Understatement: New Volvo XC90 Needs To Sell Well

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Unless the beautiful details that have been gradually released over the last few months add up to less than the sum of our parts, it appears as though the second-generation Volvo XC90 will be an impressive machine on which to lay eyes.

As mentioned on TTAC earlier today, the new XC90 will be unveiled on August 25. Its screen orientation will be flipped in Tesla-like portrait fashion. It will be fast. The XC90’s shifter is made by Orrefors Crystal. It will possess a host of one-step-farther safety features. It will, for at least a moment or a day or a week, be a headline-grabbing car.

And surely there will be more American SUV buyers opting for the new XC90 than there have been American SUV buyers opting for the old XC90 over the last few years.

Aside from a slight 5% (490 units) year-over-year U.S. sales gain in 2011, XC90 volume hasn’t done anything but decline since the nameplate’s peak in its second full calendar year, 2004.

Quite a year it was, too. The XC90 outsold most premium brand SUVs and crossovers that year. Volvo reported 39,230 XC90 sales in 2004, a year in which BMW sold fewer than 36,000 X5s and Mercedes-Benz ML volume didn’t climb above 26,000 units. The XC90 outsold the whole Land Rover division that year. Porsche sold more than 18,000 Cayennes in 2004. Cadillac reported slightly more than 30,000 copies of the SRX; Infiniti sold a similar number of FX35s and FX45s.

Out in front of the XC90 were full-size American luxury brutes from Cadillac (36,994 Escalades and 15,618 Escalade ESVs) and Lincoln (36,398 Navigators) and the same power players that exist today: Lexus sold 106,531 RXs in 2004; Acura sold 59,505 MDXs.

We’re all aware of the XC90’s decade-long story of inactivity. As always, style is subjective, but the XC90 remained handsome over time. Yet it did not change during a period in which Acura introduced a new MDX, and then another new MDX; a period in which Infiniti introduced a new FX and a popular Pathfinder-based JX/QX60. We’ve seen two new Mercedes-Benz M-Class generations since 2004.

The XC90 mostly went along without updates, and year after year after year, sales declined. From that 39,230-unit peak in 2004, XC90 sales fell below 19,000 units in 2008, below 10,000 units in 2012. After averaging 35,000 annual U.S. sales between 2003 and 2007 – a normal product lifecycle after which other automakers would have debuted a new version – XC90 volume averaged 11,000 annual units between 2008 and 2013.

Naturally, this has had a huge impact on the brand’s fortunes in the United States, particularly since the brand has killed off numerous products and failed to market others on this side of the Atlantic. The XC90 represented 28% of the 139,384 Volvos sold in America in 2004, 18% of the 61,433 company’s 2009 sales, 11% of Volvo’s 2013 volume, and just 9% of the 34,224 vehicles Volvo has sold through the first seven months of 2014.

The Volvo V60 wasn’t going to rescue Volvo in North America. Indeed, that fresh new wagon only sells about as often as the grey-haired SUV. Bringing back the quirky C30 wouldn’t heal the brand. Ripping up the C70’s execution order won’t do the trick. Importing the V40, though useful, would not turn Volvo from a brand that sold 61,233 vehicles in 2013 back into a brand which sold 139,384 vehicles in 2004. If Volvo has a future in North America, it will be as a direct result of the XC90’s successful launch.

Pressure’s on.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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  • Spiro Spiro on Aug 17, 2014

    Being an inquisitive and native Swede, I know the history of Volvocars and its history of owners quite well. During the ownership of Ford, the brand lost its focus. Volvo in Sweden was forced to adhere to what Ford told it to do, using Fords technology, platforms and engines. The development department in Sweden had to follow Fords directives and could not develop engines and cars in the way they wanted. The new owner Geely, have made the complete opposite compared to Ford. For 4 years Geely have poured in money for development of new models and into the production facilities in Sweden. They have actually let Volvo decide for themselves what they want to accomplish. This have resulted in a number of changes; For the first time in almost 20 years, the leadership of Volvo in Sweden are deciding the future. The new scalable platform that the new xc90 is based on, is not from Ford but developed in Sweden by Volvo. This will make sure that Volvo can update the cars much faster in the future (they are talking about 18 months for a new model). The xc90 is the first car that has no Ford components at all (and no Chinese either). The new engines they introduced this year, are also completely new under the new leadership. It has taken Volvo 4 years to change the impact of the previous ownership. I think the future for Volvo is better than it has been for a very long time. According to Geely, Volvo is a Swedish company that will decide its own future. I didn't believe it at first (we all were very hesitant about Geely), but so far it seems that they only wants Volvo to succeed and remain a Swedish company at its core.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Aug 18, 2014

    So would it be beneficial and politically popular if the Swedish government was to assist Geeley in buying what is left of Saab? The same company would control both companies. Volvo could concentrate on making sensible, safe and dependable people movers and Saab could concentrate on quirky rally type cars?

  • Sobhuza Trooper Like fusion power, the I.D. Buzz is only 30 years away.
  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
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