Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Letter to Volvo on the release of the 2015 Volvo XC90

The new 2015 Volvo XC90. 
The world’s safest car echoes ancient values – before utilitarianism trumped beauty.

This is written in gratitude to the shareholders, managers, designers, engineers, assembly line workers, logistics and marketing teams whose work has given the world the 2015 Volvo XC90. It is perhaps a driver’s car, but it does not belong only to those who drive it.  It belongs to all of us.

If they had not yet existed now, would any of the great buildings of the world, constructed over the course of centuries, ever have been built? Which architect or captain of industry in ego-centric 2014, would commence work on a project with little or no prospect of living long enough to bask in the acclaim its completion would afford? But it was not always so. Multiple generations of artisans from the same family would work on a cathedral or shrine over hundreds of years, proud of the contribution - however small or mundane - that they had made towards its creation. Inspired and driven by their faith, they deliberately produced works of such quality and beauty that they have stood for millennia. Not as monuments to their egos but heirlooms for believers who would follow them. Work not grudgingly extracted, but offerings of human toil worthy of the Divine.

Those at Volvo who designed and built the 2015 Volvo XC90, so very obviously loved it into existence. Yes, I used the word ‘loved’. When you don’t just raid parts bins but commission Orrefors to design your gear lever and construct it out of crystal glass; when your dashboard employs the use of timbers only available in Scandinavia for no other reason than the aesthetic, then you are not manufacturing. You are creating. Every inch of the XC90 has been coaxed into being by a complete devotion to quality. Every single Volvo person, according to their area of expertise, playing their own small part in the building of this magnificent vehicle. Not artisans but artists. Is this not the essence of art? Beauty created for no other reason than Beauty’s sake? Yes, I know the company is owned by Geely, and I don’t know why the Chinese owners, largely focused on building high volume, low cost units, entrusted the renewal of their new acquisition into the hands of the Swedes – a people with a culture so different from their own. But they did. It should never be forgotten, that it was under their patronage that the XC90 was born.  The XC90 project could have been shelved at any stage, at the stroke of a pen. But it wasn’t. Not at $2Billion. Not at $6 Billion. Not even at 10.

$11 billion dollars is a lot of money to invest in the development of a motor vehicle. Manufacturers manufacture products to attain profits and a few even take pride in the quality of their merchandise. Once in a generation, however, a company will produce a work that is so exquisitely gorgeous that it elicits not merely a utilitarian desire to own it, but a posture of pure awe:  the only appropriate involuntary response when sheer unadulterated beauty overwhelms any attempt at a rational response. If one is a person of faith, one may even be drawn to wonder at the ultimate Source of such beauty. When words. Simply. Fail.  Such is the 2015 Volvo XC90. If Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel is ‘just paint on plaster’ then the 2015 Volvo XC90 is ‘just a car.’

You argue with me and I agree: Yes, the XC90 will eventually age, corrode and be recycled or return to the earth. So will all the people who had a hand in its creation. The people of Volvo who exchanged the irreplaceable substance of their life, (their time), to participate in its creation. Yes, all earthly beauty is fleeting, but those who are witness to it are forever grateful that they were given the gift of that experience - be it a sunset, a flower or a loved one. Surely, even if an XC90 were never to traverse a mile, the beauty of this vehicle alone would have been enough to justify its existence. Perhaps, like most of the people on this planet, I may never be able to afford this vehicle, but somehow that doesn't matter. I no more need to own the XC90 to truly appreciate it than I need to own Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ to appreciate that. 

So I end this letter as I started, by tipping my hat to the shareholders, managers, designers, engineers, assembly line workers, logistics and marketing teams– the people of Volvo, from Hangzhou to Gothenburg that have jointly birthed a work of such extraordinary passion.

Thank you. Tack. Xièxiè