VOLVO CAR CORP. believes its safety-first reputation may be too dull for today's North American consumers. The carmaker aims to boost its brand image when it launches two new car platforms in the USA.
'We don't want to continue to have safe, boxy and boring cars,' said Helge Alten, president of Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. 'We want to have excitingly safe, beautiful and fun-to-drive cars.'
Leif Johansson, president of the parent group AB Volvo, said the automaker's 'boxy, boring' mindset is gone forever. 'I think we've proved we can change that with the S70/V70 and S40/V40,' he said. 'But we also are adding features, like the T4 and T5 (turbocharged models) and the all-wheel-drive Cross-Country.'
Volvo will launch the S40/V40 sedan and wagon in the USA during the third or fourth quarter of 1999, priced at around $25,000, Alten said. The larger S90/V90 will arrive late this year, and will be priced at about $45,000.
Johansson said the company needs vehicles like the sportier S40/V40 and its turbocharged derivatives to stay competitive in the luxury segment with BMW and Mercedes.
'Even if we are not trying to take customers from BMW and Mercedes,' he said, 'we are certainly competing with them for customers coming into that segment.'
Volvo plans to consolidate its three passenger-car platforms into two by 2000 and raise annual production by 100,000 units, to 500,000.
Both new platforms will have coupe and wagon versions.
Dave Andrea, an automotive analyst with Roney & Co. in Detroit, said Volvo may be able to lose its boxy image but will have to keep investing in the product to keep the sales growth going.
'They're going to be playing in a fashion-conscious arena,' he said. 'That commits them to more frequent facelifts and interior changes than Volvo is known for.'
Volvo sold 90,894 vehicles in the USA last year, a 2.6 percent increase over 1996 and a 34 percent increase since 1992. More than half of the sales in 1997 came from the 70 series.