Wanna Go For a Ride?

Volvo Demo CenterOne of the major highlights of Andrew and I’s trip would undoubtedly be our trip to Volvo Cars. Known for its reputation for focusing on safety, the last Swedish car manufacturer has been through survival trials of its own. After being bought by Ford in the 1990s and being unsuccessful, Volvo Cars is now owned by a Chinese manufacturer pretty new to the auto scene. And the crash of 2008 didn’t help: the company lost double-digit market share when customers could no longer afford to pay for some of the safest rides out there.

As Finance class has taught us, if you lose double digit market share percentages and are losing a billion plus $, something is wrong. Volvo needed to do something about its position, so it decided to follow the paths of Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes and sell its cars to customers wealthy enough to afford them.

The strategy hasn’t played out completely, but what we saw on the showroom floor, in the factory and on the test track impressed us. I was able to experience what it feels like to be safely strapped in during a low-speed crash, (it still isn’t fun) while Andrew was able to test his reflexes against a simulator with elk walking into the middle of the road. It turns out that elk-crossings are causal in a large percentage of car accidents in Sweden.

The factory tour gave us living proof that Volvo isn’t just talking when it comes to its commitment to safety. The streamlined factory process, the 650 robots welding and installing panels on an assembly line with five or six car models able to be produced in any order based on customer demand, the raw metal sheets and panels made of the absolute strongest steel on the planet all say that Volvo isn’t messing around. The wheels of the industrial revolution are still turning and the monstrosity of an assembly line that we viewed reminded me that this is why Volvos are so cheap, not the other way around.

But what really convinced us that Volvo isn’t the company our parents once thought of would have to be the test track. [Disclaimer: I’m a car guy] When we drove the spry and nimble V60 or rowed through the gears (6-six manual) of the more venerable S80, we realized that these are truly premium, sporting machines. After ~20 laps around the test track in a full sampling of Volvo’s model line-up, it became clear that they have officially transcended the staid, boring automaker we have grown to like, not love (and not necessarily buy). It will be interesting to see where this ride takes Volvo.