“In England and Europe, we have this huge music called ambient – ambient techno, ambient house, ambient hip-hop, ambient this, ambient that,” said Brian Eno, who knows more than a thing or two about ambience. And now, it would seem, we have ambient cars, or at least it will be that way if Volvo has any say about it.
The car in question would be the Volvo S90 Ambience Concept. It is, literally, an industry-first sensory experience that synchronizes visuals, sound and – I’m not making this up – scent to “redefine in-car luxury.”
Okay, that sounds fine, in a way. Not sure what that could offer me as a driver personally, since my preferred automotive ambience is blurring scenery, red-lining engines, and the fine bouquet of unburned fuel and tire smoke.
Volvo’s S90 Ambience Concept made its public debut at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show (ah-ha!, I sense a trend). The S90 Ambience Concept is based on Volvo’s top-of-the-line S90 Excellence, which is a kinda-odd, three-seater executive sedan thing that focuses on the chauffeured passengers in the rear seat. Which, given the ambience deal, makes much more sense. The Gothenburg Guys tell us passengers can personalize the atmosphere by using a smartphone app to choose one of seven visual themes that synchronize with audio and scent. I know some guys that were trying to work on that same sort of system in their VW Bus that was equipped with a Radio Shack color organ, a Steppenwolf 8-track, and a hookah. Anyway . . .
The visual part of the Volvo S90 Ambience Concept happens on the headliner, where the car’s ceiling is transformed to the selected theme: Northern Lights, Scandinavian Forest (of course), Swan Lake, Archipelago, and Rain. There is also a Nocturnal theme for chilling and the Freedom theme aims to give you a boost of fresh and uplifting energy. Synchronized audio plays through a Bowers and Wilkins sound system that includes small tweeters in the headrest for an immersive experience.
And to top it all off, each theme is complemented with one of four bespoke scents, created by Byredo (I don’t know either), which deploys simultaneously from a portal in the center console.
Continued Growth & Expansion
Volvo says the S90 Ambience is launching as a concept but are considering making it available in S90 Excellence production cars in China. And indeed, China is the whole point here. In 2017 alone, Volvo sold more than 100,000 cars in China. That’s the company’s fourth consecutive year of record sales and growth in The Forbidden Kingdom. China is Volvo Cars’ single largest market and the company’s biggest for the S90 sedan.
“The Ambience Concept was created primarily for the China market and provides a contrast to China’s sometimes hectic city environments,” said Martin Andersson, Senior Commercial Product Manager at Volvo Cars’ Special Vehicles Department. “The S90 Ambience Concept will reinforce our premium brand values in this important region.”
Or, to quote Per Olaf Gunderssen, Volvo Senior V.P. of Ambience and Good Vibes, “I like to dream, yes, yes. Right between the sound machine. On a cloud of sound I drift in the night. Any place it goes is right. Goes far, flies near. To the stars away from here.” Then he broke into a 4:39 drum solo. Okay, I made that up.
But what is true is that Volvo is Paying Attention to the Chinese market in a big way and seem to have no problem specializing their output to meet that market’s needs.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. His forthcoming new book The Future In Front of Me, The Past Behind Me will be available soon. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.