ROCKLEIGH, NJ – Preparing for an October launch of the all-new entry-level C30 3-door hatchback, Volvo Cars of North America LLC begins shipping demonstration models to its 357 U.S. dealers.

This will enable the Swedish auto maker’s dealerships in the U.S. to begin accepting orders for deliveries scheduled to begin Oct. 1, the official on-sale date.

The ’07 C30 has been available in Canada and Europe since early this year. More than 28,000 units were sold in Europe through July 31. Volvo begins sales in the U.S. with two versions of the ’08 model.

Art Battaglia, product manager for the C30, forecasts the average transaction price for Version 1.0 will be about $25,000. Version 2.0 will average $27,000-$28,000, he says.

Some 3,000 C30s will be sold this year, Battaglia says, with 8,000 deliveries expected in 2008.

The C30s are built at Volvo’s Ghent, Belgium, plant, which also assembles the S40/V50. The facility will produce a total 65,000 C30s annually, and

Battaglia says it could supply up to 10,000 C30s for the U.S. to meet demand.

During the C30 sales launch, Volvo is planning for a mix of 60% Version 2.0 models. “This will eventually drop back to about 25%,” Battaglia says. A 5-cyl. mill powers both versions, generating 227 hp and 236 lb.-ft. ( 320 Nm) of torque.

The C30 is a front-wheel-drive car that will come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission produced by Volvo, although the auto maker purchases some components from suppliers. A 5-speed automatic transmission sourced from Aisin Warner Ltd. is optional.

If Volvo decides to increase the C30’s horsepower (there are no current plans to do so), Battaglia suggests all-wheel drive will become necessary to mitigate torque steer. “It would not be a lot of trouble for us to do that,” he says.

Battaglia forecasts 15%-20% of Version 1.0 customers and 25%-30% of Version 2.0 buyers will opt for a manual transmission. The price of the automatic gearbox is $1,250.

Only 7% of C30s will be sold to current Volvo owners, he predicts. The closest competitors are the Mini and Golf GTI. The 3-door Audi A3, which is not sold here, also could be in the consideration set for C30 customers, he says.

Additionally, Battaglia expects the BMW 1-Series to be a C30 competitor when it goes on sale in the U.S.

Volvo predicts up to 67% conquest sales, with about 3% from current Mini owners. Other trade-ins will come from Volkswagen Rabbit and Honda Civic owners. About 23% of C30 customers will be first-time car buyers, Battaglia says.

Custom ordering offers buyers up to 5 million possible combinations of the C30. A $300 custom-build fee offers a choice of 17 colors, compared with five for non-custom cars, and interior designs.

“If you added everything, you could go over $40,000 for Version 2.0,” Battaglia says. But Volvo does not plan to push such wretched excess. It’s there, however, for customers who want all the bells and whistles.

Volvo’s marketing research indicates only 50% of C30 buyers will order leather interiors and sunroofs vs. 85%-90% on more expensive models.

Battaglia suggests the custom-build fee is financially sound for customers desiring at least four or five options. There are some options, such as the $700 bi-xenon headlights and the $2,120 navigation system for Version 1.0 that dealers can’t install.

The navigation system is a regular option on Version 2.0 and can be ordered without the $300 customizing charge. The $450 keyless drive is another option that dealers can’t install.

In marketing studies Volvo has conducted with potential C30 customers, about 50% said they were willing to wait up to six weeks for delivery of custom-ordered vehicles.

U.S. orders can be changed up to one week before Ghent is scheduled to start building a customer’s car. It takes three days for the plant to produce a finished vehicle.

Battaglia estimates it will take up to six weeks or more for custom-built C30s to reach East Coast customers and weeks longer for those on the West Coast.

The U.S. C30 has 40% commonality of parts with the S40/V50. European versions have about 60% parts commonality due to engine options. The only exterior components shared are the side-view mirrors, door handles and hood.

The smallest Volvo is big on safety, as you might expect. It even features a pedestrian-safety system that meets European Union regulations, although it’s not yet required in the U.S.

Indeed, the C30 evolved from Volvo’s Safety Concept Car that debuted in 2000. Because the auto maker got a positive response at auto shows where it was displayed, the Volvo strategy board approved a production version in 2002. The design freeze came in 2003. Simon Lamarre, in Volvo’s Gothenburg, Sweden, studio was the chief exterior designer.

The C30 has an extra-stiff chassis, while the front and rear structures have typical Volvo energy-absorbing features to maximize crash protection for driver and passengers.

“We strive to build the safest cars in their class,” says Ingrid Skogsmo, Volvo’s director of safety, who notes engineers used four different grades of steel in the front structure to maximize energy absorption. These include three grades of high-strength steel.

Additionally, the C30 has the latest generation of Volvo’s side-impact protection system. An extra half-inch of width in the C30 (compared with the S40) helps increase the side-protection capabilities.

The doors have cross-members made of ultra-high-strength steel and high-strength steel that also mitigate side-impact forces. Volvo engineers used different steel grades in the B-pillar to reduce impact forces.