The only surviving Swedish automaker isn’t starving—its loyal, safety-minded
regulars keep food on the table. But it’s hungry for more sales, and it won’t be relying
on longstanding buyers for those.
Look at the sticker price for the launch version of Volvo’s second-generation XC90 (pictured here), now trickling into U.S. dealerships: $66,825. That’s about on par with competitive products from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. More modest versions of the 2016 Volvo XC90
start at $49,825, which fits in with the brand’s “value-premium” approach, but consider the price creep into German territory as an announcement that Volvo is shedding some of its stellar safety image in favor of exclusivity and sexiness.
Volvo’s new mojo will be clear in upcoming products. Volvo and Geely, the Chinese automaker that bought it from Ford in 2010, are working on a small-car platform that will likely spawn an all-new S40 sedan for 2017 followed a year later by a new XC40
, which will compete in the burgeoning premium compact crossover segment. A long-wheelbase version of the current S60 sedan
, with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, is due out later this year, and an all-new S60, possibly with a coupe variant, is a couple years away.
Models from the next S60 on up will be built on an exclusive Volvo platform, including the automaker’s next flagship model, an S80 replacement to be renamed S90. Due out in 2018, the S90 will come only with a four-cylinder engine. (There’s no future for five-, six-, or eight-cylinder engines at Volvo, which is investing only in inline-threes and -fours such as the 316-hp, super- and turbocharged four in the new 2016 Volvo XC90.) Although the S90 will be available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, it will have the long-nose proportions of a rear-wheel-drive car and be the best-looking Volvo since the P1800
The Volvo S90 will be perfect for China’s luxury market, which embraces big sedans with small-displacement engines to avoid stiff tax penalties. CEO Håkan Samuelsson’s goal is to increase global volume from about 470,000 in 2014 to 800,000 by 2020. He expects that China will make up a quarter of that total in 2020. Selling 200,000 Volvos per year in China should be easy because Samuelsson expects that market to take as many XC90s as North America does, which is a lot. The rest of the world will account for about 28 percent of the sales growth.
Things seem set, then, for Volvo to chow down in both established and new markets. We’ll see if the new image turns off some of the safety-minded customers who have kept the Swedish automaker from starving. But we’re guessing that most of them—as well as every new buyer—will enjoy primped, pretty cars playing in the luxury market, where Volvo has long operated on the periphery.