Volvo revs up on road to racier style

Marketing: Hold on to your seats, the Swedish car manufacturer is determined to shed its 'dull but safe' reputation

FEW would disagree that Volvo is renowned for safety. Equally, few would quibble with the opinion that the company's cars are rather dull.

Volvo's desire to modify its image by improving styling without sacrificing peace of mind is at the root of its marketing campaign.

This year, it is spending £12m on advertising the 850 range. Earlier this month, the latest in a series of television commercials was screened. In an effort to cut a swath through the overcrowded car advertising field, it is shot in an eye-catching style by one of America's leading directors and has a dramatic theme.

But it is not just the look that is different. Like the other commercials, it is based on the idea that the driver - in this case a meteorologist tracking a tornado - is a professional who must take caculated risks. The viewer sees the scientist swerving and cornering to avoid flying debris as he tries to get as close as possible to the eye of the storm.

Craig Fabian, marketing and communications manager at Volvo Car UK, says: "The treatment is designed to highlight the dynamic handling and performance of the Volvo 850."

Those features are also being exhibited in the even more testing arena of the British Touring Car Championship, which the company is leading.

If the idea of a staid family car winning races seems odd, so does the idea of significant numbers of Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and BMW drivers switching to the marque. But Mr Fabian insists that is what is happening. According to his research, 83 per cent of buyers of the 850 T5R limited- edition, high-performance model aimed at enthusiasts are completely new to Volvo.

There is also evidence that the range is attracting younger buyers, with people between 35 and 40 particularly responsive. It is no coincidence that the latest commercial was first screened during NYPD Blue, the latest television series to be popular with thirtysomething audiences.

Mr Fabian, pointing out that the commercial had been tailored to attract a new target audience, said: "Our television advertising approach over the past year appears to have had the right effect on the right people. To date, tracking research has shown 70 per cent awareness of our television advertising."

Press adverts are also appearing in such formerly unlikely places as GQ. The intention, Mr Fabian adds, is to make a pitch for those who have just acquired a family and those whose offspring have just left home.

The introduction of the 800 series, a notably more stylish product than its predecessors, is a central part of that policy. But Mr Fabian insists that it will not end there. It is just the first step in a strategy aimed at pitting Volvo against the marques that the T5R has won buyers from - BMW, Audi, Mercedes and, in certain markets, the Lexus. Indeed, the company maintains that its aim is to be "the world's most desired and successful speciality car brand". On the other hand, Volvo has seen its still-dominant position in the estate car field affected by the vogue for 4x4 and "people carrier" vehicles.

While stressing that the company is not complacent, Mr Fabian suggests that it has not followed suit because it regards such vehicles as fashion accessories that may soon go out of style. Moreover, in keeping with the decision not to replace the none-too-exciting 300 series - which was abandoned some years ago - the company says it has no intention of seeking additonal sales by becoming a volume-car marque.

This would appear to be a brave strategy. Although the 400 series approaches the volume category, sales of the 800 series amounted to just 11,000 and those of the top-of-the-range 960 to 6,200 in 1994, compared with a total British figure of 80,000 in the boom year of the mid-1980s.

But it is a result of the sort of refocusing that is becoming commonplace in businesses of all sorts. It is also not unconnected with what Mr Fabian refers to as a period of "dislocation". There have been some significant management changes associated with the failure of the planned merger with Renault and the move of the British sales operation from a semi-independent existence to within the UK company.

An element in the process was the decision by Swedish senior management to encourage individual territories to look at their markets and feed conclusions into a business plan.

One result was to focus the company more closely on sales and marketing - hence the 850 campaign. And the public should prepare to have any remaining preconceptions of Volvo shattered. Coups and cabriolets, similar to those produced by fellow Swedish manufacturer Saab, are apparently not ruled out.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam