Volvo Is Upscale Enough

By David Thomas  on December 4, 2007

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Sometimes we sit around the Cars.com office and just scratch our heads when we hear what car companies are doing. In yesterday’s Detroit News came word that Ford is looking to make Volvo — Ford owns the Swedish automaker — more of an upscale luxury brand to better compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. If you thought Volvo was already a luxury car company, it’s technically considered a near-premium brand. The differences are hard to explain, but recent Volvos I’ve reviewed were roughly $10,000 less than their BMW and Audi counterparts despite having similar features and engines. Other near-premium brands are Saab, Cadillac, Lexus and Infiniti.

Now, Ford has the best of intentions … for it. The company needs to make more money off Volvo, which continues to be unprofitable despite an improved lineup. However, with Audi already making inroads into BMW and Mercedes-Benz territory, is there room for another company to do the same?

Ford says the stylish Swedish rides the company is putting out is where tastes are heading. Ford doesn’t say it, but I’m guessing it means the same clean, simple design that Apple has quite successfully infused into the electronics industry.

What’s my complaint with this plan? I tested the new Volvo S80 and XC70, and both won me over largely due to the fact that they were $10,000 less than a BMW or Mercedes and delivered nearly the same product — driving attributes being the main difference. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, residing in the upper $30,000-$40,000 range. Volvo has long been seen as sensible because of its emphasis on safety, but if I can get a turbo six-cylinder in a handsome sedan for $42,000, that also sounds really sensible.

There have been rumors that the S40 and V50 — Volvo’s entry-level sedan and wagon — will go the way of the dodo by 2010, and a four-door version of the new C30 will come into being instead. That’s not a problem as long as the new C30 is in the same price range, because Volvo really does need a car in the mid-$20,000 price range to get early adopters into its cars — you know, those hip iPhone users. 

Instead of refocusing Volvo, upgrading the interiors – already quite nice in the S80 — and beefing up the engines, perhaps the company should spend more money telling people about them. Accentuate the value, fashion and safety statements. Add an upgraded version of Ford’s Sync so everyone can put a stylish iPod in their stylish Volvo. Add more than the first service as complimentary; do what BMW has, offering service throughout the first few years of ownership. That alone would help quell concerns about quality issues. Maybe then Volvo would make more money so Ford could forget this premium luxury business.

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Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David