I had a brief, but very interesting, interview this afternoon with Hakan Samuelsson, the new boss of Volvo.
Samuelsson's background is in truck making, spending 20 years at Scania and a decade at MAN. But he arrives at a tricky time for the car-maker, which is in the throws of not only a huge engineering effort (with its new SPA architecture and four-cylinder only future engine range) but is also still trying to ‘clarify’ its brand image.
Over the last decade, I’ve heard many Volvo bosses talk about how the company needs to move away from its old, cliched, image of unexciting safety. And it’s pretty much 20 years since it launched the 850R, a car that was designed to completely shake-up the world view of Volvo.
"We want to be premium, but not copy the Germans," says Samuelsson. "We want to be premium through being human-centric, through elegant design, functionality and user-friendliness."
Of course, this is all pretty hard to pin down. Being able to sum up your brand image as, say, ‘Ultimate driving machine’ makes life much easier for designers, engineers and marketing people.
By odd coincidence, I took part in a market research programme last year for a premium car company, which I managed to work out was Volvo, though that was never stated. My view was that Volvo should be aiming at the kind of outdoorsy family person who is quite happy to spend substantial sums on cutting-edge equipment such as mountain bikes or skis.
Well, it seems I wasn’t the only one who made that suggestion. Samuelsson revealed that Volvo is finalising a new TV ad which addresses this type of person directly. The opening shot shows a man with a tin of wax, polishing his premium car. The Volvo owner pulls up alongside and gets out a tin of wax, but he uses it to polish the surfboard in the back of his car.
Clever, but it will take years of consistence marketing and product development to finally re-position Volvo as the premium car for people who are on their way to a sporting activity that doesn’t involve golf clubs. Once they’ve finalised the script, Volvo is going to have to stick to it through thick and thin, or be forever that ‘boring-but-safe’ brand.