Big corporations usually stay well out of politics, but Volvo has come steaming out today with furious reaction to the leaked documents that reveal the Labour Party plot to replace Tony Blair with Gordon Brown was known as ‘Project Volvo’.
Peter Rask, regional president of Volvo Car UK, Ireland and Iceland, is quoted as saying: “If only the Labour Party had been like today's Volvos - dynamic, agile and innovative - perhaps the UK economy would have been in a better place than it finds itself today!”
Rask, or Volvo’s press team, blame out-of-touch Labour politicians for using the Volvo brand to sum up Brown’s negative (‘dependable, robust but dour) character traits. But Volvo should not be blaming the alleged plotters. Brown’s private pollster Deborah Mattinson put together the paper entitled ‘Project Volvo’ based on research with focus groups. The page summing up the focus group view of Brown is headed “GB unprompted responses”.
So, when asked to compare the then-chancellor with a car, the focus group called him a “Volvo or British Rover….steadfast, robust, strong…honest, trustworthy, integrity….old fashioned, set in his ways”.
These unprompted responses are very bad news for Volvo’s strenuous and, as far as I’m concerned, entirely admirable attempts to reinvent itself. It seems nearly two decades of effort have failed to shift perceptions, in the UK at least.