Behind the Safety Veil of Volvo

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Volvo is a brand we refer to regularly when we help clients develop their respective brand position. The automobile manufacturer continues to command the front seat in people’s mind when it comes to safety. Safety is the promise of the Volvo brand. However, today safety does not shackle the brand to the attributes of square, stodgy, or boring.

The Volvo brand did fall into a period of boredom beginning in 1999 when its auto business was acquired by Ford. Later, in 2010, China’s Geely Holding Group purchased the auto business from Ford, and since then has been behind the curtain hoping to shape a new brand position for the Swedish icon that will make it more appealing, especially to the enormous Chinese auto market.

However, Geely’s first priority is to manage the Volvo brand in markets where it has a historical base of loyal customers. These are the car owners who are convinced that Volvo is the safest car on the planet. Automobile drivers don’t really give much thought to the corporate ownership and structure of a particular brand. And in the case of Volvo’s faithful followers, expectations and image are firmly planted, despite the native tongue of the automobile’s corporate parent.

The challenge on Geely’s road trip with Volvo has been to reshape the brand in order to attract a newer, affluent customer base that values safety, wants to appear environmentally responsible, but also values great style, car smarts, and high performance. You know who you are.

Without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Geely is demonstrating some progress in its efforts to drive the Volvo brand in a different direction. Of course, an investment of $11 billion dollars helps, but a successful shift in brand positioning is not always such an expensive proposition.

Acknowledging that other automobile manufacturers demonstrate equal or greater safety capabilities than the mother who birthed the concept for cars, Volvo is successfully using its historical position as leverage to launch itself into a new space.

Earlier this year at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, Volvo took significant steps to reinforce its commitment to safety, while aggressively nurturing its new position as a sleek driving machine. Boron steel gives it the vehicle strength to combat collisions without weighing it down like the more tank-like 240 series. The automobile’s technology package puts the driver at ease and accommodates passengers with wifi connectivity.

Now the new S60s are moving out of the show room and onto the streets. Some would say that its new body style, super-charged and turbo-charged get-up-and-go speed, combined with great fuel efficiency make it perfectly appealing to drivers tired of the Prius or others who love the Tesla but can’t afford one. It’s like a Volvo jet on wheels.

There is clarity in this automaker’s brand pursuit. It knows what it wants to be for the audience it is pursuing, and its brand shift is not to be another BMW. Establishing a strong brand position means understanding the roads you will travel and those you won’t. Geely is pulling back the veil on Volvo and is revealing a new brand position that is ready to compete for the attention of its targeted car buyers everywhere.

China, get ready. The Swedes are coming.