SAN FRANCISCO – Volvo Car Corp. is looking for its new XC60 cross/utility vehicle to make a splash in an increasingly crowded segment when it hits dealerships in March.

Slotted below the fullsize 7-seat XC90 CUV, Volvo says the 5-passenger XC60 is aimed at “pre-family” and “early family buyers,” although executives admit they hope the vehicle appeals to those with an active urban lifestyle, rather than specific-age groups.

Dubbed the “safest Volvo ever,” the XC60 is chocked full of the Swedish auto maker’s signature safety technology, such as its Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and Side Impact Protection System (SIPS).

Nearly all Volvo’s safety technologies are referred to by similar acronyms, a marketing strategy that has the potential to confuse customers.

To avoid this, the auto maker is using a number of media channels to describe the smorgasbord of safety systems, says John Maloney, vice president-marketing and product planning for Volvo Cars of North America.

“(More complicated things), you generally leave to the Web or magazines, where you have a longer forum to describe what it is,” he tells Ward’s during a XC60 preview here.

But Volvo’s newest safety system, called City Safety, doesn’t have a fancy acronym and is fairly easy to describe and demonstrate to consumers, he says.

The auto maker introduced City Safety when it unveiled the XC60 at last year’s Geneva auto show, just before the CUV hit dealerships in Europe. The March arrival of the XC60 in the U.S. marks the first time the system will be offered in a North American production car.

Designed to prevent or mitigate low-speed collisions in traffic, City Safety utilizes a laser sensor embedded in the top of the windshield to detect vehicles up to 18 ft. (5 m) in front of the bumper. The system, which only is active at speeds up to 19 mph (31 km/h), determines if a collision is likely and pre-charges the brakes.

If the speed difference between the two vehicles is less than 9 mph (15 km/h) and no action is taken by the driver, City Safety activates the brakes automatically, stopping the vehicle mere inches before a collision.

Although the XC60 still is a couple of months from its on-sale date, Volvo has been crisscrossing the country showing the new CUV to its top 140 dealers. City Safety has been well received, Maloney says, noting dealers like the fact they can demonstrate the system to consumers in the dealership parking lot.

Volvo is hoping insurance companies embrace city safety as whole-heartedly as have dealers. “We’re talking to insurance companies about offering discounts for (vehicles equipped with) City Safety,” Maloney says, noting the system will be included as standard equipment on the XC60.

With two new players – the Mercedes-Benz GLK and the Audi Q5 – entering the small premium CUV segment at the same time as the XC60, a flawless launch is a must, he says. “We will launch it well. We don’t take our competitors lightly; they’re going to launch well, too.”

As part of the XC60 marketing campaign, Volvo will roll out four television spots concentrating on the CUV’s key attributes. The first will provide consumers an overview of the vehicle, while the second focuses on the car’s driving dynamics, and the third touts City Safety.

A fourth spot, added late in the marketing campaign, shows historical crash tests conducted by Volvo and how its new safety technologies can prevent accidents.

Volvo has set the XC60’s sales goal at 50,000 units per year, with 30% of the total volume allocated to the U.S. market; 30% to Europe; and 40% to global markets, specifically Russia and China, where Volvo sales have been on the rise.

Volvo’s ultimate goal with the new XC60 is to attract new buyers to the brand, while also retaining current customers, says Mike Cottone, XC60 launch manager.

“We want to use this as a conquest vehicle,” he says. “There are other (CUVs) on the market today, but we feel the XC60 will top them.”

Pricing for the XC60 is expected to be announced closer to the vehicle’s on-sale date in March, but Volvo says it will sticker below $40,000.

The XC60 is being manufactured at Volvo’s Ghent, Belgium, plant.

bpope@wardsauto.com