehicles be made there?

It’s [CMA] for sure going to be built in Europe but where exactly I cannot say. This architecture is a very important part of the growth plan for Volvo in Europe, and of course we are going to utilise the plants we have. But it’s too early for details.

Are Volvo’s new Drive-E engines compatible with CMA? So far it’s only a 2.0-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre petrol, albeit with PHEV capability. Are there smaller capacity ones to come?

There might be some more information coming soon. But yes, it’s all about scalability and making things smart.

How will Volvo customers react to learning that technology in their cars is shared with a cheaper, Chinese brand?

I would say yes, it's important to consider this. So, back to the HVAC system. Of course, you are going to share the housing, but the higher end system will be for Volvo and the lower one just for Geely. It’s really nothing new - you see this in Audis now.

How varied has the level of talent been from the engineers who have come from China?

We have a lot of things to learn from the Chinese.

Could you name some examples?

They are not as experienced, of course, but they bring some new thinking, which is interesting. Chinese engineers work more closely with the suppliers; they are better at identifying where the different cost elements are in the designs [of components]. They are very good at working on cost solutions.

I think sometimes we in the Western part of the world are maybe a little bit over-sophisticated in the way we design things. I would say the Chinese are different - they have a good balance when it comes to cost and sophistication. The car industry in the West is rather traditional and I think what the Chinese industry brings is a new, and faster way of looking at how cars are developed and built. So if you combine those elements - the ability to develop premium vehicles with new ideas about making cost efficient solutions, it’s a big opportunity.

What is being shared between SPA and the development of CMA?

When you have two separate architectures - SPA for bigger vehicles and CMA for C segment and below, of course you want to share what you can. You try to see where you can scale up with one, and where you can scale down with the other. But then sometimes, for example, if you have a base underbody structure it doesn’t make sense to keep scaling it up. You see this with BMW - one architecture for Mini and smaller BMWs and another for larger, rear-wheel drive models. And it’s the same for the Volkswagen Group. Sometimes, you can still share parts: maybe a steering wheel across architectures, some elements of the seat structure - there are many examples of what we will share between SPA and CMA.

The XC90 is twelve years old. BMW launched the third-generation X5 last year. It’s been the same story for other models. Does having SPA and CMA mean Volvo can shorten its long life cycles?

Yes, that is the target, of course.

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