Just before Christmas, I was walking down Teddington High Street, near Autocar’s Middlesex base. I heard the once-familiar warble of a Volvo five-cylinder engine and looked around to see an R-plate V70.

When I joined Autocar in 2004, Teddington’s affluent streets were dominated by Volvos. The town even had its own main dealer. Today, the dealer’s gone and Volvo’s road-side presence is greatly diminished. So, whatever happened to Volvo?

It’s 20 years since the launch of the front-drive 850-series, a range designed to break with the company’s past. Models such as the dramatic T-5R should have been enough to change perceptions of Volvo.Ultimately, they weren’t.

While Volvo’s re-invention was well-timed (BMW, Mercedes and Audi all hit the revolution button in the early 1990s) it just didn’t carry through the huge growth in sales that the Germans managed. In recent times, Volvo sales peaked in 2004, at 456,224 units, thanks to the XC90 and the first S60 and 458,323 in 2007.

The crunch and an ageing and off-pace model range saw output slump to just 334,808 in 2009. In 2010, the year Ford sold Volvo to Chinese manufacturer Geeley, sales climbed to 387,802, but still very disappointing for a premium brand, recognised globally. This year, it should be back to near 450,000 units, but it is still way behind its German rivals.