Volvo Cars in Canada sells five plug-in hybrid models – two SUVs (sport-utility vehicles), two sedans and one station wagon, the V60 plug-in hybrid. All five are rated at 400 horsepower. They are fast, too: 0-100 km/hour in 4.6 seconds for the V60.
And you won’t find any loss-leading starter models among them. Volvo, under the ownership of China’s privately held Geely (Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Ltd), has positioned the reinvented Volvo, still based in Sweden though controlled from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, as a luxury brand emphasizing electrification specifically, with a broader view of corporate responsibility rooted in safety and sustainable mobility. After a decade of rebuilding and repositioning, Volvo today has come a long way from the collapsing carmaker
(For the record, Ford Motor sold to Geely a decade ago for the absurdly low price of $1.5 billion (US). I say “absurdly” because we should all remember that Ford bought Volvo for $6.45 billion in 1999, then spent a decade engaged in value destruction on a spectacular scale. One of the greatest examples of incompetence every witnessed in the car business. Anyway…)
The current Canadian lineup consists of three SUVs (XC90, XC60, XC40) which account for about 70 of all sales. There are also two wagons (V60 and V90, with Cross Country versions of both), two sedans (S90, S60), and three super performers under the emerging Polestar umbrella (XC60, V60 and S60). Volvo Canada is launching one pure EV, the XC40 Recharge with more EVs coming. The gasoline XC40, starting at just under $40,000 is the least expensive of the bunch. The $74,950 XC90 plug-in hybrid sits at the top of the range.
That is, until you dig into the Polestar Engineered models, which top out at $89,150 for the SC90 Polestar. All are plug-in hybrids. Indeed, by the middle of this decade, Volvo aims to have a fully electrified lineup. Already, Volvo offers some sort of plug-in version of every model.
The plug-in Volvos are only marginally successful in North America, but in Europe, they are doing well – or were doing well until the Covid-19 pandemic hit – and triggered a 21 per cent plunge in first-half global sales. Plug-ins, however, accounted for about one-quarter of Volvo’s European sales for the first half of the year.
Volvo boss Hakan Samuelsson recently said that he believes Volvo’s business will bounce back relatively quickly from the pandemic – and, indeed, Volvo lost only 15 days of production in Sweden. Electrification, Volvo’s long-term goal, will help drive Volvo’s resurgence, he says.
Volvo’s long-stated goal is to beat Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and others to leadership in electrification. Volvo would like to see 50 per cent of its sales to be fully electric vehicles. Samuelsson has recently argued to reporters that the pandemic could very well accelerate Volvo’s bid to electrify.
“This pandemic,” he told Britain’s TopSpeed, “has strengthened our confidence that our strategic ambitions are the right ones and that an accelerated transformation of our business will lead to long-term growth. We will continue to focus on and invest in electrification, online sales, and connectivity.”
As I read it, the pandemic is a confidence-booster for Volvo. Volvo has been tip-toeing into a more progressive approach to making cars and distributing them – pushing ahead with dealers to give consumers alternatives to the traditional way of “ownership,” top to bottom.
Confidence is a wonderful thing, as is a strong commitment to a clear vision of the future. Volvo’s cars and SUVs are, indeed, elegantly designed, loaded with smart features – including the second-best touchscreens in the business, behind Tesla – have superb seats and go very fast without slurping down absurd amounts of fuel.
Here’s the rub of all rubs, however. And it’s the same one that threatens Land Rover: quality. In the most recent J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, Volvo sits third from the bottom. Only Audi and, of sadly, Land Rover rank below Volvo.
In fact, a whole bunch of premium brands failed the 2020 IQS: Infiniti, BMW, Lincoln, Acura, Porsche, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz among them. One could argue that the IQS is just a 90-day snapshot of out-the-box quality and a measure of the user-friendliness (or unfriendliness) of new technologies, especially connectivity-related technologies.
It’s also a warning sign. You see, in J.D. Power’s three-year Vehicle Dependability Study released earlier this year, Volvo ranked fourth from the bottom – ahead of only Jaguar, Chrysler and, of course, Land Rover.
J.D. Power’s quality studies have their critics, true. Nonetheless, the IQS and VDS are also widely circulated and help to drive perceptions in the marketplace.
Volvo should not dismiss a growing body of evidence that points to quality issues – even if the tests, the IQS and VDS, are widely considered to be a somewhat imperfect measure of build quality and reliability.