What is Volvo?

 When I started working at Volvo Village of Danvers a few months ago I had to consider what Volvo meant, and what it meant to me. I posted the literal meaning--I  Roll--from the Latin when I looked that up. However, I was more interested in a deeper understanding of what Volvo really means.

Every company has an identity. Actually, it has multiple identities. One is the identity as currently stated by an organization which can usually be found in mission statements and is trumpeted in marketing campaigns. Another is the historic identity of the company. This may or may not be in line with how said company might view itself today. A third identity, perhaps the most important, at least in terms of financial success, is how the general public views the brand. Finally, there is the identity as perceived by those who are fanatics of the brand.

Every automotive brand has an identity to promote. Working for many years with Saab, I always had a clear sense of what that brand was. Saab had stated "brand pillars" which were there to define everything they did, and those pillars were consistently conveyed to us at the retail level. Some would argue that in later years, while Saab claimed to have stayed with those pillars that they came to mean less or were diluted somehow. Perhaps. When I left Saab, I knew that I would  have to consider the brand pillars or identity of a new company. That may seem obvious. However, I was always comfortable with the Saab brand identity, believed that the delivery on the brand pillars meant something and I had to do my part to be a part of that delivery. What if I took a job with a company whose identity was something I could not believe in?

My first position, post Saab, was with a Subaru franchise. I knew what the brand meant, and what values were attached to it. Subaru was all about all-wheel drive, boxer engines, safety and efficiency. You could toss in sturdiness, and a dash of fun-to-drive, too.  As such, these were values I could embrace and promote without hesitation.

After Subaru, I was looking for a position and had occasion to think about this topic again.Then I was wooed by a local Infiniti dealer. I had a hard time with the notion of Infiniti. Hard as I tried, I couldn't figure out what that brand was. I still can't. They make nice cars. So do a lot of other companies. I challenge anyone to tell me what makes an Infiniti an Infiniti. Given this, I am certain I would have difficulty embracing that brand.

Then came the offer from Volvo Village of Danvers. Of course I was thrilled to work for the Village Automotive Group again, which came with its own brand identity, one which valued its employees and its customers. More important, I felt I understood what a Volvo was, to some degree, and felt I could be a part of their identity. Having said that, I set out to find out what Volvo was saying about itself, how Volvo identified itself compared to what my perception was.

In reading through periodicals and Volvo corporate doctrines, I learned that Volvo identified its Core Values as being Quality, Safety and Environmental Care. Fair enough. I think that as succinct and limited as those values may be, they certainly encompass much of what makes a Volvo a Volvo. In reading further, beyond what I found on the Volvo corporate website and in their training materials, I found some more detailed expressions of Volvo wants to be in materials aimed at their business partners. They include:

  • Designed Around You. This is explained as being the philosophy which guides everything Volvo. They put man/woman first, machine second. Build from the inside out.
  • Scandinavian DNA, which is said to include:
              Rational thinking
              The joy of functional detail
              Good craftsmanship
              Purity in design through a sense of humanity and naturalism
              Luxury without wasteful extravagance and excess
              Simplicity which makes for better understanding
  • The true benefit of everything Volvo does is to make life less complicated.

These expressions flesh out the Core Values nicely and paint a more complete picture of Volvo's vision. It will be interesting as I gauge how I perceive these values relative to the existing a previous Volvos, and even more so with respect to forthcoming products. I am a bit disappointed that nowhere is there the slightest notion of fun as a guiding principle. Even the Volvo heavy truck division has a sense of fun (and humor), so why not the car division?

I have thought about Volvo from my own perspective. I have not yet owned a Volvo, but I have spent some time with them over the past decade in my role as crash prevention instructor. In addition, I certainly have a point of view as a professional car guy. Now, I see Volvo in a different light as I get to spend time with and in them every day. After safety, the next thing I think about regarding Volvo is styling. I can't say I always like it, but a Volvo is still very recognizable in a world of nearly identical silhouettes, and the interior and exterior designs are unmistakably Swedish. Next, I think of comfort. Somehow, the Swedes seem to have figured out comfortable seating in a way no other manufacturers have. There are many fine cars with awful seats, and I would never own one. Finally, I think of funky engineering and design we see in current and coming Volvos. If you've never taken a look under the hood of a modern Volvo, do yourself a favor and have a peek. It must be a Swedish thing that says when you set out to design something, forget what anyone else has ever done. I love the seemingly crazy solutions for stuffing a straight six longitudinally under the hood, or the use of a five cylinder turbo engine as a bread and butter solution. While you're under the hood, try to find the throttle body in a turbo Volvo. Brilliantly bizarre! What I love most of all is the future of Volvo engine technology. Centering all their power-trains around two-liter, four cylinder engines for a variety of forced aspiration solutions is music to my ears.

As I grow into my role as a champion of the Volvo brand, I hope to have a deeper and more intimate understanding of the nuances that make Volvo what they are. It truly makes a difference to believe in the products you work with on a daily basis, at least for me. As for the public's view of the brand, I have found that our current Volvo customers are all in on the notion of Volvo being safe and of good quality. I don't know of anyone who thinks of Volvo as being a champion of environmental values. Volvo doesn't talk about this the way some other brands (Subaru) do, and perhaps it's hard to talk about how environmentally friendly your manufacturing process is when you've been slow in coming to market with fuel efficient power trains. Perhaps, though, with the advent of E-Drive and its frugal consumption and brilliant performance, environmental values (and maybe fun) will have a place at the table along with safety and Swedishness.
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