After a long period of scoops, previews and teasers, Volvo finally revealed the new V60 wagon yesterday. And it’s a bit of a stunner – elegant, well-proportioned, with a great-looking interior and plenty of those little touches that make Volvo stand out from among the competitors. The model’s debut means that the brands quest to replace its entire lineup with new cars, a process which began with the new XC90 two years ago, is almost complete – only the S60 and V40 remain, and both are likely to be replaced by year’s end. With a newfound confidence and a spring in its step, the brand seems to be effortlessly succeeding where so many others have failed – putting itself on an even keel with the German premium titans: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Of the three, it feels that it’s Audi that should be worried most – after all, Volvo seems to be walking a path that Audi once treaded, and in a way is targeting the same customers.
Wait, wait, wait… Audi and Volvo are nothing alike!
OK, I will admit the Volvo/Audi comparison is not perfect, but consider for a moment the many ways in which they are similar. First, Volvo new range of cars has a similar appeal to the Audi models that helped the German brand explode in popularity in the period 2000-2015: they are conservatively elegant, feature immaculately-made and practical interiors, and make good use of their FWD architecture to deliver spacious interiors and good economy. Second, while Mercedes-Benz and BMW have, for better or worse, a strong, immutable image, Audi first and now Volvo appeal to people who do not buy into that image. Instead, they attract buyers who prefer a more straightforward approach to premium: stylish but not brash, practically-FWD rather than wannabe-sporty RWD, spacious and embracing technology that makes the drivers’ and passengers’ lives easier. Finally, just as Audi did in the early 2000s, Volvo seems to have hit upon a winning style and is now happy to use the “one sausage, different lengths” approach to bring this appeal to all the segments it enters.
But can Volvo really emulate Audi’s rise to the podium?
The omens are really good. While the sales growth for the Volvo brand overall has not been quite as stellar as I thought, the brand has still been able to increase its European marketshare from 1.42% in 2009 to just under 2% in 2017. More impressively, the “new wave” models have consistently been on or around the podium: the XC60 and XC90 took 2nd spots in the premium mid-sized SUV andpremium large SUV segments in 2017, while the new S90/V90 was a very credible 4th in the premium large segment, with sales having grown by over 400%. With the new XC40 gathering great press it seems the little crossover is ready give the Q3/X1/GLA a bloody nose, and now the V60 looks to be the beginning of Volvo’s first proper assault on the premium mid-sized segment in a long time.
OK, so what does this mean for Audi?
With VAG’s resources behind it, it would take a brave person to bet against Audi. That said, with the latest range of cars appearing too conservative (A4), too brash (Q2, Q8) and too, well, under-baked (A8), it seems that Audi is going through a bit of an identity crisis, one that Volvo will be happy to explore. For while the German brands is striving to strike the right balance between driver appeal and futuristic self-driving technology, as well as between aggressive detailing and conservative proportions, Volvo seems to know exactly what it wants to be – desirable, practical, with the added USP (unique selling point) of its whole lineup becoming either hybrid or electric in the next few years. Given the movement of the overall market towards premium brands it’s quite possible that the new Volvo and new Audi brands will happily co-exist alongside one another, plus Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In the short run, however, I foresee many buyers trading in their old Audi models for the new Volvos.
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