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How Volvo became a premium brand

By raccars Published

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The name Volvo is synonymous with car safety but was also once a byword for staid and sensible. That's no longer the case, but how has Volvo changed?

The build quality of the brand's cars has always been unimpeachable but styling and performance appeared to be way down the priority list for the Swedish firm. However, the last few years have seen Volvo undergo something of an image revolution; all without relinquishing its position at the front of the pack for safety. Volvos have been steadily becoming more elegant and desirable, and have crept up among the premium brands.

The reason for Volvo's ascendancy lies in a combination of cultural factors and corporate strategy. Volvo's move up from sub-premium to premium brand coincides with a global culture shift which is rejecting the fake and the flashy and embracing the authentic. Rather than Volvo orientating itself towards prevailing trends, the market has adapted to Volvo.

However at the same time, rather than chasing BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, Volvo has instead been promoting the relevance of its own, unique virtues. The Swedish firm should thank its Chinese parent company, Geely, for its relaxed stewardship of the brand here and for allowing Volvo to adhere strongly to its own brand identity rather than chasing revenue by pushing homogeneity with the big Germans.

While the modern Volvo is as practical and user friendly as the big estates with which the brand became synonymous in the Eighties and Nineties, it is also taking advantage of the Scandinavian flair for sleek, minimal design and exploiting some rather superior technical prowess. Volvo is among the leaders in the development of autonomous driving technology and is always on point with new trends. For example, Swedish Volvo owners are now able to enjoy having their online shopping delivered directly to their car boot while they are at work or busy elsewhere.

The Volvo XC90

Strangely the catalyst for this transformation was the XC90 SUV, a car which was still showing up other SUVs after a decade on sale. The SUV craze fitted perfectly with Volvo's brand values, based around a practical and comfortable, boxy body shape and competence rather than excitement on the road. It was so excellent that it even became Jeremy Clarkson's favourite car. The XC90 was finally replaced this year to great approval - it looks good, it drives well and is efficient and economical to run. Volvo has become premium simply by becoming a master of understatement.

The Volvo S90

With the SUV segment safely under its belt, Volvo's next project to worry the Germans is the new S90 executive saloon. It will be introduced to the public at next month's North American International Motor Show in Detroit and is due on sale in the UK next September. The S90 takes much from the XC90, including the SPA scalable architecture and a four cylinder engine range. Air or steel suspension will be available and the interior will be high quality and high tech. From the outside the S90 will share a design language with the XC90.

The S90 replaces the underwhelming and under-performing S80 saloon and will be one of the most spacious models in its class. The saloon will be joined by an estate, set to debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March. If the XC90 confirmed Volvo's premium status, the S90 will be building upon the lessons learned by the brand as it enjoys that new position, without neglecting the safety systems for which the firm has so long been known.

It seems Volvo is, in fact, very comfortable among the upper echelons, happy not to chase other brands' values, sales and to handle volume as it occurs. This means residual values remain strong and brand image will be protected.

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