Volvo for business, or business for Volvo; it’s a rational thing
Buoyant sales, desirable products, rightness for market and remaining Swedish in all respects, highlights Iain Robertson, are some of the powerful tenets exercised by Volvo Cars and they are displayed in some alluring, consumer-cosseting details.
In recent years, I have found an all-pervading numbness that has entered my automotive senses. Hopping from one make of motorcar to another is, in reality, becoming increasingly directionless. Far too frequently, I experience head scratching moments, during which (apart from the inevitable clue on the steering wheel boss) I wonder which make and model I happen to be driving.
Accepting that large volume manufacturers have a certain number of precepts that they feel obliged to pursue is probably the key precursor. Apart from very minor elements, Volkswagen Group products (Seat, Audi, Skoda and VW) have become increasingly hard to discern any brand differences. Yet, Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen and even Renault are starting to meld into similar amorphous automotive group ‘blobs’. I struggle to split Kia and Hyundai, while Nissan has become as mind-numbing as Toyota and Honda.
Ironically, it could be the ‘motoring critic’ that is to blame partially. After VW rushed off down the ‘soft-touch’ route, with the slush-moulding techniques used to create its Mark IV Golf model range’s interiors, the rest of the brands felt that no choice, other than replication, was feasible…and we held them to account for any dilly-dallying. Yet, the advent of the CAD-CAM computer generation, into which hardware essential dimensions are deposited, only for near clones to emerge from the printer, should also shoulder some of the blame. However, the corporate accountants responsible for signing off some of the more recent models demonstrate a long-held belief that the further away from commerce they are held, the better!
Whenever confronted by a new car, I am sure that I am not alone in carrying out the ‘tactility test’. If you do not do it, please let me recommend it to you, as it is surprising what you can learn by closing your eyes and just reaching out to touch, whether it be paintwork, the dashboard, specific trim details, or the location of switchgear and controls. You can tell a lot about how much passion and enthusiasm has been invested in the vehicle.
Carry out the exercise in a static Volvo and you may find a cool Orrefors crystal gear knob falling to hand…it might be the grain of real wood door inserts…the stitching of the leather atop the dashboard…the exquisite Nappa hide wrapped around the steering wheel…the precise click of the indicator stalk…or the fine adjustment of an airvent. These are measures of unerring high quality. They are imparted equally, while being driven in a new Volvo and they are recognisable elements, supported by a characteristic calm and virtual effortlessness that only a handful of high-end carmakers manages to invest in their products.
Producing standout brilliance demands a tranquil work ethos. It cannot be achieved overnight and it would be fair to state that the past 92 years of Volvo Cars’ enterprise, which has been problematic at times but strong enough to build and maintain momentum, has been put to good use. The end result is appealing to all of the senses…with the obvious omission of taste, unless you feel the compulsion to lick the car too.
If you are either driving, or a passenger, in a Volvo model, there exists a satisfyingly natural familiarity to its controls and responses. Everything falls conveniently to hand and finding the most comfortable and supportive seat position is aided by the fluency of the adjustment controls, whether manually, or electrically operated. The mirrors provide maximum visibility and control weighting provides confidence and an assurance of high build quality, while the much-publicised investment that Volvo makes in primary and secondary safety is so inherent to the brand that very little needs to be explained; it is simply taken for granted.
The major corporates are renowned for ‘raping’ their charges…when they own them. General Motors ‘robbed’ and claimed, as its intellectual property, Saab’s energy absorbing head restraints that reduced the physical infirmities that could result from unchecked body motion during vehicle collisions. BMW ‘stole’ Land Rover’s 4×4 expertise to formulate its X5 and subsequent SUV models, while also claiming all of Mini’s history without batting an eyelid.
Now under Chinese ownership, by the Geely Corporation, Volvo has what it has always needed, design, engineering and marketing independence, all underwritten financially by an avuncular parent that studiously avoids meddling. Of course, Sino-involvement in any western enterprise could be tinged with further reaching and not necessarily beneficial ramifications but it has worked well for Volvo so far. As a perceived rival to the American-described ‘premium’ brands of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Jaguar/Land-Rover, Cadillac and even Lincoln (Ford’s US luxury marque), Volvo possesses an uncanny knack of avoiding plagiarism by forging its own, stylish but unique market furrow.
Even Bentley and Rolls-Royce, despite their otherworldly price tags and super-luxury aspirations, can be considered as competitors to Volvo in the detail execution of their cars. I have harboured a long-held belief that behind the scenes at Audi there exists a gnomes’ workshop working feverishly to keep their brand at the pinnacle of high-quality but its cap has slipped of late. Yet, Volvo achieves, in its present line-up, a sense of artful adroitness, which ensures that, when you close your eyes, you are unlikely to describe the relevant model as anything other than a Volvo and that is a very special marker-point.
Producing memorable motorcars is becoming increasingly difficult but the standout brands, such as Volvo, manage the task of recognition by way of sensorial appeal. Volvo underscores its efforts with a more freshly acquired cool brand accessibility and that is immensely appealing to switched-on businesses.