In recent years Sweden’s car makers have staked out an uneasy position above the mainstream brands but below the premium European marques. With profits elusive, both were recently sold by their American owners. And both are about to introduce new sedans that they badly need to sell well. How does the pricing of the new 2011 Volvo S60 and 2010 Saab 9-5 compare? Has either been priced aggressively to pump up sales?
I’ve come across remarks that the Saab is considerably more expensive than the Volvo. And it is, especially before adjusting for its roughty $4,250 in additional standard content (based on TrueDelta.com’s car price comparison tool). The Volvo starts at $38,500, the Saab at $48,390. In both cases only the top trim level will be available initially, with others to follow.
But this isn’t a valid comparison. They’re both sedans powered through all four wheels by 300-horsepower turbocharged sixes, but the 9-5 is much larger than the S60, with 15 inches more overall length (197 vs. 182) and over five inches more rear legroom (38.8 vs. 33.5). The Volvo S60 really competes with the Saab 9-3, while the Saab 9-5 really competes with the Volvo S80. So each requires a comparison with its own peer group.
For the enlarged Saab 9-5, this means other midsize luxury sedans. After similarly loading up both cars (the default comparison at TrueDelta.com), the 2011 BMW 535i was about $15,000 more than the new 9-5. Even after adjusting for remaining feature differences the BMW is about $13,900 more, a sizable premium but one that history has proven many people will pay. The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic is not quite as pricey, about $10,200 more before feature adjustments, and about $8,000 afterwards. The 2010 Audi A6 3.0T is closer still, about $5,300 more than the Saab before feature adjustments, and about $5,700 more afterwards.
Moving beyond the pricey Germans, the redesigned 2011 Infiniti M37x lists for virtually the same as the Saab before adjusting for remaining feature differences, but is about $3,000 more afterwards. A Lexus GS 350 AWD? About $1,800 less than the Saab, but also a little more compact. And the 2010 Volvo S80 T6, which has failed to meet sales expectations? It’s about $600 more before feature adjustments and about $900 more afterwards. Close, but it offers considerably less rear legroom, and needs to be closer to the Saab in size. From these comparisons, Saab appears to have priced the new 9-5 about even with the Volvo (which few buyers pay remotely close to sticker for) and not far from the Infiniti and Lexus. If the car sells, it won’t be based on an aggressive pricing strategy.
The new Volvo S60 goes up against the 3-Series and the other aspirants to the BMW’s crown. It replaces a model that has been on life support in the U.S. for the past three model years. Here as well the BMW costs quite a bit more. Specifically, a similarly loaded up 2011 335i xDrive lists for about $7,200 more. With the 2010 Audi S4 the difference is even larger, about $10,000. But then Volvo hasn’t blessed the new car with its late, lamented R moniker. The closest American competitor, the Cadillac CTS 3.6 AWD, is about $4,000 more than the Volvo after a series of price increases over the past few years.
On the other hand, a 2010 Infiniti 2010 G37x lists for about $4,900 less before feature adjustments, and still about $2,900 less afterwards. (The Japanese offer no other 300+ horsepower AWD sedans in this lower-midsize entry lux class.) Saab deprived the 9-3 of its V6 for 2010. Going back to the 2009, the 9-3 Aero was about $2,500 more expensive than the new S60—but massive $6,500+ rebates were required to get them off dealer lots. And what about the Volkswagen CC, which shares a coupe-like roofline with the new S60? In VR6 form it’s within $1,000 of the Volvo. The Volvo’s interior should be considerably nicer than the VW’s, and in general it should have a more premium look and feel. But is this a sign that the Volvo is aggressively priced, or that the VW is overpriced? More likely the latter.
So, with the new cars both Saab and Volvo appear to have maintained their pricing position from the past decade or so. They’re much less expensive than comparable German cars, but are at best even with and are often more expensive than Japanese competitors. This pricing strategy hasn’t helped them sell many cars in the U.S. in recent memory. So, unless the new cars are highly desirable to car buyers—they’ve really got to be outstanding in some highly relevant way—they’re not likely to sell much better than the cars they replace.
Of the two, the Volvo has the better shot, even a much better shot. Its brand is stronger, with a clearer identity and broader awareness and consideration. Its company’s future is (relatively) more secure. The new sedan’s more dramatically styled. And it’s simply easier to sell a $40,000 car than a $50,000 car.
But even $40,000 is a stretch for these brands. Neither should count on selling many new S60s or 9-5s with the top trim level, and each needs to introduce lesser trims before the public fixates on the introductory pricing—if it hasn’t already.
To run your own price comparisons: Car price comparisons