New models spark Volvo revival
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.