BUDAPEST - Volvo recently experimented with an original method of brand promotion. It used trains to sell cars.
Volvo rented space on Polish express trains between the capital Warsaw and other major cities including Krakow, Poznan, Gdansk, Szczecin and Gliwice.
Hostesses toured the first-class compartments and invited passengers into the Volvo carriage to take part in time-management seminars. The seminars gave Volvo a chance to share its brand messages with passengers through exhibits and information brochures. Passengers also had the opportunity to book test drives.
The train promotion was part of the mobile selling unit concept Volvo is launching in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Volvo has held other events in Poland - one at a beach and another at a Whitney Houston concert.
'We're trying to go from a relatively rigid business model where we have outlets that prospects and customers visit, to mobile units that travel to where prospects and customers are,' says Thomas Andersson, president of Volvo's Eastern European sales unit. 'We'll have greater presence through flexible units than we would have through fixed facilities.'
With the three countries just a decade removed from communism, Volvo believes new entrepreneurial cultures are starting to emerge.
'Those people, though they have been part of the western world for only 10 years, are very open to new ways,' Wolff Huber, president of Volvo Cars Market Area Europe in Brussels, told Automotive News Europe last year.
As a luxury brand, Volvo does not have enough customers to justify building a large dealer network across the region. For example, Volvo has only 10 dealers in Poland - a country with a population roughly the same as Spain. So Volvo decided to deliver its brand message to customers in an alternative way.
The mobile selling unit concept will take different forms as Volvo tries to learn what works best in these diverse markets.
By autumn, Volvo will open a showcase center in central Warsaw. Customers will be able to study Volvo products and exhibits. Volvo will also highlight its commitment to safety and the environment.
'It's a step away from a traditional showroom,' says Barrie Collins, regional human resources and training manager for Volvo.
A similar center will be opened in Budapest before the end of the year.
Volvo believes most of its customers initially will be in these capital cities. When customers visit a Volvo center, they will be able to buy a car immediately or arrange for a salesman to visit them at work or home.
This year Volvo will sell about 1,500 cars in Poland, 1,000 in Hungary and 500 in the Czech Republic.
'There's an opportunity to turn around the image of a brand quickly,' Andersson says. 'If we have 1,000 S80s on the streets here, people immediately take notice. But in western Europe it takes some time to go from the perception of the old 240 and 250 models to the new S80.'
Central European customers are more interested in the emotional appeal of the Volvo brand. Their western European counterparts take a more rational approach, valuing Volvo's safety image above all else, Andersson says.
He believes Volvo has an opportunity to be a serious rival to Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the prestige class in central Europe.
Andersson says: 'The perception of style in central Europe is different from western Europe and the USA. If you succeed, you're not ashamed to show it.'