When good things hap­pen to good com­pa­nies

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - NEWS - danie@leisurewheels.com

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Times are tough. And times are chang­ing, too.

The sedan is fast head­ing to­wards the en­dan­gered species list. And the sports util­ity ve­hi­cle (SUV) has cometh of age. Ev­ery­one’s got one th­ese days and more are on the way. Think Lam­borgh­ini Urus, Rolls-Royce Cul­li­nan, Bent­ley Be­tayga – brands that you’d never have thought would ever list an SUV in their model line-up.

But they do. And they are sell­ing. Take the Porsche Cayenne SUV, for in­stance. When Porsche an­nounced that it would be of­fer­ing an SUV, some said the brand was doomed.

To­day the Cayenne and the smaller Macan re­put­edly ac­count for around 65% of all Porsche sales. In ef­fect then, sales of the Cayenne and Macan have funded the de­vel­op­ment of iconic Porsches such as the 911. And while the 911 was al­ways kind of cool, mod­ern 911s are quite bril­liant. Like the lat­est GT2 RS, which must count as one of the most de­sir­able su­per­cars on the planet to­day.

Which brings me to a Chi­nese com­pany called Geely Hold­ings. In 2010, Geely bought the ail­ing Volvo Cars com­pany from the mighty Ford; a move which raised many eye­brows, many spec­u­lat­ing that if Ford couldn’t get it right, Geely would soon be putting the famed Swedish car maker to pas­ture. How wrong they were.

The post-ac­qui­si­tion re­al­ity could have panned out a num­ber of ways. One op­tion would have been for the Chi­nese to send in a team of ruth­less bean coun­ters, clos­ing the taps on sup­pos­edly wasteful spend­ing.

But Geely Hold­ings did not do that. In­stead, it gave the cash-strapped Volvo en­gi­neers, renowned for their out-of-the­box, in­no­va­tive think­ing, the one thing they craved most: cash. Cash to cre­ate, dream, en­gi­neer and de­velop, and to build on Volvo’s rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing in­dus­try lead­ers in the field of in­no­va­tion,

While the en­gi­neers plied their trade, cre­at­ing and in­no­vat­ing, the Chi­nese ran the busi­ness side of things, a field they ex­cel in.

The re­sults have been truly stag­ger­ing. From a strug­gling small player in 2010, Volvo is now said to be the world’s fastest­grow­ing premium car man­u­fac­turer.

Geely Hold­ings also own the famed Lo­tus brand, by the way. And there’s a new SUV on the way, which will share some com­po­nen­try and prob­a­bly pow­er­trains in the Geely group.

Many in­dus­try in­sid­ers now say Geely’s ac­qui­si­tion of the fa­mous light­weight Bri­tish sports car brand is the best thing that could have hap­pened to it. The Lo­tus en­gi­neers can now de­velop their first new car in a decade of stag­nant pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

Who would have guessed such dec­la­ra­tions, back in 2010?

I must ad­mit, un­til re­cently, I took all this rhetoric with a pinch of salt. Sure, the Volvo XC90 is good but it’s not like the heav­ens opened and an­gelic singing was ac­com­pa­nied by an XC90 emerg­ing from the clouds.

Then the lat­est Volvo XC60 ar­rived at our of­fice, for the trip to Namibia you can read about else­where in this mag­a­zine. It came with some se­ri­ous ac­co­lades on its CV. Like World Car of the Year and ‘safest car in the world’.

Nice. But this is the real world. And in the real world those pieces of pa­per don’t mean so much.

But, over the next 4 000km or so, I re­alised ex­actly why Volvo is so suc­cess­ful: the XC60 T6 is one of the best cars I’ve ever driven.

It looks pretty good, with the Thor ham­mer head­lights, the sporty side pro­file, the 20-inch rims and the beau­ti­fully sculpted tail lights.

No, it’s not the fastest. Nor is it the most economical. But as an over­all pack­age it’s just so ac­com­plished.

The semi-au­tonomous driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is next level, too. You press a but­ton and the Volvo drives it­self, as long as there are clear lines on the road.

Driv­ing the Trans-Kala­hari High­way through Botswana is a dreary busi­ness. It’s a great road but it’s pretty much the same scenery for 800km. The Volvo changed the game com­pletely.

Press the semi-au­tonomous but­ton and the car not only steers the ve­hi­cle, it main­tains a set speed and ac­cel­er­ates and brakes ac­cord­ing to the con­di­tions, too. The driver sim­ply has to main­tain some pres­sure on the steer­ing wheel.

That high­way is dis­patched in an ab­so­lute jiffy, the Volvo’s oc­cu­pants fresh as daisies.

World Car of the Year? Safest car in the world? Af­ter this trip we know why it re­ceived such ac­co­lades. All the good­ness come at a price though, and that’s maybe the only re­ally neg­a­tive as­pect about it... it’s not quite as af­ford­able as we’d hoped.

Any­way, this brings me back to Geely Hold­ings. Volvo is proof that when good things hap­pen to good com­pa­nies, magic can hap­pen. Magic like the Volvo XC60.

Here’s hop­ing for more good news sto­ries like this in the bean coun­ter­ruled mo­tor­ing in­dus­try.

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