By on April 11, 2007

2006-stccestate.jpgTime and time again, automakers flush with cash decide to grow their business by expanding their model lineup. Which is a bit like trying to improve a gourmet meal by adding more menu choices. That’s not to say brand extensions can’t be done, and done well. Volvo’s XC SUV’s were a logical and successful addition to the company’s safety-themed vehicles. But a performance tuned Volvo station wagon or sedan? Uh, no. At long last, the company has reached the same conclusion— for all the wrong reasons.

Automotive News (AN) confirms that the 2007 R-Series Volvos will be the last of the breed; Volvo’s dropping performance variants from its roster. According to Volvo NA’s executive vice president of sales and retail ops, continuing to spend money on R model development, marketing and sales doesn’t make financial sense. “For the return we get,” Doug Speck told AN, “It just wasn't good enough."

Ya think? When Volvo launched the “R” sub-brand, the company estimated that 2500 examples would find buyers in the North American market on a yearly basis, helping to deliver 7k sales worldwide. Scanning AN's account of the R sub-brand's cancellation, it's clear Volvo’s been busy re-writing history downsizing their R-badged expectations. Volvo claimed it built the business case for the barking mad R-Series based on total annual sales of 3800 units. In any case, the automaker fell well short of the marque.

Last year, Ford’s Swedish subsidiary shifted just 1098 S60Rs and 538 V70Rs. As today’s V70R review indicates, there isn’t much wrong with the product itself. The problem is that “performance” and “Volvo” go together like “Porsche” and “towing capacity.” Oh wait, the Cayenne. Yes, well, the point remains the same: even great products can’t surmount a brand’s inherent limitations. At least not for long.

As Al Reis and Jack Trout wrote in their classic marketing tome “Positioning,” “the mind rejects new information that doesn’t ‘compute.’ It accepts only that new information which matches its current state of mind. It filters out everything else.” For a brand positioned in the consumer’s mind as “the ultimate driving machine,” an M-tuned 3-Series makes perfect sense. For a brand best known for protecting your family from death, a V70R is an anomaly, a cynical and forgettable joke.

While I’m delighted that there were 1098 perverted pistonheads who “got it,” it’s deeply worrying that it took Volvo’s marketing mavens 12 years– from the launch of the bright yellow T-5R wagon in 1995 to this week– to understand that building a high performance Volvo (not to mention racing it) was the branding equivalent of wearing a speedo to a PTA meeting.

Equally worrying: Ford’s hard-nosed beancounters– rather than Volvo’s executive stewards– killed the R division. In fact, Volvo CEO Redrik Arptold told AN that his employer isn’t abandoning the afterburner-oriented enthusiast market. They’re simply “deleting the moniker.” For evidence that Volvo is still interested in “fun-to-drive cars,” Arptold misdirected the reporter’s attention to the forthcoming C30 hatchback and S80 V8. "We are working on the next phase,” Arptold said, “but it will not be immediate."

Fans of the Volvo’s corporate mothership can only hope. Although Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom campaign and “fun-to-drive” products are successfully transforming the Japanese automaker’s economy car image, Volvo and Land Rover are Ford’s only truly coherent car brands. Ford is everything and nothing, Lincoln is everything and nothing with extra chrome, Mercury is nothing and Jaguar was something (and now isn’t). With environmental consciousness hemming in Land Rover, Volvo is the company’s best hope.  

While there will always be pistonheads up for accelerative and handling hotness, no one wants to die. Truth to tell, the only vehicle category that doesn’t jibe with Volvo’s built-in brand promise to preserve your genetics is… sports cars. Which means Volvo’s growth potential is virtually unlimited– provided they put this R business behind them and keep their eye on the Nerf ball. If Volvo continues to devote every possible resource, every last krona, to maintaining the company’s lead in passenger car safety, they will thrive.

So Redrik, where’s the Volvo minivan? When Ford ditched their Freestar (Windstar? Deathstar?), I felt sure they were clearing they way for a Volvo minivan, a machine that would easily conquer all before it. I mean, what Mom wouldn’t buy a Volvo minivan? Ford Flex? Yeah right. And yet Volvo’s boss is pleading with the world not to slip back into the “old” idea of boring Volvos. Because? Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

If Volvo plays its cards right, it could replace Ford. Seriously. When Ford and its amorphous product line goes belly-up, the conglomerate is free to sell– or not sell– anything they like. Which brand has more oomph in Ford’s portfolio (if not at the driven wheels) than Volvo? None.

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70 Comments on “Memo to Volvo: Who R You?...”


  • avatar
    Ken Strumpf

    I’m giving my four year old XC90 to my son who is about to get his driver’s license. He likes big vehicles and I want him wrapped in as much steel and as many airbags as possible. As you say, Volvo needs to play to it’s strengths.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I’m willing to take Volvo’s word for it that they’re not giving up on performance and fun… just the overt branding of same. I just hope they keep their word.

    Nonetheless, I can completely understand Volvo’s move from a marketing standpoint. In the current stratified world of automobiles (and most other consumer products), one must paint with broad strokes and continue to hammer at one main concept or image at a time. Any automaker interested in producing niche products must have a very healthy bottom line to support them.

    But, as has been mentioned on these boards before, other brands are catching up in the safety race – by government fiat, mostly – so Volvo will need more than just the self-preservation instinct to thrive.

    So we come back to Volvo’s promise not to abandon fun. If they make ALL Volvo’s fun to drive they can have it both ways. The mainstream public will continue to be drawn to the brand for its traditional safety appeal. And the word about the great driving dynamics will get out to enthusiasts quickly enough. Without everyone else even being aware of it. Long live Q-ships!

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    If Ford had the spare cash to let Volvo play around with the R models, then I’d say go for it. However, today the name of the game is survival for Ford. Since Volvo is about the only thing helping keep the mothership afloat they need to stick to their core mission: safety. Volvo should be spending their money making sure that their products have more airbags than a mother-in-law convention. VW and Audi beat them to the rear thorax airbag party and advertise their safety more freely than the king of protection. Volvo needs to catch up and then effectively advertise, the good news is the average S40 buyer is now 10 years younger than the old model which means that at least Volvo is not aging like Lincoln. I’m not sure that there is room for a Swedish premium minivan in the market, and I’d hate to see the brand twisted in that way, but if it makes money then perhaps it’s time to make a mommymobile with those sexy Volvo hips.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I have a hard time with Volvo’s “safety” image. I don’t see how you can continue to stay ahead with that. Lots of cars have 5 star ratings, the full complement of air bags, etc. OK, it’s the “image”, and Volvo has cultivated it well. But does it have durable legs?

    Subarus consistently score very high in safety tests/ratings, and it has become part of their image. And yet they also successfully have cultivated their sporty appeal.

    I think Subaru has taken a big chunk out of the old Volvo image: well built, safe and sporty.

    Here in liberal Eugene, you can just see the perpetual replacement of old Volvos with new Subarus.

    I think Vovlvo neeeds another leg to stand on. If it’s not going to be sporty cars, then they better cultivate a more environmental friendly image.

  • avatar
    johnnycam

    Okay Robert – you have almost convinced me – Volvo must focus on its key brand identity. And that is safety. They have lost their lead in this respect and they need to regain it. They can “own” safety because of their legacy, but they cannot dawdle. Time is not on their side.

    But I do think that Volvo can broaden the brand with a properly marketed R performance line. This is of course self-serving on my part because no other vehicle fits my needs better than my V70R. Fun, performance, practical, and I feel pampered in the cabin – more than a Subaru, but less than a Lexus.

    You would argue against BMW making a larger M wagon because that does not fit their brand. Help me out here – someone has to make a car like the V70R!

    Brand extension is tricky and rarely successful. Miss Vickie’s potato chips comes out with Miss Vickie’s chocolate chip cookies – doomed from the start. It can work though if done properly and logically. Think Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios.

    I can wait – I have my 007 V70R. Thanks for giving this car and the Volvo R line the attention it deserves.

  • avatar
    Acd

    The terms Volvo and fun to drive are not mutually exclusive. In fact Volvo has a history of building interesting higher performance versions of its regular stodgy sedans and wagon going back to the late 1970’s–remember the Volvo 242 GT Coupe with its turbocharged four cylinder engine that eventually found its way into the four doors and wagons. In the early eighties Volvo’s GLT series of sedans and wagons helped Volvo establish themselves as a premium make and not just the maker of boring cars that you’d want to be driving in case of an accident. Even if the R series doesn’t sell in large quantities they help establish a reputation as a driver’s car and pull in buyers who might otherwise buy a BMW or Audi.

    If you look back at the history of premium/luxury cars one adage hold true: you can sell an old man a young man’s car but you can’t sell a young man an old man’s car. For examples of this in action refer to Cadillac in the 80’s & 90’s, Buick & Lincoln(anytime in the last twenty years, Mercedes Benz in the early 90’s, Packard in the 50’s just to name a few. If the R series doesn’t do anything else it helps establish a level of performance that prevents them from being labeled an old man’s car which makes them worth keeping around.

  • avatar
    Drew

    I think Vovlvo neeeds another leg to stand on. If it’s not going to be sporty cars, then they better cultivate a more environmental friendly image.

    I think that the environmental angle could work well for Volvo, especially if it was marketed in conjunction with the safety angle. Something like “Safe for your family, safe for the earth”. It just works with good old Swedish practicality and stewardship as well.

    It would also give Ford a toehold in the Prius market and some experience in building the environmentally friendly cars that they will eventually have to build anyway.

    Since Volvo is a premium brand, they could charge a bit more for such cars and hopefully pay for the development without needing much cash from Ford.

    I think that it could work really well.

    Finally, a question: what would a Volvo minivan bring to the table that the wagons don’t already? I mean, a minivan is just a tall wagon, right. Maybe a third row of seats?

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Volvo has a very environmentally friendly image in Europe. The PremAir radiators, attention to interior emissions, IQAS systems, recyclable content, and their production facilities are all made with this in mind. It seems they have a failure to market this in the USA.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Volvo has always cultivated its safety image. That’s the reason my parents bought a used 740 wagon (great car, by the way). However, they placed less emphasis on it lately, in their quest to attract the young urban up-and-coming (like every other brand these times). Should they go back to it? Absolutely! Should they concentrate on safety only? Probably not.
    The C30 may be significant in that regard, as it’s stylish, small,…different.
    Being swedish, Volvo should probably put more emphasis on bad weather drivability. Not only does it relate well with safety, but it also opens the door to performance (think Audi and Subaru).
    Not only that, but it would be the perfect brand for the Ford group to develop environmentally friendly powertrains for, playing again on its scandinavian image. Done well (like honda), it can also lead the way to some good performance.

    Any or all of those ideas could extend the brand considerably, while retaining its core values, and without challenging BMW in a fight Volvo can’t win.

  • avatar
    johnnycam

    Everybody and his dog is going to go after environmentally friendly – I believe that it is a dead-end to build your brand around. Nothing wrong with it as a side goal, but people look out for number 1 as they should. What does this car do for me?

    Safety is also a common goal for many car companies, but Volvo has a legacy here on which it can build. Paul is absolutely right about Subaru – they have definitely moved into Volvo’s turf. Volvo has to regain its hold on safety with an upmarket image – Volvo’s are more refined than Subarus – it can marginalize Subaru somewhat from an upmarket position. Both companies can prosper.

  • avatar
    Drew

    Speaking of environmental issues:

    1. Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate carbon dioxide or provide a sound scientific reason not to do so.

    2. Today, oil company ConocoPhilips announced that it favors a “mandatory national framework” to reduce greenhouse emissions. See this link
    The day is coming, and probably relatively soon, that environmental/global warming issues will be very important, at least from a marketing angle, if not a regulatory one.

  • avatar
    ronin

    Re Subaru: Subaru rebuilt its brand image completely from safe/dowdy/granola to performance-oriented (AND safe/dowdy/granola).

    Audi transformed itself from a sort of upscale VW to its own safety and performance oriented offerings.

    Volvo failing to make the leap toward performance orientation is I think more a failure of nerve and follow-through. Not to mention as hot as their R products were, they were not all THAT hot, and still cost a lot.

  • avatar

    I suppose I agree with you, but having seen the C30 I can’t help craving a hopped-up RS3-like version. it’s a sweet little thing and deserves to have a seat at the hoon table.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Granted, Volvo’s core value is safety, but in the near-luxury market, performance sells. The problem is that Volvo’s R series was marketed as a sub-brand along the lines of BMW’s M series. By pitting these cars against the M3, Volvo sealed their fate. It didn’t take long for automotive journalists to call Volvo’s faux-pas.

    Market them as Volvo’s uber-option package, then they make sense: top of the line engine, trick suspension, AWD, all-leather interior and some exterior styling cues. Once you’ve tallied it up, why not give it a badge to differentiate it from the regular lineup?

    My advice to Volvo? Wait a year, start with the C30R, then bring the Rs back across the board.

  • avatar
    zoomzit

    I agree with Optic. I understand that the V70 didn’t make a whole lot of sense as an “R” badge. But I do think they are dropping the R badge at exactly the wrong time.

    The S40, V50 and C30 are all aimed at younger families/couples who still have some hoon in them. If they really want these cars to compete, they have to sell more than safety and go head to head with the performance aspects of the GTI’s, Cooper S’s and TT’s of the world.

    If the C30 doesn’t have a sport version, it won’t have a whole lot except a pretty face. It could sell so much more if it at least has sporty intentions.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Volvo also offers something “different”; much in the way of Saab, except it doesn’t have the dark cloud hanging over it that it’s really a GM-Made product. Sure it’s owned by Ford, but that hasn’t truely negatively affected it yet.

    I think Volvo should focus on it’s strengths first:

    1. Something different
    2. Safety
    Distant third – Fun to drive

    Keep it unique and put it ahead in safety. The problem with Volvo is that, in today’s day, why would I think it truely any safer than an Acura, Infiniti, Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes?

    I think Volvo needs to “show” it’s customers how safe their cars are. How solidly they are built. And how that affects over areas of build quality.

    For instance, the S40 is built so that the front end can take a significant impact while not hitting the engine (and therefore pushing the engine towards the occupants). Great. Show me a video clip of two cars hitting something each other at 40mph (like, say, an Acura TSX front ending a Volvo S40) and then show the aftermath of the front ends and occupants. Why is Volvo better? If they can’t make their customers see it, then they shouldn’t market it.

    Second, be different. They have a few things going for them. They use the world’s toughest inline five cylinder engines, and they can turbocharge the crap out of them. Do you realize that the R engine puts out the same output as an STI but the torque comes on much, much earlier?

    Offer those swedish orthopedic seats. Offer unique, classy, different dash designs. Offer so much practicality that after a customer experiences Volvo’s cubbies, cupholders, and ease of use that it makes them scoff at other cars.

    I think they need to stop chasing their competition, and move in different directions.

    Joe

  • avatar
    jaje

    This is Volvo’s bread and butter but they’ve fallen way behind the times. In fact it seems Honda has scooped up the lead. After looking over some facts Honda has been on a roll since 2000:

    2000 Odyssey was first vehicle ever to earn both 5 star side and front crash ratings

    2003 Civic was first small car to ever receive 5 star side and front crash ratings (only other car that year granted the same rating was the Volvo S80)

    2006 Ridgeline was first pickup to ever receive 5 star side and front crash ratings

    2005 Honda was the 1st company to voluntarly include crash ratings on window stickers all 2006 models have this now (long before they were mandatory)

    Honda has pedestrian safety equipment (such as break away washer nozzles and wipers, and hoods and windshields that more readily cave in to reduce injuries)

    I can’t find the link but I read that Honda has more 5 star crash rated cars than any other automaker (considering their fleet pales in comparison the # of models offered by Toyota, GM, Ford that is a major effort).

  • avatar
    NoneMoreBlack

    I see several comments here saying essentially “they failed to broaden their appeal and create a sporty image, but it’s possible to do so.” How? Obviously they spent 12 years and untold millions of development and marketing dollars, with the end result of 1000 happy R model owners and no sea change in the average buyer’s impressions of what a Volvo “is.” They tried, failed, and are moving on, which is the wisest course of action given the breadth of that attempt.

    The biggest weakness I see in RF’s argument is that it isn’t really much of an argument at all, as it comes only after Volvo themselves said the same thing and axed the project. A day late, but I see no basis to argue that it’s a dollar short.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Remember, he said they were dropping the moniker. If they start making the standard S60 and S80 get a hard-core turbocharged inline-5 with an adjustable suspension….

    Then you are going to see the whole brand start to shift towards performance. And we all know, in today’s car review world, if your offering doesn’t start like a bullet, stop in under 120 feet with steady pedal feel, and corner neutrally…well, then the rest of the car probably has something wrong with it too..

    But if you give a reviewer a car that can hoon, then the rest of the car isn’t THAT bad…

    Joe

  • avatar
    boredlawstudent

    Paul,

    I also have a hard time with Volvo’s safety image when their own car’s can’t achieve the highest standards. For example, why is it that an S60 can only manage to score an “adequate” IIHS side impact when the Honda Accord in the same weight class can score a “good?”

    So, BMW for sport, MB for luxury, Volvo for…?

  • avatar

    Broaden the brand’s appeal? Why? What’s not appealing about safety?

    The fact that other brands have moved into Volvo’s traditional brand territory (e.g. VW’s extremely effective U.S. TV ads) tells you the value of that mindspace.

    AND how important it is for Volvo to defend and reclaim it.

    Volvo should be AHEAD of government safety regulations. In many cases, they are. But the public doesn’t know it.

    Volvo should hammer on safety, and safety alone, forever. It’s enough. Anything else– performance, environmental friendliness, luxury– is a distraction.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    “zoomzit:
    April 11th, 2007 at 1:23 pm
    If the C30 doesn’t have a sport version, it won’t have a whole lot except a pretty face. It could sell so much more if it at least has sporty intentions.”

    I sat in the C30 at the New York auto show last weekend. I was pretty impresed with it. The car weighs just under 3000 pounds and features a turbo five with something like 227 hp. A sport suspension is available. While that’s not 300 hp, the car doesn’t weigh upwards of 4000 pounds, like Volvo’s largest sedans and wagons, either. That sounds pretty sporty to me. And, with a price tag in the 23-26K range, it sounds like something I might buy. Even without an R option.

    Also, re: Subaru. It appears this brand has been displacing both Volvo and Saab in certain circules for a few years now. I had a 2002 Impreza (non-turbo weagonette). It was a good car in terms of driving dynamics, all-weather ability and reliability. Fit and finish needed big help, however. Thin and scratch-prone paint, tinny-sounding door slams, the dreaded hard-plastic interior and more than a few squeaks and rattles. But the car had lots of merit nonetheless. When a rented a Legacy sedan a couple of years later, I noticed almost all of my concerns about the Impreza weren’t there. The Legacy was a great sedan. If the new-generation Imprezas are similar, then Subaru may have taken the next step.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    volvo is one more example of the wasted money ford spent on past profits when their cars sold well. Ford is clueless on jaguar and volvo but don’t believe me check out the sales lately. When you can’t sell your own underdesigned and poorly executed domestic stuff, how are you supposed to show the way to someone else? The smartest people in Europe were the ones who kept the truck division and gave ford the cars. Now there is a money maker huge in Europe and strong in the US, (volvo and mack brands). It just seems these old auto execs at the former big three bought was available because they had the money (like a kid in a candy store). Notice the truck brand for volvo is only heavy duty they don’t mix it up with toyota and other mass producers.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Volvo has always had a mad-Swedish-scientist streak in them. The Volvo 240 Turbo was lauded in its day — maybe not a track day superstar, but certainly capable of bringing sneaky turbo hoonage to those who were under familial mandate to buy a family car, and certainly successful in drawing a lot more enthusiast attention and press to the brand. The 740 and 760 Turbos kept the mantle going until the 850, by which time the turbo had become less of a novelty and more of a routine feature. The T-5R was vicious and nasty, and yet allowed Volvo to continue to service the loony enthusiasts who still had to keep up their respectable appearances to their wives. The R was diluted over the years until the 2004 S60R and V70R, where the car became a true performance machine, capable of all sorts of stoplight racing, e-brake turns, and other wanton fun. In short, the “crazy Uncle Sven” wing of the Volvo family has been around since 1982. You can’t simply brush it off as a 5 year anomaly — it goes all the way back to time when Volvo transformed itself from appealing to the tweedy professor and grown-up-hippie markets to appealing to soccer moms and dads everywhere.

    That the R has not sold well is not a huge shocker, which I know is your broader point. I’m not sure any R car has sold well, and I’m sure Volvo would not have ditched the 244/245 Turbos if they sold well. But as a halo platform, its a nice test bed for features that are now making their way to all Volvos — variable valve timing, the 4C chassis concept, etc — and it keeps the press interested.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Volvo’s key winning point is overall safety, Honda may have a good number of models with 5 star crash ratings, but if you look at their score card for rear impacts it read like a bag of frozen veggies: all Ps for Poor. Volvo’s all around excellent safety performance is a key selling point that should be marketed with the correct force. The rest of the mission is all secondary, yes make something a bit faster than Fiat Panda, yes make it look like an IKEA store on the inside, yes make the fit and finish rival Lexus, yes make it luxurious, but the key should be the car is SAFE and luxurious, not LUXURIOUS and safe. The emphasis needs to be on the core value.

    The question should not be was the Volvo acquisition good for Ford? Because the answer is unequivocally yes. Ford has made far more money off Volvo than they spent to buy the company. The Ford 500, Freestyle and Mercury Montego owe their good FWD handling to their Volvo underpinnings. The real question is: is Ford good for Volvo? The path is seemingly one directional: Volvo -> Ford, not that Ford has much to offer the Swedes apart from perhaps better bluetooth integration. Consider this conundrum: Merryl Lynch indicated that a sale of Volvo would command 8-8.5 billion dollars. If FoMoCo is worth 15.7 billion that means that Volvo is worth about half of Ford. Ford cannot live without Volvo at the moment, since 1999 Volvo has added between 800 million -1.2 billion in profits to the Ford kitty, only in 2006 did they loose a paltry 327 million.

  • avatar
    24hours

    I’ve owned the following Volvos:
    * 240 wagon (wife did too)
    * 850R wagon
    * 04 V70R
    * 05 V70R
    * 07 V70R

    The last one might be my last Volvo if there is no replacement down the road for the R wagon. That said, Volvo has never introduced an R into a new platform in under 2-yrs time, so perhaps I’ll be a buyer again. Volvo may say “nay” for now, but the US market demand for performance-oriented wagons is stronger now than ever. Just ask MB has the AMG wagons have done.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I’m not worried about the demise of the R line. After all, there’s always turbobricks.com.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Sure, safety’s got broad appeal…but over the past three decades, Volvo’s placed itself in the near-luxury market. Now that Kias are getting five-star safety ratings, Volvo’s gotta give people a reason to pay more for their products, or else. Where does it end? With the R series.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Robert, I think safety only is too narrow, and risks boxing Volvo into a corner. I don’t believe that Volvo’s are safer than a whole lot of other cars out there. I also think the curve on making cars safer is rapidly flattening out. It’s a technology that everyone has/will have, and I don’t see a lot of potential to keep ahead of the pack.

    Regarding my earlier statement about seeing a mogration from Volvos to Subarus. I’m also seeing a migration from Subaru to Prius. Subaru currently is not cutting it in the environmental bragging rights.

    If you believe, like I do, that a big chunk of Volvo’s well-educated target demographic is increasingly CO conscious, than Volvo has some serious catching up to do (as does Subaru).

    Subaru is hard at work on hybrids and batteries, so they’re clearly getting ready to hit that aspect before they lose the granola crowd.

    Where are Volvo’s hybrids? I suspect you’ll start hearing about them quite soon. Out with the R line, and in with the G (green) line.

  • avatar
    Cowbell

    I just want to throw this out there: I’m someone who reads many car amgazines, visits the car websites daily, looks forward to the autoshow for the 6 months before it arrives (I’m even going to to New York for one day this weekend from Washington just to go to the autoshow), is always trying to drive different cars, and had not heard of the R-series until Volvo announced they were cancelling it.

    I am by no mean a pistonhead, just someone who enjoys cars, but I am better informed than most people. It does not surprise me that these didn’t sell well. I’m guessing a lot of people didn’t know they existed.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I have to agree with RF on this safety is Volvo’s schtick. It’s what they are known for and it’s what they should target with all of their marketing (some recent commercials do tout their new accident avoidance and blind spot warnings). They should be ahead of any mandatory safety regulations. They should also have the best brakes and good handling.

    There is also no reason that you couldn’t offer a sport model on the C30 and S40 with AWD and upgraded engine, suspension and so forth. No reason you can’t be safe and fast just no need for it in a large sedan or wagon when so many other luxury marquees own that area already.

    As to a Volvo mini-van? Hell yes they should make one. In fact they should have made one 10 years ago. Who is safety and comfort more important to if not mothers? I know my wife would have looked at one had one been available. Other than the R-class which isn’t a true mini-van what upscale mini-van is there? The closest you have is a loaded Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey.

  • avatar
    boredlawstudent

    Steve_S:

    How is Volvo going to succeed in the minivan market based primarily on safety when Hyundai and Kia already make a minivan that gets IIHS’s highest marks and has ESC standard for under $30K?

    What Volvo needs to succeed:
    – boxy, tank-like design
    – bring back the RWD drivetrain
    – bring back the free maintenance program
    – keep prices competitive ($5-6K under comparable BMW/Audi models)

  • avatar

    boredlawstudent:

    You forgot one thing: it needs to be the world’s safest minivan, bar none.

  • avatar
    boredlawstudent

    Absolutely. Anything else and it will fail.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    RWD minivan? Talk about handicapping your product from a space/packaging standpoint, in a vehicle class defined exactly by that.

    BTW, Kia’s Entourage SWB variant lists for just $21k. Not a lot of room behind the non-folding third row, but it’s a lot of bang for the buck.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I do agree on Volvo having a mini-van. They came within a cat’s whisker of doing it over ten years ago, but went the SUV/CUV route instead with the XC90.

    The Ford Flex sits on the shared-with-Volvo platform. Wouldn’t take much to reverse/badge-engineer it into a Volvo. It’s certainly boxy enough.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Re RF:
    So Redrik, where’s the Volvo minivan? When Ford ditched their Freestar (Windstar? Deathstar?), I felt sure they were clearing they way for a Volvo minivan, a machine that would easily conquer all before it. I mean, what Mom wouldn’t buy a Volvo minivan?

    Writing like that is better than bad sex.

    Do Ford and GM have any minivan plans?!? I mean, here comes another summer of $3.00+ gas…

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    boredlawstudent:
    April 11th, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Steve_S:

    How is Volvo going to succeed in the minivan market based primarily on safety when Hyundai and Kia already make a minivan that gets IIHS’s highest marks and has ESC standard for under $30K?

    There’s a difference between crash tests and real-world safety. The previous gen Sedona was rated “acceptable” and scores dead last on the IIHS Injury, Collision, and Theft Losses table. The older Sienna and Odyssey models leave it in the dust.

    Second example: the last-gen Saab 9-3 scores a mix of “acceptable” and “good” ratings and is at the very top of its class in the ICT losses, while the better-crash-testing Volvo S60 scores in the middle of the same category.

    IIHS and NHTSA crash tests are a good start, but car makers can engineer good results there and fail to optimize safety elsewhere. Hitting a moose? Best to do it in a Saab or Volvo, since they actually engineer for that scenario.

    A Volvo minivan would be awesome. As much as I like our last-gen Odyssey, Swedish design, Haldex AWD, and funky turbo 5 would be a winner.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Volvo’s don’t score better on average than other makes in the IIHS/EuroNCAP/NHTSA tests, which says a lot about how far the auto industry has come since Volvo, Saab and Mercedes were the only game in town when it came to safe cars. However, Volvo and Saab do a ton of real-life testing — they don’t engineer cars to ace tests, they engineer cars to save lives. Both draw upon accident databases and analyses from accidents involving their cars, something I have never hjeard of any other manufacturer doing. It’s great to know that a car and its occupants can survive crashes executed under highly controlled conditions, but I tend to find more comfort knowing that the engineers have looked at real life accidents as well.

    I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if one could prove, whether that Volvo’s and Saab’s extra homework actually translates into more safe cars (regardless of what the tests say), but it certainly is comforting to know that they are trying.

  • avatar

    Volvo wagon out of control!!!

  • avatar
    dinu01

    Those yellow 850 T5 Rs from the 1990s were and still are IMO “sub zero cool” as J. Clarkson would say.

    The problem with Volvo I think is pricing their vehicles in BMW/Merc/Audi territory while not having any extra “must-have” or new gadgets/features or an image people would pay for (50/50 weight distribution + great steering/braking/suspension tunning, THAT famous star on the hood, AWD+great interiors).

    Take the C30. Loaded up with the T5 engine (optional in Canada), 18″ wheels, leather, sunroof, premium audio and the body-colour-matching skirt package, it retails for a little over $40.000 CAD. When VW charges $34.000 for the 4dr GTI similarly equipped and this GTI MKV has a reputation for being a driver’s car, would you pay $6.000 (+ taxes) for a Volvo? Reliability is a wash IMO since both brands would require a small fund set aside for the inevitable problems when the warranty expires…

    I drove a 2.4i and a T5 C30 (albeit automatics as no manuals were available) back-to-back about a month ago and came away from test drive saying “so what?”… I doubt my impressions would be THAT MUCH different if they were manuals… Besides their good (exterior) looks, those cars didn’t have much else over the competition. Except of course for their price.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    The words “Volvo” and “sports car” can indeed go together, as they have twice, the former time with next-to-no success and the latter time with limited success.

    The first sports car Volvo made – or more accurately tried to – was the 1956 and ’57 P-1900. It was equipped with a fiberglass body and hence was the rub. When Volvo got a new chief executive in 1957, he decided to drive a P-1900 down from Sweden on a jaunt to the continent; and he later reported that the doors shook so badly, he thought they would fall off. Hence, the P-1900 became a collectible to those who covet unique Volvos; only about 67 were made. (Some dispute exists over the exact number made, since the VIN on two cars seemed to be the same, according to the P-1900 registry.)

    Then in 1961, came the car that most people know as Volvo’s (one and only) sports car: the P-1800. The first few years of P-1800s had bodies built by Jensen in England; the rest of the components were assembled in Sweden. But after some quality control problems with Jensen, Volvo took over building the entire car. It got fuel-injection and later became a sport-wagon, akin to the MGB-GT, before going out of existence in 1973.

    Admittedly, I have never driven a P-1800, but a friend who works as a service manager at an independent Volvo repair shop has; and he described their handling in one word: terrible.

    David Winters, who is the owner/operator of Swedish Automotive in West Seattle, campaigns a P-1800, with limited success, in vintage races, such as the Northwest Historics; but his car’s chassis is drilled for lightness and so it is hard to determine from that, how good – or not – a sports car the P-1800 was.

    For Volvo to change the perception of how people see it, with a sports car, would require a lot of new engineering and, also perhaps, a racing program, however limited.

    In the meantime, a Volvo minivan makes more sense, in terms of sales. But how is Ford going to finance (even) that, with the cash flow problems it has. As another person here has said, if Volvo was allowed to go back to being an independent company, it might have a better chance for new product development than it does now – or not.

    In December of the year just past, when I asked Marjorie Meyers, who works in corporate communications for Volvo Group North America (trucks, buses and powertrains) if they might want to buy back the car division, if indeed Ford put it up for sale, she said, “It’s not something we have an interest in. It’s too difficult to compete in that industry (cars). It’s the research-and-development. We just couldn’t compete with the big auto-makers.”

  • avatar

    Oh, I can remember Volvo’s being fun, having navigated a lot of rallies back in the 70’s in my best friends series of 240’s (sedans and wagons). Excellent bicycle haulers back then, too.

    You’re missing the other bit of baggage (besides safety) that a Volvo still brings to the table, and probably still sells more than a few cars: Liberalism. You used to take it for granted that if someone was driving a Volvo, he/she was a political liberal. It’s muted nowdays, but it’s still there. It’s the reason that it’s the one marque that the wife absolutely refuses to drive under any conditions (she a Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Vermont back in ’69 – how conservative can you get?).

  • avatar
    tms1999

    2 simple points:

    – Volvo already has a minivan, that’s the XC90
    – Until I read this article (actually the V70R review just before this article) I had no idea what “R” was to Volvo, did not have a clue Volvo had “performance tuned” cars. This tells a lot about misguided efforts and ineffective marketing.

    In the v70r review, I read 2.5 turbo, 300 HP, AWD and I immediately though WRX STI. I knew about the subaru, why did not I know about the “performance Volvo”.

    Even sadder, I learn about it in the article that also tells me of its demise.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Does anyone realise that Volvo produced the first, the very first, hybrid car as a concept in the mid 80s? Oh, and bring back the 544, now THAT was a fun car!

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    While it might be true that Volvos are identified with what in America are called “liberals” (not free-market liberals, but what are now more often called “progessives) it is interesting to note that G. Gordon Liddy’s father was one of the first Volvo importers, back in the Fifties.

    Frankly, methinks the liberal/progessive thing has hurt Volvo – at least with younger buyers. The marque is too much identified with parents and the nanny-state. If you want to make a character in a movie a nerd, what car is the director usually going to have them drive? It will probably be a Volvo. (Way back in the day, it would’ve been a Rambler – which now seems to have reverse cache with those who wear enough metal in their face to set off all the alarms at airport security.)

    That image of “knowing what’s best for you” may be one reason you hardly ever see a Volvo that’s gotten the tuner treatment. Maybe the C30 will cure that.

  • avatar
    Marco

    For some reason, many auto industry execs can’t help but try to make their company be all things to all people. They see their niche as a weakness and lose their identity by trying to be stronger in a segment which is anathema to their brand.

    A good example of this is Mazda. you can say what you want about Ford’s mismanagement of its brands but from 1999 to 2003, they had it right. Mark Fields and Lewis Booth refocused the company on what it did best: affordable fun to drive cars. Out of their efforts came the 3, the 6 and the RX-8. While the RX-8 had its issues, those 3 products clearly fit within the brand’s image.

    In 2003, Hisakazu Imaki took over as CEO. The first words out of his mouth were “We need more SUVs. Mazda has nothing to offer in this segment”.
    Right then I knew that the company had lost its focus again.

    Since then, the only fun thing to come out of Mazda has been the MX-5. Their new minivan and SUVs might be “fun to drive” for what they are but I bet you that this is only an echo of previous management decisions. I predict that in 5 years, that echo will be gone and Mazda will be in trouble again.

    Pity.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    It has been over 10 years now that I have been saying Volvo should build the Volvo of Minivans to serve it’s core market and core brand image. They could have priced it 10k higher than any other minivan on the market and sold ’em like hotcakes to the gated community, private school crowd. But no, Volvo wanted to become hip and cool like everyone else wants to be hip and cool. I loved Volvo when they really were a different kind of car company, but today they just seem like a different kind of VW/Audi. Speaking of which, where the **** is the modern VW Microbus? These guys invented the minivan, not Chrysler, and then simply walked away from the game.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    Some of these arguments are illogical. First of all, how has Volvo’s appeal to the liberal/progressive crowd hurt its image with the younger generation? I’m barely in my 20’s and I’ve never considered Volvo’s to be a “nerd” car. Nor does it follow that Volvo’s appeal to progressives makes it “nerdy.”

    A Volvo minivan? Priced 10K above it’s competitors? That would be crazy. A typical V6 Odyssey is about 30K. A 40K Volvo minivan would be absurd and cost as much as a Mercedes R-Class. Even if Volvo could somehow make a better minivan than Honda/Toyota, which by my count would be their first class leader in the current lineup, who would pay 40K for it? The gated community/upper-middle class types typically drive SUV’s these days.

    In fact, I would argue the exact problem with Volvo is that they simply cost too much. They’re still good, safe, competent handling cars like they’ve always been but these days so is everyone else. Except a comparably equipped Volvo will cost a little more.

    If anything, Volvo should start cutting down their safety features to bring down prices on their cars.

    A heart-beat sensor to detect intruders hiding in the backseat on the new S80? What?! Are you serious?

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    I for one have never understood the Volvo safety line – growing up in New England there were tons of volvos around – and most “soccer moms” hated them… “I can’t stand driving it… you pass over even a few pine needles and the rear end spins out… and in the snow… Aweful!” So how did no control or handling for 6 months of the year equal safe?
    Yep – that was vovlo in New England in the 80’s – a car veritably looking for accidents to prove how much it could protect you.
    Now, I fail to see the safety advantage that Volvo provides over the German and upscale Japanese competition.

    As for Subaru… if Subaru is so comitted to safety, why is it that almost none of the models come with stability control? Sure, awd will get you going, but isn’t turning important for accident avoidance?

    Last point: I don’t understand why the seeming catch-all moniker of safety is independent of driving dynamics? I for one would rather avoid the accident through evasive driving in a well balanced car that grips the road (and shoulder) with poise and aplomb, rather than enter the accident with faith in my steel safety cage and it latest accoutrements.
    (Remember BMW’s line: “BMW allows those of us who take driving seriously to peacefully coexist with those who do not.”)

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    Oh, and throw in horrendous depreciation and you’ve got an extremely high cost of ownership – who wants that?

  • avatar
    jsevenseven

    Robert,
    You just hit on the missing link in Volvo’s product lineup. The Minivan. I live in an area where I see lots of houses with assorted 5 series, e class, and A6 sedans parked next to 40k Honda and Toyota Minivans. Some people just don’t want SUV’s, and even in a shrinking vehicle segment it stands to reason that people would buy a more upscale Minivan if one were available.

    I would think that a Volvo Minivan spun off from the XC90 and priced from 35k-50k could sell quite well. And while a Minivan might eat into XC90 sales slightly, it would be no worse then the wagon sales the XC90 ate into. Considering the success Volvo had with the XC90, introduced on the heels of the Expedition rollover fiasco, I have no doubt that Volvo would be able to play the safety angle to perfection.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I think everyone is missing the boat here.

    Yes there are the parents who want something safe for the children… whether they are 16 years or 16 months.

    Yes Volvo can go on an environmental/PC trip given their enviable record on recycling and preserving life.

    Yes Volvo turbo wagons are AWESOME machines. I’ve owned several over the years and I believe they are far better than Subaru’s when it comes to getting a family wagon with oomph. They have also been a lot more expensive as well.

    In my mind Volvo’s are known for one thing above all… and no one’s mentioned it.

    They endure.

    I notice more good looking old Volvos from the early 80’s to early 90’s on the road today than any other vehicle from that era. When a person considers s Volvo brand for their next purchase, they know about Volvo’s long-term integrity.

    They know that if the car is conservatively driven and maintained properly, they can have it i the family for 20 years.

    To me, that’s the ‘why’ which makes Volvo a front runner for conservative and money minded families.

    Volvo should be marketed as the car that ‘Endures’ and they should back it up with a 12 year 120,000 mile warranty.

    Some cars are expendable. Some cars are inexpendable. The ‘Volvo’ should be the car that’s kept in the family.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I wrote an article about the need for a premium minivan in the market place. I believe I mentioned Volvo and Chrysler in particular.

    Hey RF, do you still have that dusty ditty on file?

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Reading through these comments, I’m amazed at a few things.

    1. How did nobody know about volvo’s performance heritage, if they have even a shred of car-ness in them? In 1995 they had the t5r (I owned a turbo, which had 20 less HP and a slightly softer suspension). The t5 was FWD, could carry 4-5 in supreme comfort, and was faster than the same-year M3 in a straight line. It could also handle pretty darn well for a FWD car. The torque came on early, and stayed on. In short, it was a sleeper-businessman car. They didn’t make many in 5-spds though…

    The t-5s continued through at least 2002, when they offered a 247 HP 2.3 liter inline 5 in FWD format.

    Then comes the S60R. 300 HP/300lb/ft of torque (approx.), adjustable suspension, 6-spd, AWD. Sure, it wasn’t a track-day superstar. But it had torque that came on the basement before those words were uttered by journalists about the VW 2.0T and BMW 3.0TT….

    Volvo’s been making ‘performance-oriented’ versions of their bread-and-butter for years. It’s what everyone says they want, just that normal everyday car gussied up.

    2. Safety – As pointed out, carmakers cater their cars to the safety tests. Not to say they aren’t safe. Volvo needs to show, visually show, to customers that their cars are still safer. I want to see a car commercial where a VW passat and an S60 crash into each other head on with crash-test dummies. The new C70 is supposed to be able to support it’s entire body weight on only the A-Pillar; showing how strong it is. Why not make that into a commercial?

    The XC-90 is supposed to have a gyroscopic roll control that’s better than competitors, making it less likely to roll over. Make a video of a competitor’s SUV (say, an X5) doing the same feat as a XC90 and yet rolling over. Make it into an emergency manuever to show the real-world value.

    Volvo can not compete by safety tests; they have to hammer into the minds of consumers that this is not a joke. Volvo has made a car that will offer you better protection in a real-world situation vs. their competitor.

    If they can’t do that, then their safety image will not help them.

    My volvo dealership had the new C30 concept in their showroom. (Stillman in West Chester, PA). Body kit, funky interior color. Very nice car for the hatchback crowd, and priced competitively. For the price of a GTI, you’ll have a more versatile car with better get-up-and-go. The S40 is getting revised; that car has the potential to be a serious contender.

    The S60 needs less blandness…the R did that for it. It offers visual cues like dual exhaust outlets, body kit, and a more aggressive look along with super comfortable and well bolstered seats. If alot of the same cues had become standard on it, it would sell better.

    But what exactly does the S80 have going for it? Size doesn’t matter that much!

    Prove safety, offer competitive performance, and keep the price point down.

    They’ll do just fine. Oh yeah, and invite the boys from Mazda to tinker with the steering in the S40 and S60….

  • avatar
    Turbo G

    I just keep thinking of Nick Cage in “The Rock” When asked to go into Alcatraz he said (to show how boring he was), “I drive a Volvo…a beige one” That is what the brand means to me. Boring and safe.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Joe O:
    “April 11th, 2007 at 9:48 pm
    Reading through these comments, I’m amazed at a few things.

    1. How did nobody know about volvo’s performance heritage, if they have even a shred of car-ness in them? ”

    I’m willing to bet more than just a few of our fellow contributors are under the age of 30. Some, well under. I guess we can’t blame them for that. Still, I knew about cars built decades before I was born when I was in my teens. Maybe you’re right. And your other suggestions/observations are spot on.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    People with some money that have small kids use CUV/SUV or an Odyssey/Sienna with an occasional R-Class. I’d bet money that if there was an upscale minivan in the 35-50k range it would do well. You can’t go too high since MB has a psuedo mini-van in the R-Class and that starts around 40k.

    As to a kia or a hyundai, while their product is good they are still lacking in in some gadgets (no nav option for 06) and they lack style and cache. If minivandom was only about safety then you would see alot more sedona’s on the road than Odysseys and I see a crap load of Odyssey’s

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Well “Qusus,” work with me on this now, the logic that is; which I have seen, first-hand, I assure you.

    Volvos are today, methinks, what Ramblers were to an earlier generation of Americans. They are perceived as sensible, durable, safe and well, boring. Admittedly, that has changed in the past 12 years. It began with the introduction of the 850 in 1993, continued with the 850-R and then started to change considerably with the introduction of cars such as the C70 convertible and S80.

    You mentioned you are barely into your twenties; so you won’t recall the perception most people had of Volvos, based largely on the enduring 200-series. It was perceived as a professor’s car, a car that was generally driven by people who didn’t even like cars, let alone understand them. Heck, that’s still a lot of who drives Volvos; and my source on that is a friend, Larry Dreon, who runs an independent repair Volvo repair shop. (None of his customers likely would be offended by that assessment, and besides, it is unlikely many of them read this site, because of the accuracy of what I wrote.)

    As others have noted, the earlier Volvos, such as the 544 and 122S (also known as the Amazon) had more character than the 140 or 240 (also known as the “Swedish brick” to Volvo enthusiasts), but lacked brio. I don’t know as I’d call the 200-series Volvo “a nerd car,” but let’s put it this way, it wasn’t known as a car that would get you laid (unless it was the Seventies and you had a kilo of weed).

    And as the late Mike Royko (famous Chicago-based syndicated newspaper columnist who passed away in 1997) once wrote, most everything a young man does is based on appealing to the opposite sex and proceeding to the inevitable conclusion.

    Now you tell me, if a young guy wanted to impress a young lady, do you think he’d choose a “Swedish brick” or a Porsche Boxster (even a used one) – or even an 850 over a Boxster?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    We had an S70 for a few years. Bled us dry. It was totally safe though, but mostly because we couldn’t drive it much because it always needed some sort of repair. Expensive ones. And I guess our garage was a pretty safe area so there wasn’t much of a threat safety-wise.

    When it did work, I loved its heft, comfort, and understated style. Slow, though, with that 5 cylinder….but it got the job done.

    I could imagine how crazy the R could get. I am a major rocket-wagon fanboy – had it been more reliable, the R wagon would be gracing our driveway (or garage) as I write.

    /can we declare a moratorium on the word fanboy, or better yet, hoonage?

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Personally, I think Volvo have had their eye off the ball for a lot longer than you think. In the 80’s to earlier 90’s Volvo were famous for their boxy styling. However, people knew that the boxy styling was intrinsic to the safety theme (in fact, I was watching a episode of “Top Gear” the other day and saw them crash a Volvo 740 GLE into a wall at 40mph. It barely made a dent in the car!). That was Volvo’s charm and essence. But slowly Volvo have moulded their cars into forgettable luxury sedans (no coincidence since Ford took over). Volvo, for me, has always been about steady, well built cars for families. Volvo would be better off leaving the sports coupes to Mazda (RX-8 anyone?). I believe the beacounters actually got this right. In Europe, Toyota have withdrawn Celicas and Supras because of lack of profitability. If it’s good enough for my favourite car make, it’s good enough for Volvo.

    Also, In Europe, Volvo have lost the title of most safest cars on the road to……Renault. As much as I hate Renault cars, the one thing they do better than anyone else is make safe cars. So why has Volvo been stationary for ages?

    I personally like Volvo and if it were cut loose and allowed to do its own thing I reckon it would flourish a lot more. Remember, it was only sold to Ford because Volvo heavy trucks saw it as division which wasn’t profitable enough. It never said it wasn’t a poorly run business. And why spin something off from your main company when you can sell it?

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Steve Biro wrote:

    “I’m willing to bet more than just a few of our fellow contributors are under the age of 30. Some, well under. I guess we can’t blame them for that. Still, I knew about cars built decades before I was born when I was in my teens. Maybe you’re right. And your other suggestions/observations are spot on. ”

    Steve, I’m a fair throw away from 30 and have only been a true car nut for ~4 years now. I stare whenever I see a 2004+ S60R/V70R…it’s just something you are required to do when you see AWD combined with 300 HP…

    Joe

  • avatar
    kasumi

    Amen to the reliability. There are still plenty of the old boxes on the roads here. As the owner of a S70 and V70, both are fairly reliable except for suspension problems. Apparently Volvo decided to make the suspensions out of sugar as opposed to high quality materials. As much as car companies want new sales, Volvo should focus “for life” not only on safety, but also reliability. No car lasts forever, but a great warranty would go a long way in demonstrating Volvo cares about its consumers in all aspects. This would really help resale value as well. As Volvos are passed down to teenagers, a new generation of customers would learn about the brand.

    As for the coolness factor, Volvo will never beat the boxy wagons of the old days.

    Volvo has within it a lot of great elements and history, bringing them together may be a challenge, but its all there. A few improvements and a minivan and its there. The amount of XC90s I see around is impressive, and whatever Honda’s crash test ratings Volvo will always equal safety for many people.

    K.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Volvo is on the same path to obscurity Pontiac has travelled. The brand no longer means anything distinctive. Other companies have caught up with Volvo safety engineering and Volvo has evolved into a me-too maker of overpriced SUVs and forgetable FWD/AWD vehicles. The robustness of the old 240 have been replaced by the fussiness and high repair rates of the S80. About the only thing going for them is that they still make a decent station wagon.

  • avatar
    red60r

    New marketing slogan: S60-R: the WRX for grownups!

  • avatar

    Back in the ’60s, among other thigns, Volvo branded itself as “tough,” a car that could take New England winters, becuase, after all, it did well in Sweden. Along wth that intellectual content, were two styles, the p544 and the 122s/amazon, which looked masculine without looking like they were going to devour you if you got in their way, unlike many of today’s SUVs. The image was more subtle, and far more interesting, and more powerful.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    Parkhurst: Ha, this is true. If I wanted to impress a young lady I would not drive a Volvo. However, there’s A LOT of cars that would be much more unimpressive. Say… pretty much any Toyota, Ford, Chevy or Korean car for that matter. Your original argument makes sense now… I simply haven’t been around enough to fill in the gaps with my own knowledge on Volvo brand perception in the 80’s.

    About the endurance angle: There are quite a few very old Volvo’s on the road. I recently read an article telling about how reliable and solidly built their engines were. But just like the safety angle isn’t this no longer unique to Volvo’s. Even if 20 years ago Volvo’s lasted longer than any other car on the road I doubt this is still true today.

  • avatar

    The bottom line is that it’s much harder now to differentiate a brand than it used to be, simply because technology has improved so much. Most cars used to be unsafe; now they are safe. Most cars used to be unreliable; now they are reliable. It’s easier to engineer a car that handles and performs well while turnout out respectible mgh. In this day and age, I’d say branding has to be more image than substance. I suppose high performance is not exactly in the Volvo image, but I’m not as sure as Robert that making high performance Volvos is a bad idea. As Paul says, but in my own words, Subaru does well with both the Forester, the plaid flannel shirt of the automotive world, and the various permutaions of the WRX, appealing to all manner of greenies, liberals, and the like, and hooners. And General Motors manages to sell both appliances and Corvettes.

    Of course, there are still outlyers who can depend on a single attribute for branding. Toyotas have such a reputation for reliability as would be hard to squander, and BMWs really are the first relatively practical cars I think of when I thikn of fun.

  • avatar

    David: An automaker cannot be two things at once.

  • avatar
    Voice of Sweden

    Fredrik Arp is CEO of Volvo Car Corporation.
    President of (AB) Volvo and Chief Executive Officer of Volvo Group is Leif Johansson.

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