New mod­els spark Volvo re­vival

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOTORING -

AS a brand, Volvo has seen bet­ter days. In the early days of the Malaysian au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, it was the top-sell­ing pre­mium brand, out­selling BMW and Mercedes-Benz by a hefty mar­gin.

While other Euro­pean mod­els were known for quirky tem­per­a­ments and re­quired a lot of me­chan­i­cal at­ten­tion to keep them run­ning, older Malaysians will re­mem­ber Volvo for its re­li­a­bil­ity and so­lid­ity, earn­ing it the moniker “the Swedish tank”.

In­deed un­til to­day, you can still see early gen­er­a­tion Volvo Ama­zons (120-se­ries) in many small towns, still trusted by their some­what el­derly but loyal own­ers.

Volvo was also the first com­pany to sup­port Malaysia’s push for in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. In 1967, Fed­eral Auto, to­gether with Volvo, jointly built the Swedish Mo­tor As­sem­bly (SMA) plant in Shah Alam – the first and old­est car plant in the coun­try.

It should also be noted that apart from Swe­den, Bel­gium and China, Malaysia is the only other coun­try where Volvo has an as­sem­bly plant.

To­day, the Malaysian-made Volvo V40, V60, S60, S80 XC60 and XC90 are ex­ported to Thai­land and In­done­sia.

Al­though the brand has had a long and re­spected his­tory on our shores, a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate events in the 1990s caused the brand to lose much ground to Ger­man and Ja­panese mar­ques. Its lus­tre waned as a re­sult, and its pres­ence be­came less and less in­flu­en­tial among the younger gen­er­a­tion of car buy­ers.

But that is the past and Volvo is now back in form. At the helm of its rein­vig­o­ra­tion is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Keith Schafer, who is the right man for the job be­cause of his long his­tory of work­ing in Malaysia.

Be­tween 2005 and 2009, Schafer served as re­gional vice pres­i­dent be­fore tem­po­rar­ily mov­ing to a new post in Rus­sia.

“Over the last 12 months, our main achieve­ment was the suc­cess­ful launch of the V40 and V40 Cross-Coun­try model, which have been well re­ceived by the Malaysian pub­lic. This has gone some way to­wards our key chal­lenge of cre­at­ing aware­ness for Volvo in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket,” Schae­fer says. He adds that Volvo prod­ucts have al­ways had very strong ap­peal, but the chal­lenge is get­ting peo­ple in­side the car.

“We have found that when peo­ple ac­tu­ally drive a Volvo, they sel­dom want to leave, how­ever, the com­pet­i­tive­ness in mar­ket means that we are tasked with find­ing new and in­no­va­tive ways to mar­ket our cars.”

Schafer was es­pe­cially proud of the V40, which is be­ing hailed as Volvo’s most suc­cess­ful car to date. The V40 was re­cently awarded the 2014 Im­port Car of the Year by the Au­to­mo­tive Re­searchers’ and Jour­nal­ists’ Con­fer­ence of Ja­pan (RCJ). The V40 was also re­spon­si­ble for lift­ing Volvo Ja­pan’s sales by 25%.

Last year, the V40 scored 15.7 over 16 points in a crash test by Euro NCAP (New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gramme), the high­est ever recorded by Euro NCAP, mak­ing it the world’s safest car.

“We are pur­su­ing a goal to pro­vide Malaysians with af­ford­able lux­ury, through our au­to­mo­biles. For ex­am­ple, for the Volvo V40, we looked at the lo­cal mar­ket and de­signed the fea­tures and op­tions that would be of great­est use to Malaysians while still launch­ing at a price point that would be af­ford­able for most. Bear in mind that this is tech­no­log­i­cally, the safest car ever tested by Euro NCAP,” says Schae­fer.

Last year, the SMA plant was up­graded with a laser body-weld­ing fa­cil­ity, al­low­ing ve­hi­cle body shells to be welded here. In the past, all the body shells were im­ported from Swe­den.

SMA is the first car plant in the coun­try to adopt laser weld­ing. The rea­son for this is sim­ply that the V40 had to be built ac­cord­ing to a higher stan­dard of qual­ity and all V40 bod­ies re­quired laser weld­ing.

This also ex­plains why the roof struc­ture of ev­ery V40 is seam­less and there are no con­ven­tional rub­ber strips on the sides run­ning across the en­tire length of the roof.

Schae­fer says that Volvo will be launch­ing a new XC60 next year, which it hopes will have a sim­i­lar im­pact with the buy­ing pub­lic.

The V40 is at the heart of the brand‘s re­vival, ap­peal­ing to a new breed of buy­ers.

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