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Naughty Volvo Faces Identity Crisis

Naughty Volvo Faces Identity Crisis

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tough times for automakers have turned the industry upside down.  Household names like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer have gone the way of the dodo.  Saab narrowly avoided a similar fate with a last-minute purchase by Dutch super car manufacturer Spyker, a niche player that has intriguing plans for the quirky Swedish brand.  Fiat and Chrysler became strange bedfellows.  And Toyota is struggling through an historic, crippling recall.

But one of the more interesting outcomes of the recent upheaval within the auto industry is Ford Motor Company's sale of Volvo to China's Geely.  The purchase, still pending at the time of this post, will put China on the map as a serious player within the global auto industry.  In the months and years ahead, it will be fascinating to see what becomes of the Volvo brand in the hands of its Chinese owners.  After all, recent safety concerns with Chinese products don't exactly jibe with Volvo's longstanding safety positioning

Already, Volvo has taken a radical departure from its more conservative brand voice, as evidenced by this teaser for the "naughty" S60 in advance of the Geneva auto show:

 

 

Geely hasn't taken control of the Volvo brand yet.  Which leaves one wondering:  Is this part of a deliberate move to reposition Volvo as it prepares to trade hands?  Or is it merely a last-ditch effort by Volvo's marketing department to have a little fun?  Either way, it's out of step with what we've come to expect from Volvo.

Admittedly, Volvo has colored outside of its safety lines with pervasive product placement in "Twilight," especially when Edward drifts his C30 sideways to save Bella from her would be attackers (I feel compelled to note I had to look up both characters' names).  And even the launch of the 2008 S60 showed off Volvo's sexier side

For decades, however, Volvo has consistently articulated its safety positioning in contemporary ways.  Even though one shouldn't read too much into a brief teaser designed to generate excitement among competing pre-show hoopla, the clip is jarring alongside everything Volvo has programmed consumers to belief about the brand.  And perhaps that's the whole point.

But this classic clip from "Crazy People" sums it up best.  Is the "boxy-but-good" Volvo brand trying to be something it isn't, veering too far towards the excitement that the Jaguar set might seek?  Or is Volvo merely facing the fact it can never be what it once was when finally in the hands of its new Chinese owners?   

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