LAS VEGAS – Volvo Car Corp. says it is reaping benefits from parent Ford Motor Co.’s Global Product Development System.

GPDS, which was outlined by Ford’s former product-creation chief Phil Martens in August 2005, is designed to leverage the auto maker’s worldwide resources to bring more vehicles to market quicker and close the competitive gap with pace-setting Japanese auto makers.

One area where Volvo has benefited from GPDS is improving the driving characteristics of its vehicles, says Anders Robertson, Volvo Cars of North America LLC product manager. In the past, he says, Volvos were comfortable vehicles but lacked in road-handling abilities.

Lessons learned from Ford and partner Mazda Motor Corp. can be found in the Volvo S40, V50 and the all-new ’07 Volvo S80 sedan, Robertson says.

“When you look at the first projects we worked on with Ford (and Mazda), which were the S40 and V50, I think most people would consider those cars to be very interesting and fun to drive.

“And I think we’re taking that another step with the S80,” he says. “The old S80 was a nice car; it was very comfortable. But then again maybe it was not the most inspiring to drive. But this car really is, and I think that’s where we gained some of the benefits of being a part of Ford.”

Knowledge sharing is a key element of GPDS. Another is sharing vehicle components and platforms, which helps shave as much as 60% off the development costs of some vehicles, Ford says.

By sharing components and best practices, Volvo has more time and resources to devote to strengthening its “DNA,” Robertson says.

“We can share in some of the technology and components that aren’t so critical for the DNA of each brand, and then we can devote more resources to everything that’s unique,” he says, adding that components not critical to the brand include batteries and wiring.

Ford is not the only auto maker beginning to take advantage of global resources to reduce costs. Toyota Motor Corp. has been operating that way for years with great success, and Ford’s U.S. Big Three rivals are moving rapidly in the same direction.

To remain competitive, Volvo increasingly will take advantage of the resources available through Ford and its subsidiaries, Robertson says, which mostly likely will result in more Volvo models than ever before.

“There’s model proliferation today,” he says. “There’s so many different models available, segments are bursting out and crossing over. And to be able to do that, you have to (reduce) the base costs of the development systems.

“By sharing some of the base costs with other brands, it allows us to branch over to other segments,” he adds. “It’s a win-win for the companies and for the customers. There will be more product and better product, with hopefully higher quality as well.”

bpope@wardsauto.com