Ever since Volvo found itself sloughed off from Ford in the wake of the Carpocalypse, it was adrift among the heaving seas of the global auto market. Rescued by China's Geely, it just dusted itself off and is now preparing itself for a US comeback, announcing big investments and an all-new product line.
Let's get the big news out of the way first, and then we can get it to just how enormously significant this is for the brand. Volvo's planning an entirely new product line in North America in the next five years, including the gorgeously designed 2015 Volvo XC90, emphasis on its dealer network (including a focus on improving service operations), and, with what is probably the biggest news of all for a business, it is doubling its marketing budget.
Anyone whose ever worked for a dying company can tell you what a corporate death spiral looks like. It doesn't start with layoffs and pending bankruptcies – all that comes later. It starts with general unease, grim looks from management, and big cuts to future product investment and the marketing budget.
It's the business equivalent of a company going into shock, shutting down organs while desperately trying to conserve any resources it still has.
So if a company's doing the opposite of that, you could say things are looking up.
It's probably a bit difficult to exaggerate the turmoil that Volvo went through over the past decade. Volvo, once the proud bastion of Swedes who like safety, found itself in a weird place even before the Carpocalypse, when Ford started selling off the decaying remains of what was then its Premier Automotive Group, the home for all things luxury (or near-luxury) in Ford's then-burgeoning automotive brand stable.
And the signs that Ford was looking to get rid of Volvo started looking before the Big Blue Oval ever sold off the little Swedes, in early 2009. Mainly, it appears as if Ford nearly pulled the plug on product development.
The only all-new model from Volvo to hit North American shores since its acquisition by Geely has been the S60. Volvo's current model of flagship sedan, the S80, debuted in 2006, and hasn't gone through any huge changes over the past eight years. By the time the new XC90 goes on sale, Volvo dealers will have been stuck selling an SUV that is, essentially, twelve years old.
That's ancient, in automotive development cycle terms, especially for a once-ubiquitous vehicle among the Soccer Parent set.
At some point, a carmaker just finds itself in Morgan territory.
When Geely bought Volvo, it was basically forced to inject huge amounts of capital into the frozen Swedish company, like an adrenaline shot to the heart. The choice likely either came to that, or letting it die a slow and incredibly painful death.
Now that money injection is bearing fruit. Along with the aforementioned XC90, Volvo next plans to introduce a new V60 Cross Country, which should also provide big hints about the rest of Volvo's new direction, like the S60. If Volvo's full-line replacement remains true, we should also shortly be seeing replacements for the S80, something like the Europe-only V40 in the States, maybe a C70 coupe replacement, and finally, a new XC60.
Volvo says it's confident it can boost sales to 100,000 per year, from the forecast of 60,000 units sold this year. (And that 60,000 number is probably based on the fact that yes, Volvos cars are older than Methuselah, but they were pretty good cars to begin with.)
As company President Håkan Samuelsson pointed out in the company's press release announcing the plan, the company has sold 100,000 cars in the past, so it shouldn't be too difficult a goal to meet.
But if it doesn't get it right, I fear what is to come for the Gothenburg crew.
Photo credit: Volvo