Interview: Joakim Rydholm, Volvo Chassis Engineer
Fraser Martin speaks to the Development Engineer for Chassis and Vehicle Dynamics about the new Volvo V40
By Fraser Martin
I liked this guy immediately. Apart from being a jolly fellow, as you can see, he’s been the only person on any Press trip I have ever done, who positively encouraged me to push a car before I have even got into it!
As the Development Engineer for Chassis and Vehicle Dynamics on the new Volvo V40, Joakim Rydholm’s got plenty to smile about.
We were in Verona in Italy, near the shores of Lake Garda where some of the best driving roads in Europe are to be found. We actually drove the bit in the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, so you can well imagine that to take us there to drive a new car, the manufacturer would have to be pretty confident.
I took twenty minutes of Joakim’s time, between rotations, to ask him why.
“We started work on the beginnings of this car four years ago,” said Rydholm, “creating targets we wanted to achieve. We made lists of where we wanted to be, drew comparisons with what others were doing and where they were going, and finally decided that what we needed was a car that would beat BMW in the class.
“We built two prototypes from the ground up – one with what we could get away with and one with everything we wanted. The second one was more costly, because there was so much we wanted to change, but both cars were fully functioning, so when the proposals went to the Board, it really was no contest, and we got the green light to build the car we wanted to build. It was a great moment for me!”
Rydholm spent the next three years, including holidays, weekends and even a New Year’s Day testing and fettling the car. There was more than a ton of springs alone, moved around the various testing centres in UK, Spain, Germany and Northern Sweden as well as Arizona for hot weather testing, and containers of tyres from four different manufacturers in five different sizes and several patterns to test in all conditions just to get things right.
“I could not do half a job,” enthused Rydholm, “there would have been no point. We had five pre-production units and I don’t know how many kilometres we did in them. Tyres are so important – they contribute about 40% to the overall dynamics package – and we had to get each model of the car, no matter what specification and what country it was destined for, to perform to the same standards we set on our wish list.”
At one point, says Rydholm, he was away from home for 25 weeks and had to email pictures of himself to remind his children what he looked like!
There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm in the Volvo camp, not only from Rydholm but from everyone else who attended the launch. From the interior designer down to the vehicle ops guys, you could almost feel the pride they have in the new car.
Rydholm again: “You have to believe in what you do – this is a passion, not a job. I’ve worked with other manufacturers in the past where individual tasks were compartmentalised – here at Volvo, every one of us genuinely feels part of a team with a common goal. The job satisfaction is immense – especially now, when we see all our work being scrutinised, and getting such positive feedback.”
Rydholm is a bit of a petrolhead too, and when he gets the chance, campaigns his own rally car in Sweden. He started with an old Volvo 240 and won the one-make championship, took 1st place in the 2010 championships in a Golf and now runs a Mitsubishi Evo 10. “I love rallying of course, but what I actually enjoy most is the testing we do – I give it ten out of ten. The office work is important too, but it doesn’t get a ten on my scale!”
So how good is the new Volvo? I’ll be writing up the actual road test I did in a couple of days, but for the moment, let’s just say this: it’s the first new car I have driven in the last five years that I think would make a worthy replacement for my trusty Honda Jazz. Regulars here will know exactly what I mean!