Are Volvo cars better than German cars
No, such a comparison is not fair. Audi, BMW and Mercedes each sell as many cars in China as Volvo does worldwide. With 642,000 vehicles sold, the Swedes reached a new high last year. Measured against the German manufacturers, this is too little to survive and too much to die.
Nevertheless, there is a spirit of optimism among the Swedes: "Every car manufacturer has the same technology roadmap," says Håkan Samuelsson. The way in which the transformation is promoted is decisive: "It is easier to implement initiatives such as networking, autonomous driving and electrification in a compact product range than in larger companies," said the Volvo boss. In short, it is about reducing complexity - "and you have to have the courage to prioritize".
Being small and agile can definitely be an advantage in times of upheaval. The Germans still have the painful slimming down of their range of models and engines ahead of them. When they say goodbye to eight and six-cylinder engines, they lose a significant part of their brand identity. Volvo, on the other hand, is well advanced in changing the range of drives. The Swedes have only had turbocharged three and four-cylinder engines in their range for a long time; There is no longer any diesel in the recently introduced S 60 sedan. The announcement that half of all electric-powered cars (including plug-ins) will be sold by 2025 even dwarfs the Volkswagen Group's drive turnaround.
No other manufacturer has benefited more from the home-made problems of German manufacturers than Volvo: Last year, the Swedes were able to increase their sales by 21 percent to 21.46 billion euros. There was also a new sales record in Germany - very different from Audi. After the diesel exhaust scandal and the WLTP sales crisis, the Ingolstadt-based company was wounded. "The diesel crisis felt like losing an arm," said Audi boss Bram Schot at the annual general meeting in May, "some thought that Audi would not survive." The total loss of the image is reinforced by the withdrawal of key future topics from Ingolstadt. When it comes to high-performance electric drives, Porsche has its hat, the modular electrical construction kit comes from Wolfsburg and autonomous driving is being developed under the direction of VW Commercial Vehicles.
How Audi is to become the "most progressive premium brand" (Schot) remains the secret of the Ingolstadt-based company. At the moment, the Scandinavian, puristic Volvo design is more popular with many customers. In the reader survey by AutO engine Sport The Swedes overtook Audi and Mercedes in "good looks" and in 2018 were only just behind BMW. Above all, the clear and calm lines in the interior place the focus on people - something that cannot always be said of the technology-loving German brands. But it is also clear that the giant screens in the interior are due not least to the taste of Chinese customers.
Experienced networkers rather than engineers decide about the future of car brands
It's not that Volvo can do everything better. Car diesels with the Euro 5 emissions standard from Gothenburg are among the dirtiest on the market. However, this did not result in more than a scratch in the paintwork of the Swedish tanks. In the next decade, Volvo wants to say goodbye to the development of diesel engines anyway. "The diesel debate is much stronger in Germany than in Sweden. In Swedish daily newspapers everything revolves around plug-in or pure battery cars," says Volvo Development Director Henrik Green.
The announced speed limit has not cost any sympathy points either. From 2020 onwards, no new Volvo should drive faster than 180 kilometers per hour ex works. Because the energy consumption increases disproportionately with the driving resistance, this step is logical for (partially) electric drives. However, the sporty electronics subsidiary brand Polestar is exempt from the limit. The balancing act between traditional (combustion) buyers who continue to demand "faster, higher, further" and a new generation of customers who value climate protection will not be easy for any of the manufacturers.
It's not just about a technology change, but also a fundamental change in image. Sheer size helps just as little as the Audi slogan "Vorsprung durch Technik". As I said, the technology roadmap is the same for all (premium) brands. With its core values of safety, quality, design and environmental protection, Volvo is pretty much in the target range for the next few years. Håkan Samuelsson's management style could also prove to be decisive. The 68-year-old is much older than most German car bosses. His experience can be felt in a certain nonchalance: Samuelsson does not have to constantly prove his position with superlatives from the car quartet. When he took over the helm in 2012, Volvo was in the red and, after eleven years under the Ford regime, was technically drained. In addition, the takeover by the Chinese Geely Group two years earlier had cracked the self-image of the proud traditional brand from 1927.
Samuelsson, who headed the MAN commercial vehicle brand until 2009, saw the crisis as an opportunity. It is precisely this ability that is required now. The task is to develop the brand quickly through a large number of partnerships - without becoming interchangeable or implausible. The central task of the next few years lies in this transformation.
Is it a coincidence that a Swede has taken power at Daimler too? Even if he claims (as is usual in the industry) that he has petrol in his blood: Ola Källenius is not an engineer, but a trained finance and marketing expert. With a clear commitment to climate protection and new digital business models, he has a slightly different style than his predecessors. The 49-year-old not only attaches importance to a more balanced relationship between men and women in management, but also opens up the Stuttgart Wagenburg to new forms of cooperation. His predecessor Dieter Zetsche announced the Smart cooperation with Geely in March. But the partnership with BMW in new mobility services and in the development of autonomous driving also clearly bears the signature of Källenius. A strategy that could similarly come from Håkan Samuelsson.
The two Swedes at the helm of Daimler and Volvo could soon have more to do with each other. It's not just about relaunching Smart as an electronic brand from Chinese production. It is also conceivable that Geely, as the largest Daimler shareholder, will dock with the BMW and Daimler platform for autonomous driving. By 2025, Volvo wants to sell a third of all vehicles with motorway pilots (level 3). "A software in the highest expansion level for robot taxis would go beyond the limits of such a system," says Green. Nevertheless, Volvo wants to have at least one major customer such as Uber for such a system by 2025.
It is still unclear how the small Swedish company with 43,000 employees intends to cope with such a (financial) feat: In view of the small number of robotaxis, the system only pays for itself in one of the world's leading platforms. In this game, even the Geely group with over two million vehicles is a small number. Sometimes there is no substitute for market power.
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