Hammer Time: Only NPR Nation Can Save Volvo

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time only npr nation can save volvo

I was 23. White upper-middle class suburban punk. A year back I had been majoring in toxicology and pharmacology at Emory. Hell, I figured I had only so much time to enjoy, and I was right. A year later, I found myself helping take public a company that would be inevitably intertwined with the 9/11 bombings. The COO used to say that if the applicant passed the mirror test they would hire them. The job? Aviation security. Which reminds me of how things are shaping up for Volvo at the moment.

This company was screwed well before Ford bought them. Starting with the S80, Volvo went straight for the mantle of of mediocrity. Yes, the chassis was a good one and the look was distinctive. But non-enthusiasts don’t buy a chassis or distinctiveness. They buy a brand and the vicarious fantasy of actually owning the ‘right car’. It’s the reason why Camrys are plentiful and Phaetons became Dodos. When cars can’t capture a fantasy for the customer, the novelty dies quick and the customers en masse don’t look back. For the sins of the S80, Volvo would spend the next eight years discounting and even rental car offering their flagship vehicle.

The S40 was so terrible that I refuse to even mention it beyond this sentence. The S60? A decent vehicle but completely wrong for this side of the Atlantic. Selling a smallish premium car in the US of A during this decade has been like selling a premium wagon for SUV Sam and Sally. How the hell can a car be worth $30,000+ when it can’t even fit an ass made for an SUV? It’s a question Ford never really got right with Volvo. Except for one model.

The XC90. Not exciting. Not interesting at all. Unfashionably late to the party. But it had space and luxury. Unfortunately like the government’s other subsidized transportation firm, Amtrak, it only had a couple good years. But Ford should get credit for the obvious fact that the Volvo brand and SUVs were a good match. So what should be done now?

The only niche I see for Volvo: one that makes them what Mercury never was. Think about it. The only commercially successful model for Volvo with any real staying power was the Volvo 850 of the 1990s. The 850 carved out a successful niche from all those conservative people who wanted a fancier Camry. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Volvo offers a helluva premium with the non-enthusiasts of Camryland, and so long as they can keep the price level within $3000 to $5000 of a loaded Big C, Volvo’s in the ball game.

I believe that if Hyundai bought Volvo and started selling all their Genesis derived vehicles under that brand, it may just work. Yes, I know it’s a long shot, and I hate the very smell of Hyundais. But in the twisted real world we live in, it just may work.

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2 of 48 comments
  • Eggsalad Eggsalad on Jun 05, 2009

    My '84 245 Diesel turned 247,000 miles yesterday. I've been test driving new cars... Nissan Cube. Kia Soul, Pontiac Vibe. After every test drive, I eagerly look forward to driving the 245 home. They don't make 'em like they used to. I'm sad.

  • JohnHowardOxley JohnHowardOxley on Jun 05, 2009

    @ NulloModo: On the S60R, some 4 years back when I was in the market for a car, I tested one of these -- and even then, the new dickered price was less than, say, a 2-year old BMW 3-series. I thought it looked splendid, I loved the interior with the plush Alcantara leather seats, and it performed/handled well. The deal-killers? The power steering was ridiculously light, and when I asked the salesman if it could be driven continuously in "Sport" suspension mode, he replied that to do so would damage the car. So: No sale! A real pity, because with the proper adjustments, I think an S60R could have been a real gem at the asking price.

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!