New Volvo Design Director Steve Mattin Says 'A Car Is A Sculpture On Wheels'

Steve Mattin

Volvo XC90

Steve Mattin is passionate about cars and design, and now has the opportunity to put his mark on the future look of Volvo cars since joining Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg as Design Director after 18 years with Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, where he was directly responsible for a whole series of models, including the A-Class and the new M-Class.

According to Steve, arriving as a newcomer to Volvo is a distinct advantage: "I can see things with fresh eyes. My international experience also helps, as well as coming from a major premium brand.

"I tend to live the brand - it is fixed in your brain and becomes impregnated in your soul," he says, and is sure that the Volvo brand will become just as much a part of him.

Steve had been with Mercedes-Benz ever since he graduated from Coventry University in 1987 with a BA (Hons) in Industrial Design (Transportation). Hans-Olov Olsson, CEO and President of Volvo Car Corporation and J. Mays, Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motor Company managed to impress Steve with the opportunity of a future with Volvo.

Like another of Volvo's former design directors, Peter Horbury, Steve Mattin is also English and grew up in the village of Wootton, in Bedfordshire. He has loved drawing for as long as he can remember, and always looked forward to being taken to motor shows as a child.

"It was the highlight of the year. From the age of eight onwards, I thought about nothing but cars," confesses Steve.

His career in car design began when he was only 15. He and a friend entered - and won - a design competition organised by BP. Three years later he began his four-year degree course in Industrial Design specialising in car design, which included six months’ practical experience at Mercedes-Benz. He was about to enrol for a masters degree at the Royal College of Art in London when he took up a job offer from Mercedes instead, and 10 years later he was named ‘Designer of the Year’ by Autocar magazine.

During his career at Mercedes-Benz he was responsible for the exterior design of a whole series of models, including the A-Class, the S-Class, the C-Class sports coupé and the SL. He had the overall design responsibility for the new M-Class, the Grand Sports Tourer concept car and the production version of that vehicle, the R-Class, which was unveiled at the motor show in New York only a few months ago.

Looking to the future, Steve thinks Volvo needs to maintain its independence and preserve the uniqueness of its brand. He believes that good design is essential to enhance a brand’s core values, and is conscious of the designer’s share of responsibility for ergonomics, safety and environmental aspects.

"I try not to follow trends. It is best to be a trendsetter yourself," says Steve. "A car is a sculpture on wheels. It must avoid blandness and always have an eye to the appeal the car will have in five or 10 years’ time.

"Good design will last well and still be seen as fresh years later. Design and quality go together – not just fit and finish, but also visual quality," he continued.

Steve describes himself as something of a perfectionist, anxious to see the design process all the way through - from first sketch to finished vehicle. And when it comes to design inspiration, he is constantly looking at buildings, furniture, and consumer products in general.

"Design is a passion I have, so it is difficult to screen off. It is never a nine-to-five job, and even the tiniest detail can etch itself somewhere in your memory and come in useful at a later date," says Steve Mattin.

Steve has already completed an extended trip in a Volvo. Before starting his new job, he took a trip to New Zealand where he borrowed an XC90 and toured the country for three weeks.

"It was a great opportunity to get to know Volvo and the car," he says. He was able to combine three of his favourite things - travelling, driving and photography. Covering 5,000 miles, he took about 3,000 photos en route.

To read our in depth road test of the Volvo XC90 [ click here ]

Published 21 May 2005 Melanie Carter

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