A Resurgent Swedish Star
ADDING DESI RABI LIT Y TO ITS CORE VALUES OF SAFETY AND RELIABI LIT Y, VOLVO HAS ENJOYED A RENAISSANCE LIKE NO OTHER IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY.
It must have been early 2012. One of those balmy South Australian nights that Adelaide tends to stuff with Coopers Red and menus highlighting the forgotten Australian city as the country’s most underappreciated culinary scene. Over the course of dinner GQ listened as a Scandinavian Volvo exec bemoaned his lot: that despite various inroads and cars that rolled off international lines packed with promise, tech and Euro-badged bang for buck, they remained best-known as cars of an older set. And there was more – this was a brand associated with shitty drivers, safety and reliability, and little else. It was true. And yet, that was then. Seven or so years is a long time – just ask any federal frontbencher – because today Volvo has re-established itself as a force much-removed from what it was. Of late – the past few years, particularly – it has re-emerged from its Gothenburg chrysalis as a major player, one that’s grown to reporting 2017 sales of 571,577 vehicles and an operating profit of $2.4bn – both records for the 91-year-old company – with revenue of $32.1bn. Such Coopers-raising global stats point to what is an incredible turnaround – one largely driven by desire. Because desire remains the most coveted asset in the automotive industry – and where Volvo’s tank was once empty, it now runs full, with a product line that has quickly altered opinion and which now sees it spoken about, for the first time, in terms of allure. Many still point to the injection of cash that came in 2010 – when the Chinese Geely group bought the famed Swedish company (a national brand that shares a heady domestic spotlight alongside Acne and Hygge and Noma) for a knocked down price from Ford. But money doesn’t always equate to aspiration and appeal – just look at the ways of any Russian oligarch. This is now a marque that orbits intangible notions of cool. It’s no Equus Bass 770 (seriously, look that thing up and try not to not to feel loins stir), but Volvo has mounted a unparalleled revival journey of late. The key here is models such as the ‘XC90’, ‘XC60’ and this year’s ‘XC40’ – as well as the coolest wagon that’s not an Audi ‘RS4’, the recently released ‘V90’. As the man overseeing such designs, and as such, this impressive resurgence, chief design officer Thomas Ingenlath has stated: “Our core brand values will always be [focused on] safety and Scandinavian design. But now Volvo has a stronger character. It was always on the edge of quirkiness, but we’re striving to create something desirable.” For Ingenlath, good-looking cars needn’t be fast-looking cars. “We consciously decided to move away from mainstream car design and not add any slashes or lines to the surfaces that make it look dynamic. We concentrated on creating something with substance.” It’s an approach we can only salute as Volvo continues to turn heads in a way it hasn’t since Roger Moore’s The Saint was burning about the ’60s in a ‘P1800’. And it’s why this Swedish marque is GQ’S Comeback of the Year.