Buyers have traditionally used their BMW purchase to justify an extra-performance engine with accompanying trimmings. BMW does perfectly good ‘cooking’ engines, of course, but it’s the pizzazz that earns them the money. If they start making a higher proportion of ordinary cars, as they surely will, the bottom line is bound to suffer.
Don’t expect big-cabin cars to go into a spiral, though. Consumers keep growing, and they enjoy the comfort too much to squeeze themselves into micro-cars. Look forward instead to a renewed crop of innovations in packaging, accompanied by cheaper and more effective weight saving.
Superminis that weigh 1100kg can’t be afforded, when they used to weigh 800kg. So which are the areas of traditional strength?
Ironically, I believe the Mondeo/Insignia crop of models may generate renewed interest as we wait for the hybrids to arrive. They’re big bodied and well priced, while their staple engines are both advanced and economical. I’m especially impressed by their traditional voluminous estate versions (which is one reason why Volvo should have a care before it kills the traditionalist’s V70).
One thing Volvo could consider - and I’m half-serious here - is to reprise the old shovel-nosed Volvo design. After all, retro-cars like the Mini and Fiat 500 continue to provide islands of sales strength in a world of uncertainty, and Volvo marketing men continue to protest that the perception of the boxy and upright Volvo hold-all refuses to die.
Maybe it’s time to stop fighting the old image and to see it as a virtue.