Volvo Pushing For Internet Car Sales

Decision 1 for Volvo last week was to end the company’s factory-backed participation in motorsport.

Decision 2 is a substantial shift in Volvo’s marketing mix that’s going to be very interesting to watch. Volvo is implementing a new plan called the “Volvo Way To Market” and it means big changes in the way they’ll do things.

The Volvo Way To Market can be summarised as follows:

Marketing tools

  • And increased spend on better defined and more focused branding.
  • Only three motor shows a year – Detroit, Geneva and Shanghai/Beijing. Volvo will also conduct their own major event in Sweden to court the press and push their new products and brand values. This will replace attendance at ‘minor’ auto shows in other cities.
  • A decrease in sponsorship activities, such as motor racing and other sporting activities. The only major sponsorship to remain (and get an increase) is Volvo Ocean Racing.

I really like the idea of limited motor show activity. It’s a massive spend and while they’re great fun if you’re involved, the jury is out on how many cars they help to sell. Most car companies now see motor shows as a chance to 1) engage the press and 2) peek down the trousers of their rival carmakers. These three are the shows that everyone attends.

Digital Leadership

This will be the interesting part for me. Volvo argue that people are doing their car shopping online so Volvo will make a huge investment in their online experience.

The Internet Shop

  • Volvo will create an industry-leading website that promotes the brand’s values.
  • Volvo will create a new type of vehicle configurator, one that starts with a fully loaded car and allows the customer to customise it from there. Customers then have a video link emailed to them so they can see the car in motion.
  • Finally, Volvo will move to selling cars online, to compliment the dealership experience

The first two of those sound rather ho-hum. Every brand wants an industry leading website that promotes their brand values. Every brand wants a vehicle configurator that customers find easy and interesting to use. Right now there are only generic statements of intent. The whole notion turns on how Volvo will achieve this.

The final point is the really interesting one. Establishing online vehicle sales in parallel with the dealership sales experience. I firmly believe that there will be a reasonable selection of customers who will like the idea of ordering online. They’ll still want a dealership around to see the vehicle, maybe even for a test drive, but the idea of avoiding all the sales games and ordering at your liesure will resonate with some.

Which leads us to….

Dealerships

Dealers might fear Volvo’s proposed online push, but Volvo will argue that dealerships don’t make much money off the initial sale anyway. Their money comes from parts and service, and dealerships will still be needed for those activities.

VolvoDealership

  • Volvo want dealers to become full-on brand centres. New dealerships will have a standard Volvo-designed presentation that emphasises the Scandinavian heritage of the company. Existing dealerships will be asked to refine certain details to do the same.
  • Example – Dealers will be asked to serve traditional Swedish fare, and drinks in Swedish glass. So instead of looking up a recipe for Swedish meatballs and going to a dealership to buy a car, you’ll now go to your dealership for Swedish food and then go online to order your car.
  • European dealership staff will be dressed by a funky Swedish designer. American dealership staff will be dressed by Will Ferrell. OK, I made the Will Ferrell bit up, but the first bit’s true.

Service

After hooking customers in with its tasteful yet all-pervading internet presence, Volvo aims to cosset them with a very personal service experience.

New vehicle customers will meet their personal service technician when they pick up their new Volvo and that technician will stay with them for their full period of vehicle ownership. Phone numbers will be exchanged, presumably along with Christmas cards and other niceties.

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Volvo seem to be going to great lengths to let everyone know that this is not a reduction in dealership-based sales activity. In fact, Volvo are going to increase their marketing spend by a reasonable sum in order to implement the Volvo Way To Market.

What will be interesting is to see exactly how it unfolds, and how it affects Volvo sales. Volvo will need to do some serious investment in online marketing to reach the right people. And when that’s done, their new website and configurator will have to be something special to get people to commit online.

Other companies will be watching, too. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Teutonic crowd will be very interested in how this goes for Volvo. It won’t take long for other companies to replicate this venture if Volvo proves it can be successful. As with safety, this is something that can be learned and then snuffed out as a differentiator in reasonably quick time.

I take my hat off to Volvo for having a crack at this (but please keep racing).

Volvo To Stop Factory Support For Racing

Volvo made some ripples last week with a couple of announcements likely to have various parties feeling just a little bit nervous.

Decision 1 will effect anyone involved with a factory-backed Volvo racing team – unless they’re in a boat. Volvo’s global Marketing Manager, Alain Nisser, was quoted in the press last week saying that the company will cease direct participation in racing. Volvo’s sponsorship of ocean racing will continue, but car racing is on the chopping block.

VolvoPolestarV8Volvo support efforts by their performance partner, Polestar, in several racing series around the world, including the Swedish Touring Car Championship and the Australian V8 Supercar Championship. Polestar has won the last two STCC titles and won four races in the Australian series, in just the team’s second year.

Polestar will have to make decisions about their continued participation in some series’ if they’re going to have to fund their own efforts fully through competition and sponsorship in the future.

From an Australian perspective, this would be a major disappointment. Volvo and Polestar’s inclusion in the V8 Supercar series via the Garry Rogers Motorsport organisation (GRM) has created plenty of interest. Mercedes and Nissan joined the series – dominated by just Holden and Ford for two decades – but neither have had the success of Volvo. GRM Volvos took pole position in 10 out of 38 races this year, winning four of them.

Volvo’s contract with V8 Supercars runs until the end of 2016. The STCC contract finishes a year earlier.

The big question is WHY?

There are two reasons – the one that sounds a little bit warm and fuzzy, and the real reason.

Warm and fuzzy, by Alain Visser:

“Motorsport does not conform with our brand, where we stand for smaller engines and safety,”

The real reason, by Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars Group:

In the end, we do it if we think we can make money from selling more cars.

Follow the money, as they say in the classics. It costs money to race and unless you’re making it back somewhere, the cost is going to come under scrutiny. In Australia, Volvo has been racing for two years with some considerable success, yet their sales in 2014 are down 7% year-to-date. Sales were down a whopping 37% in November.

Samuelsson did actually echo the warm and fuzzy quote a little, when he went on to say:

Long-term it’s not really the cars we will be producing so it’s on the negative list, but let’s now continue the contract we have. Long-term it would be more interesting [to] maybe look into a hybrid formula. That’s open for discussion but there’s nothing I’ve heard about.

The good news is that the V8 Supercars group will be altering the rules for 2017 – the year after Volvo is due to quit racing in Australia – and the new rules will allow for classes other than V8s. Maybe there’ll be something there that will suit Volvo’s future vehicle plans a little better.

Volvo and Polestar have won a lot of friends down here in Australia, even if those friends haven’t bought cars yet. Racing is an investment and all good investments take time.

Here’s hoping Volvo might choose to stay around.

I’ll get to Decision 2, which concerns Volvo’s marketing plans and dealers, tomorrow. For now, here’s 8 minutes of the most exciting racing from the V8 Supercar Series this year. Take the time to watch it.

Fulvia Friday – Great In Grey

When I first saw a Lancia Fulvia colour chart the idea of a grey Fulvia didn’t excite me too much. I still wouldn’t want a grey one, myself, but seeing this car today has caused a massive mindshift over the basic idea of a grey Lancia Fulvia.

It’a also the best looking Fulvia-with-bumpers I’ve ever seen. I think it might be the wheels and the low stance. Whatever it is, this Fulvia looks the business.

This car is for sale in Holland for 16,000 EUR …. and just quietly, what is it with the Mad Dutchies and outstanding cars?! They seem to have heaps of them!

1967 lancia fulvia Grey

1967 lancia fulvia Grey 2

1967 lancia fulvia Grey 3

Spyker Bankrupt, Muller Determined

Most of you would have heard the news by now, but for those who have not…..

Spyker’s situation went from really bad to terminal last night when their bankruptcy protection/reorganisation status moved into plain old bankruptcy (receivership). Spyker Cars sought protection from its creditors just two weeks ago but the bridge funding it was counting on to survive the reorganisation process has not materialised. The court moved the company into receivership at the request of the administrator leading the reorganisation.

The-Black-NightTypically, our mate Victor Muller (right) doesn’t see this as the end of the road.

“None of the ambitions we had when we founded Spyker 15 years ago, has vanished as a result of today’s events. In 2000 we set out to establish a super sports car business from scratch with a global distribution and we achieved that. Over the years we undertook some daring ventures that left their marks on the company which in turn contributed to today’s demise.

However, I would like to make clear that as far as I am concerned “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning” to quote Winston Churchill. I will relentlessly endeavour to resurrect Spyker as soon as practically possible and, assuming we will be successful, pursue our goal to merge with a high performance electric aircraft manufacturer and develop revolutionary electric Spykers with disruptive sustainable technology.

Gags aside, I am very saddened by this news, if not surprised.

I admire Vic because he has a crack at things. He doesn’t wait for someone else to do it. Yes, he often does things with other people’s money but tell me the name of a business or entrepreneur that doesn’t. This is the way of the business world and investors know it.

Victor – I wish you well, my friend. I will be following your movements and hoping like crazy that you get to build those electric Spykers.

Nulla Tenaci Invia Est Via

It’s Getting So Ugly I Can Hardly Breathe

I had a big long rant planned about Rupert Murdoch and the ugliness he peddles wherever he casts his gaze.

Sadly, the news out of Pakistan tonight has me feeling completely and utterly defeated…. for the moment. Personally speaking, it’s fair to say that 2014 has been a pretty shit year and 2015 only holds the tiniest glimmer of hope for getting better. Every time you try to pick yourself up there seems to be another idiot with an agenda just itching to bring you back down again.

So I’ll leave my long rant alone. Here’s a short one instead.

Yesterday, in the midst of the siege in Sydney, Rupert’s masochistic chip-wrapper The Daily Telegraph rushed out their PM edition with this wraparound:

Telegraph

Sydney is the city of ‘shock-jocks’ in Australia and the Tele seems intent on being the print version of the same. At the very moment when cool heads were required – when lives were still on the line and nerves were at their edgiest – there’s the Tele trying to whip up a frenzy. Turds.

Then……

Just when you think News Limited has already jumped the shark, up comes Rupert Murdoch himself with a tweet posted live from the bowels of hell:

Rupert

Yes, in the aftermath of a lone-wolf hostage attack resulting in two innocent people dying, Rupert’s first public utterance is to congratulate his mini-me psychopathic birdcage liner for being the only one to capture the action live.

(and…. they weren’t the only ones reporting live, but why let the facts get in the way of a shit story?)

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I’m a news junkie. I love writing and I’d love to write for a living one day.

Being a writer means you have to read, though. With crap like this going around, it’s getting harder and harder to do.

Be decent. Be decent to yourselves and decent to one another. Please.

Fiat X1/9 Update

I’ll get to the Fiat in a moment…..

I drove a few interesting cars on the weekend. Both experiences were unplanned. One car I drove with a view to buy and the other was purely for fun.

Peugeot 205 GTI

The first car was a Peugeot 205GTI. I stumbled across this one when I ran into a co-worker at Salamanca Market on Saturday morning. The Pug belongs to his son and Mal let me know that it was now up for sale.

Pug205gtiGiven that the 205GTI is a bit of a cult car, I had to check it out. Click the image to the right to enlarge.

Mal’s son is a young fella and being a young fella, he’d made a few young fella modifications. There’s a Whiteline strut brace across the top of the engine bay and a big fart-can exhaust. The strut brace made the top edge of the hood sit up a few centimetres. The fart-can was just way too loud.

The 205’s party piece is its handling and yes, this car shone in that department. I only took it for a short drive but it was plenty enough to see why the little Pug hot hatch is so loved.

I’ve got my eye out all the time for an inexpensive fun car and this one definitely fit the bill. I didn’t buy it, though, as there is just a little too much still to be done. I’ve got enough work to do with the Lancia and the X1/9 right now. I don’t need another fixer-upper, even if it’s already running and registered.

If you’re interested, the car is on Gumtree and Hew’s a wonderful young bloke. The interior’s a bit tatty but the mechanicals are all sorted after an engine rebuild done around 4 years ago. The clutch might need a pedal adjustment (at least) but the car goes like a cut cat and feels like it would be big bags of fun.

Alfa Romeo 145

My second drive for the weekend was an Alfa Romeo 145.

DSC_0173I featured this car a few months ago after it made its debut at Classics By The Beach. The owner is a mate of mine named Norman and he called in to our place on Sunday.

Of course, as soon as I saw he’d parked the Alfa out front I suggested he might like to take me for a ride 🙂 . He went a step further and handed me the key! Woohaa!

The 145 was never officially sold in Australia so Sunday was a very rare opportunity. The 145 came with a variety of petrol engines over its lifetime and interestingly, they were in two very different configurations. The early cars had Alfa’s wonderful boxer engine, the one I’m quite familiar with from my Alfa 33’s. Later cars had Alfa’s Twin Spark inline 4 cylinder engine.

Norman’s 145 has the 1.6 litre 8-valve boxer. It’s got a little less grunt than my old 16V Alfas but the Fiat chassis that underpins the 145 is a lot more solid than the 33. The end result is the most refined Alfa Boxer experience you’ll ever feel.

When you say “refined”, people often think you mean boring. Far from it. The sound is still fantastic and the little 145 loves a good corner. There’s nothing quite like a small car revving to 6,000 and sticking like a limpet.

Outstanding!

Fiat X1/9

I’d normally be doing a Lancia Fulvia update around now but I spent the last two weekends gardening! Regardless, there isn’t a whole lot left for me to do with it parked out in the front yard. I’m at the stage where I really need to get the Lancia into the garage so I can clean it up and start stripping the paint. I can’t get the Lancia into garage, though, until we get Geoff’s Fiat X1/9 out of the garage.

Our young bloke, Geoff, bought the little Fiat from the same deceased estate that I bought the Fulvia from. It’s got 45,000 genuine kilometres on it and is in great cosmetic condition.

Sadly, it’s not running yet.

DSC_0564

The first job we did on it was to change the timing belt. I say “we”, by which I mean Geoff did it and I handed him the occasional tool. It was actually an easier job than I thought it might be. The hardest part was getting the yellow cover back on.

DSC_0555

Then the fuel was freshened, the oil, filters and plugs were changed and a new battery was connected. After that, it was time to try and start the car. Thankfully, the engine isn’t seized like the engine in my Fulvia. Sadly, though, it wouldn’t start.

Fuel, Air, Spark.

We have air, of course. And we have fuel. Spark is the problem.

We did a few tests and found there was no spark making its way to the plugs at all. A call to our local generic parts store got us a new coil, but it still wouldn’t start.

DSC_0556

A local mate with considerable Fiat experience (G’day Ant!) came over to lend a hand. On closer examination, it seems we installed the new coil incorrectly (there were some extra, confusing wires in place). We corrected, but it still wouldn’t start.

Ant re-gapped the points. Geoff cleaned out the distributor cap. Still, it wouldn’t start.

I made some enquiries about getting a new distributor cap and was surprised to find that you can’t get one for a 1.3 Fiat X1/9 anymore. They were particular to that car and they fail so infrequently that the manufacturer hasn’t made them in a long, long time.

The guy I spoke to did give me some recommendations, however, so we have some new HT leads and a new condenser on the way. We’ll try it again when the new bits arrive.

The big jobs that remain on the little Fiat are the clutch and brake master cylinders, which are going to be a complete pain in the posterior (for Geoff) to replace.

While the engine’s in the mid position, the master cylinders are located at the front but you have to go under the dashboard to get to them. That means removing the seat and quite likely the steering column as well (we’re still researching that one).

You’d think removing a seat would be a pretty simple affair but not this one. Normally you just undo the bolts at the front and rear of the seat rails. With the earlier Fiat X1/9’s, though, there aren’t any bolts. You have to undo a spring underneath the seat, then you hold the seat adjustment lever and slide it forward until it slides right off the rail. It would’ve been nice and easy but the seat was stuck fast on the rail until a liberal dose of WD-40 finally got it moving.

So that’s where we’re at right now. We’re waiting on parts to try and get the engine started and the cabin is now ready for Geoff to hang upside down and get under the dash to replace the master cylinders.

Hopefully that’s all the little Fiat needs before we clean it up and get it registered. I can’t wait to see Geoff’s face the first time he takes a bend in this little mid-engined Italian.

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Final note……

If Bertone can design the tiny Fiat X1/9 to have a full-size spare – it goes in this hidey-hole behind the front seat – how come modern cars can’t get one so easily?

DSC_0562

Inside Saab Archive at SaabWorld

For those who don’t know, I worked for Saab Automobile for a short time back in 2011, running a website for them called Inside Saab. As the name suggests, it was designed to bring all the latest news, events and other developments from inside the company.

I started with Saab in April 2011 and finished when the company declared bankruptcy later in December 2011. When the company died, the website died with it.

I have an Inside Saab archive here on this website but it’s text only. I don’t have the images that went with it and the layout is exactly the same as what you’re looking at right now.

Thankfully, a friend you might know as Wulf saved a complete archive of Inside Saab that includes all the text, the images and the CSS to get the layout right. Wulf runs a Saab website called Saabworld and he’s just loaded the full Inside Saab archive on to Saabworld’s pages.

You can see it here: Inside Saab at Saabworld.

InsideSaab

Make sure you check out the video page, too. The first two of what would have been a series of ten Inside Saab films are still on the site. All ten films had been shot and edited (I think) before I even started at Saab. We showed the first two but decided to hold off on showing any more because the factory had stopped production. We didn’t want it to look like we were treating that situation lightly, and we wanted to save what was really excellent material for a time when there was a better vibe about the place.

The video page also features a few other films we’d put together, too. It’s one of the things I really enjoyed about the job and it’s a shame we didn’t get to do more of it. I have a subscription feed for Porsche’s Youtube channel and those films have great cars, of course, but the films lack any real warmth or personality. The films I planned to make for Inside Saab were completely amateur in style, but featured real people telling real stories and doing real things to make great cars. One of the great things about Saab was its accessibility. I really wanted films that came across as one friend talking to another.

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Sadly, much of Inside Saab is taken up with Saab’s slow death spiral over the latter part of 2011.

There were some really fun highlights, too, though.

IntSaab 2011 in Finland was an amazing experience. If you live in Europe and haven’t been to an IntSaab event yet, put it in your plans. IntSaab was simply wonderful.

I started my tenure at Saab with a trip that would have been typical of the future if Saab had survived – coverage of the New York Motor Show. And if you cast your mind back to 2011, that means the US debut of PhoeniX.

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If you want to pick a subject to look at on Inside Saab, there is a tag cloud in the column on the right side of the home page. Just scroll down a little to see it.

Don’t use the search function just under the banner at the top of the page as it’s not currently working (it tries to search insidesaab.com which doesn’t exist anymore).

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My thanks to Wulf for having the foresight to do a complete download of the website. And my thanks to Wulf again for re-creating it at Saabworld. It’s nice to see the old site back up again (even if I’ve lost around 20kgs since that photo was taken!)

That link again: Inside Saab at Saabworld.

NEVS Gets Reorganisation Extended By Swedish Court

NEVS’s press office has been pretty crappy ever since……. well, forever.

But they certainly nailed it with this headline:

The reorganization of Nevs is prolonged

Yep.

It’s one of the most prolonged, drawn out affairs I’ve ever seen 🙂

The good news for Saab fans today, however, is that NEVS does get more time, which means that Mahindra can continue their due diligence work and their discussions with Saab AB about the naming rights.

The District Court of Vänersborg, today December 11, decided that the Reorganization of Nevs shall continue for an additional time period of three months, until March 2, 2015.

“I am glad that the District Court has decided to prolong the Reorganization. We need the time the prolongation allows to concretize and finalize the ongoing negotiations” said Nevs’ President Mattias Bergman.

concretize?

Let it go, Steven. Let it go.

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My 2 cents

Some of you might be wondering why I sound upbeat about this when I’ve been down on most-things-Saab in the last few years. The answer is simple: there’s an actual solution in sight and it doesn’t involve NEVS being majority owners of a company that makes Saab cars.

I’ve always questioned NEVS’s business plan and their capacity to pull it off. That they were so evasive about it only heightened my cynicism.

I don’t know what Mahindra will do with Saab but they know a little about the automotive industry. They don’t know much about the higher end of it, which might be why they’re interested in Saab. But they know enough and I believe they have enough resources to make a go of things. They’re a diverse company with good governance, a good sense of corporate social responsibility and access to markets that Saab hasn’t sold so well in. To me, that’s a good start.

A lot of Saab fans are ready to let the brand slip into the pages of history. I am, too, if that ends up being the case.

But while there’s a chance that a good owner can take over the brand and build something useful, I think they should be given every encouragement to do so.