Fascinating first morning in Shanghai, where Volvo is ramping up to the unveil of its Concept Universe tomorrow. We’ve just had a briefing from Peter Horbury, Volvo’s head of design - and from what he’s saying, the jumbo concept (a full five metres long) is likely to be one of the talking points of the Chinese show.
Why? Because it's likely to really challenge everyone's perception of Volvo. “We could easily have done another three-box, generic sedan,” said Horbury, “but we’ve been brave enough not to copy the others. This is no Mercedes, BMW or Audi. And it’s different enough for us to ask if it will be accepted. That’s what will happen at Shanghai; we will have people on the stand, discreetly asking those who see the car, ‘Do you think this could be a Volvo?’”
Volvo’s problem is that it desperately wanted - needed - to sell cars in China, even before it was taken over by Geely. It sold 30,500 vehicles here last year, and wants to shift 200,000 per year by 2015.
But the firm’s marketing bods acknowledge that Chinese buyers are still going through a phase of ‘conspicuous consumption’, where you want your neighbour to know how much money you earn. And what are commonly regarded as Scandinavian luxury values - understatement, simplicity - don’t really sit with a market that’s keen on bling.