Volvo Can’t Decide What It Wants to Be—Safe or Naughty

August 25th, 2010

2010 Volvo T6

Since 2008, Volvo has undertaken a noble effort called Vision 2020 that declares: “By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo.” The company’s objective is to integrate “preventative and protective safety systems in the car,” while studying driver behavior and developing ways to protect pedestrians.

Computer World reported the story as “Building the Zero-Fatality Car,” a lengthy discussion of research into crash-test simulation, vehicle communications, and collision avoidance. A lot of money has gone and will be going into this stuff.

At the same time, the S80 T6 (above) is getting good reviews for real sportiness and the challenge it sets for BMW and Mercedes. One car marketing guy notes that Volvo is now, after decades of stressing safety, trying to establish its hot-performer image. We’ll show one of its “Naughty Level” commercials after the break.

But changing your marketing this way—from safety to sporting and, apparently, back to the ultimately impossible weirdness of “zero-fatality” safety—is destined to fail. You build a brand through consistency, and these days Volvo is anything but consistent.

The deal to sell the company from Ford to Geely finally went through, but sales are still awful—a 32.9 percent decrease in July 2010 over July 2009, though the S80 isn’t doing too badly. Geely sales in China, on the other hand, were up 42 percent for the first half of this year (compared to last).

Maybe the Chinese can pump some life into Volvo, but the marketing focus has to be cleared up. Here’s some cheap advice: The company should explore the compatibility of safety and sportiness. That’s not easy to do, but it’s certainly an open niche in the car world.

For instance, as the continuing debate about driver distraction plays out, stress in dealer sales pitches, ads, and PR the need for safety (hardware, software, driver training, etc.) in driving “sporty” cars. The two are not incompatible.

I found a great piece on driver distraction and the zero-fatalities goal, which I very much recommend to you. Making cars safer is a very complex matter indeed. Surveys reveal that consumers do want such systems as

night vision, pre-crash safety, adaptive front lights, blindspot detection, adaptive cruise control, driver attention monitors, lane departure warning, parking assistance, V2V [vehicle-to-vehicle] communication and automatic speed limiters. The challenge of course, is getting consumers to pay for these technologies.

Where do you come in on this? Would you be willing to pay more for such devices? If not, would you accept a federal mandate to have them in your next car?

—jgoods

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Used Volvo S80

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  1. | #1

    Wow. If knocking over a gum ball machine is as naughty as Volvo can get, I might recommend the company look to Fisker’s latest ad for some inspiration:
    http://www.egmcartech.com/2010/08/24/video-new-fisker-karma-commercial-is-sexy/

  2. jgoods
    | #2

    @ tgriffith
    I dunno, tgriffith, the Fisker ad to me is just another unclever attempt to sell cars with phony sex. Not that the Volvo ad is any better, but its subliminal message with the gumball machine etc. seems to be: get the car away from the family-oriented, keep-the-kids-safe theme that the company has done to death.

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