The Volvo Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) Platform

Volvo 40.1 concept on the CMA Platform
Volvo Concept 40.1 profile

Our goal here at MVS is to provide you with as much information as possible about the mechanical underpinnings of the Volvos you drive. Everything from how to fix that sticky thermostat to what kind of reliability you can expect from that shiny new XC90. And, there are few things more relevant to the repairs and maintenance of a vehicle than what platform it was built on.

Why develop a new platform?

When an automaker releases a new model, it’s almost never designed completely from scratch or as a one-off. The time and cost of developing a modern vehicle (and the manufacturing facilities to build it) is astronomical. So, in order to produce new models in a reasonable time and at a cost consumers can afford, car makers like Volvo design platforms that can then be tweaked and skinned to create the new models that are released every couple of years.

This is probably obvious to you in cases where the models in question are very similar. For instance, the Lincoln Town Car and Ford Crown Victoria were both built on Ford’s Panther Platform. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, as both models are front-engine, rear wheel drive, body-on-frame, full-size sedans. But, as design and manufacturing technology advance, the flexibility of modern automotive platforms is allowing carmakers to build diverse model lineups that don’t have the obvious similarities of the Town Car and Crown Vic.

Comparison of the SPA and CMA Platforms
T5 Twin Engine on CMA and T8 Twin Engine AWD on SPA

Volvo has been proving this over the past couple of years with the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. That platform has already been used to great effect on the XC90S90V90 and V90 Cross Country, and on the upcoming XC60. However, as flexible as the SPA platform is, it does have limitations. Namely, it can only be scaled down so far, with the various Volvo 60-series models being as small as the SPA platform can go.

Where the Volvo CMA Platform Fits In

That’s where Volvo’s new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) Platform comes in. It’s designed to accommodate smaller models planned for Volvo’s lineup. At the moment, the S60 is the smallest Volvo car available in North America. But in other markets, particularly in Europe, smaller vehicles are much more popular. The Volvo V40, for example, is available in the UK and has been built on the aging Global C (Ford C1) platform since 2012.

The new Volvo CMA Platform
CMA with 4-cylinder powertrain – 3/4 view

That platform has been in use for well over a decade, and now Volvo is looking to modernize their compact models with the new CMA Platform. The CMA Platform is essentially a shrunken-down version of the SPA Platform, with shared design language, engineering concepts, safety standards, powertrains, and tech. Everything from the engine to the infotainment system will likely be shared between SPA and CMA models.

Speaking of CMA models, reports that we should be seeing a new vehicle built on the platform this year. Volvo has been tight-lipped when it comes to details, but all of the best guesses right now are that the first CMA model will be the new XC40. That should be followed soon by a new V40 and V40 Cross Country. Even better, it looks promising that we’ll be getting some of these models here in North America.

Engineering a Generation of New Models

But, how is Volvo accomplishing this feat of engineering? It’s one thing to slap different bodies on the frame of the Panther Platform, but these are modern unibody vehicles we’re talking about. They need to be light (no body-on-frame here), safe (integrated crumple zones are a necessity), and offer a variety of powertrains (including hybrid options). For an added challenge, Volvo needs the CMA Platform to do all of this in the form of sedans, wagons, and CUVs of various shapes and sizes.

The video above does an excellent job of illustrating the engineering behind the CMA Platform. There are key areas (particularly around the engine) that are fixed, but most of the rest of the design can expand and contract, and just generally be molded, to fit the needs of the individual model. This gives designers the flexibility to sculpt concepts with fewer of the traditional limitations that used to constrain them.

The CMA Platform will also share many of the parts and systems used on the SPA Platform. There’s no need for engineers to reinvent the wheel here, as assemblies and electronics can be reused across Volvo’s lineup. Integrating complex safety systems like crash avoidance, for example, isn’t a trivial task. It requires the use of multiple sensors and sophisticated computer algorithms. But, the same systems that are already in use in SPA models like the S90 can be used here too.

What This Means for the Consumer

The bottom line here is that the CMA Platform is a good thing for you, the consumer. In the long run, it reduces the costs of the Volvo cars you buy, allows for faster development of new models, and ensures that those new models are built on proven technology. That new S40 might not look much like last year’s XC40, but they both take advantage of the same shared safety, performance, and technology engineering.

We can’t say yet how successful the CMA Platform will be, or even exactly what models will be built on it. But, if it’s anything like the SPA Platform (and it appears to be), then it should be great for both Volvo and consumers. We’re looking forward to seeing this new CMA models, and will keep you updated as details become available.