We all know the value of Volvo to the business motoring community but, as knowledgeable as it is in so many areas of mobility, it has adopted a controversial and very brave stance, states Iain Robertson, at the bastion of US car shows.
Breaking with tradition, Volvo Cars has attended the Automobility LA Show with a world-first: there is not a single car on its stand. It is a daring proposition, especially in vehicle-centric North America, where the subtlety of the Swedish firm’s approach might not obtain much purchase with the consumer. However, the LA Show is also reported worldwide, not least because it is the final major car event of the year and one that signposts the latest developments for next year.
Instead, Volvo will demonstrate its vision, redefining what a car can be.
Since motor shows were introduced, the car has always been a centrepiece, on a rotating stage, or covered by a silk sheet. With ‘dolly-birds’ in attendance, it is a barometric display of automotive strength, if not integrity. Yet, cars are changing, the industry is changing and so are the expectations of those people whom use cars. Volvo’s presence at Automobility LA has reflected these changes in the bravest and least cocky of manners.
The ways by which consumers experience a car brand is today more important than chrome, leather, or horsepower, all of which Volvo can deliver in spades. However, Volvo has seldom led its product offerings with superficialities. Instead, it has centred on its world-leading stance on both active and passive vehicle safety. Its ‘20:20’ forward marketing plan stated categorically around eight years ago that ‘nobody would die in a Volvo car crash by 2020’ and its interim figures support that boast. On the LA Volvo stand, visitors looked to the central space, where they would have expected to find a car, only to read a simple, yet surprising statement in carved wood: ‘This Is Not A Car’.
In calling the trade show Automobility LA, the organisers were recognising the disruption affecting the motor industry. Volvo wanted to demonstrate that it received the memo and that it desired to start a co-operative conversation about the future of automobility. Instead of bringing a concept car, Volvo personnel talked about the concept of a car. In doing so, Volvo realised that it would not win the ‘car of the show’ award in 2018, although it is comfortable with that…mainly because Automobility LA ‘was not a car show’.
In addition to making a disruptively powerful statement, Volvo Cars showed a number of interactive demonstrations of connectivity services, such as in-car delivery, car sharing, its vision for autonomous driving (as displayed in the Volvo 360c concept) and the car access service ‘Care by Volvo’.
Chief Executive of Volvo Cars, Håkan Samuelsson, stated: “Our industry is changing. Rather than just building and selling cars, we shall really provide our customers with the freedom to move in a personal, sustainable and safe way. We offer our customers access to a car, including new attractive services, whenever and wherever they want them.”
Volvo Cars believes truly in the power of strategic partnerships. With established technology companies such as Amazon, Google and Nvidia, as well as with technology start-ups that include Luminar and Zenuity, Volvo demonstrates innovative interaction with new types of partners. It is a direction that all other car companies must pursue, if they intend to survive in coming decades.
With the new company purpose, ‘Freedom to Move’ in a personal, sustainable and safe way, Volvo sets its direction for the future. By the middle of the next decade, half of its annual car volume will be fully electric, one-third of it will be autonomous/self-driving and Volvo will establish more than five million direct consumer relationships. The sea-change is occurring and Volvo knows it.
Volvo got into a bad habit, when it was snaffled-up by Ford Motor Company in the mid-1990s. Certain Americanisms, such as ‘premium’ entered its vocabulary. Under the same influence, the company assumed that it was a ‘rival’ to other ‘premium brands’. Yet, Volvo has always trodden a different pathway. While a notional rivalry does exist, Volvo retains its unique appeal. Its only true influences are those that come naturally to it, such as the applications of Swedish-sourced wood, steel and hide, allied to the unmistakable elegance of conservative Swedish style. Volvo continues to plough its own, well-engineered furrow, a factor that we should applaud heartily. The company is proving a point at a time when the motor industry is in serious flux and ignoring it is not really an option.