When good things happen to good companies
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.