Henry’s Bequest

One model has defined Volvo’s rebirth, but its backer deserves some of the credit as well.

‘Ford Gives You More’ – Volvo XC60. Image: Car and Driver

It’s customary for a new car line to hit its sales-stride within the second full year of production, before plateauing and gradually ebbing downwards. This fall is normally arrested by a mid-term facelift, before once again, the graph pitches inexorably Southwards as the model is run out and ultimately replaced. While I wouldn’t necessarily build a thesis (of either variety) around this assertion, this tends to be the run of things, normally taking place over a six-to eight year product cycle.

Volvo’s XC60 was first shown in thinly veiled concept form a decade ago at the NAIAS before being officially announced the following year. Volvo’s first mid sized SUV, it came on the heels of the larger XC90 model, which proved to be a huge hit with buyers, particularly in the US market. Based on a modified version of the Ford EUCD platform that underpinned so many Ford-sanctioned PAG cars (not forgetting the Mondeo), the XC60 was allegedly developed with some 4×4 assistance from Land Rover, whose Freelander 2 shared some structural componentry.

From 2009, once production was up to speed, the Volvo midliner cleaved to stereotype, with sales growing year on year. However, there was no mid-life dip for the Swedish high-rider. Sales simply continued rising inexorably. Even last year, when news of its impending replacement was all over the motoring press, far from fading, the XC60 posted a new global sales record with over 160,000 models sold.

The second-generation XC60, built on Volvo’s own modular platform was officially launched in Geneva this March to positive reviews and the new model shows every sign of outselling its predecessor once deliveries begin in earnest. But here’s the curious thing. Even on run-out, the outgoing car continued selling strongly and for the current year to June, XC60 sales across Europe alone are up 34% on 2016. It’s worth pointing out here that this figure only includes a small quantity of the new model, production of which is still getting up to speed.

This is a remarkable performance for any car. Because even allowing for the fact that it competes in one of the highest ranking sectors from a sales perspective, it’s also among the most competitive. In fact, the Volvo was until recently perhaps the oldest offering in its segment, yet amongst the best performing. That’s a proposition Volvo’s rivals would kill for.

Frankly, if you want to understand the Swedish brand’s post-PAG ascent, look no further, because Volvo’s rebirth has been largely built on the XC60’s broad shoulders. However, it’s worth remembering that Geely, (Volvo’s current owners) did not bankroll this model programme. Ford did. I’m not usually in the habit of saying this, but in this case at least, I really do believe Ford hasn’t received the credit it deserves.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

9 thoughts on “Henry’s Bequest”

  1. The XC90 sold strongly right up until the end, which is even more of a surprise because it was hopelessly uncompetitive by that point. We bought an XC60 last year, last opportunity for a 5 pot Volvo, and it’s a very likeable car indeed.

    To go back to the topic at hand, FoMoCo were also responsible for the development of the first generation XF which helped keep Jaguar alive (albeit on life support), as well as laying the foundations for many of the successful LR models of today. I think both Tata and Geely did well from the fire sale of the Premier Auto Group marques!

    1. Agreed David. It’s customary to throw vegetables at Ford for their often quite myopic product decisions (a past-time in which I have gleefully taken part) and while under PAG, Volvo lost their way somewhat, Ford nevertheless invested in strategic product which made both Volvo (and Jaguar/LandRover) saleable propositions.

      I had this pointed out to me in quite impassioned terms by a JLR insider last year. I would make the suggestion that if one was to be acquired by either of the Detroit big two, the preference would have been for it to be Henry. At least you stood a better than even chance of surviving the process.

  2. I concur with the general consensus on Volvo’s product lately and the S90 particularly, the interior is lovely and I can see why they are doing well.

    Apropros of nothing, though, I had a deeply discomfiting moment on the subject of Volvo around a year ago, when I read a piece celebrating the 850’s 25th anniversary.

    Wait, what?

    A quarter-century? You have got to be kidding me, right?

    Some finger-math showed it was indeed the case. Am I truly that old? In my head, the 850 still ranks as a new-ish car. The cognitive dissonance inherent in this realisation was, and is, more than a little terrifying to me…

    1. Yes, I get that too. The 850 is rather timeless; I think of it as the first new Volvo in my lifetime. The others seemed always to be there. The “when does a car seem old to you” question was covered here previously. The cars of 1997 don’t seem old to me at all. I’d drive quite a lot of them without feeling like I was in an anachronism. A 1987 car seems to be at the boundary. However, for anyone who is, say, 20 now a 1997 must seem ancient. Or do cars stay believably new for longer? Styling ceased to be so obviously progressing by the year 2000. Before that every decade differed a lot in style and, importantly, manufacturing. Show me a 2017 car with a major production-assembly feature that wasn’t there in 2007?

    2. There are many differences between 2007 and now.

      Honda laser-welded steel to aluminum front subframe came out in 2012 for the new Accord. Since been replaced by an innovative thinwall hollow cast aluminum version for the new 2018 detailed in Honda technical papers anyone can access after registration – nobody managed this before, not anywhere near this degree, and certainly not on such a complicated shape.

      https://www.hondarandd.jp/summary.php?sid=51&lang=en

      Other Honda articles detail how to properly design a direct injected turbo engine. Results are the one in the new CR-V that we get here (and maybe in the Civic hatchback that we get here also made in Swindon), which gives it a 6 mpg advantage and greater power from a 1.5t than the new Brudack head on the Audi A4 and Tiguan 2.0t which revs only to 44oo rpm for max power. Vehicle weights are entirely similar so Brudack seems dead out of the gate. Even Car and Driver averages 29 mpg US (8.1 l/100 km) on the CR-V. of course VW invented MQB and MLB but the jury’s still out on that one really – VW has to make the Golf-E separately – it has to put the batteries in a non MQB floorpan.

      High strength steel alloys pressure stamped at high temperature used by just about everyone now for crash structures, not around in 2007 to any degree. Many detail differences. The new Civic shows how to differently temper chassis rails along their length:
      http://articles.sae.org/14449/

      Ford F150 body made out of ally in ways JLR seem not to have grasped, production almost a million a year. The SAE automotive site allows one to keep up with these advances. Cadillac integrated steel, aluminum and magnesium into the structural part of their chassis, with the result their cars are several hundred kilos lighter than equivalent sized BMW and MB’s. A twin turbo V6 CTS weighs the same as an Audi Q3! 4,000 lbs. Lower spec versions are lighter, especially with the CT6, the latest design that incorporates those three-metal chassis.

      Electric power steering has replaced hydraulic assistance, cylinder heads now have the exhaust manifold within the head itself in all new engines from the Ford 3 cylinder forwards. VW and Ford make extensive use of compacted-graphite iron in cylinder blocks rather than old grey cast iron or aluminum. Toyota came up with dual port and direct fuel injection to get rid of deposits on valves and sludged up cam chests that VW had inflicted on the world in the oughties. All Ford V6 twin turbos and the 2.3 turbo in Mustangs and Lincolns are also dual injection equipped. And so on.

      There are many differences between 2007 and now in fasteners and much increased usage of structural adhesives as well, and the iPhone only came out then – look at all these new infotainment systems and all the iterations since then. The safety electronics are also new, requiring new sensors. BMW makes carbon-fibre economically with their new systems and made the i3 out of it, ugly little waddler that it is, but still.

      The EV revolution has happened between 2007 and now with Tesla and Nissan Leaf, mainly.

      No difference?

    3. Bill: a first rate volley of data and I was not aware of most of it. I have read it twice and I will read it again. I was thinking of the superficial aspect of the cars: the exteriors and interiors rather than the technical parts. I used to absorb a fair amount of this from printed magazines like Car but I have discontinued that long after they ceased writing intelligently about it. I´d have expected a text like yours to have made a fine editorial in Car around about 2000 (when I still bought it). These days I have to rely on well-informed correspondents here for such insight. The bit about Cadillac catches my eye. They don´t get much credit for the work they do in some regards. I think the problem is partially the patchy nature of GMgineering. I get the idea that sometimes enthusiasts work hard on one part but other parts get left to journeymen. The XLR roadster (if memory serves) had some really surprising chassis technology, almost Lancia-strange. It gets reported and reviewed and forgotten quite quickly. I think it looked pretty good too but the bit I recall is the transverse leaf-spring suspension and magnetic ride shock-absorbers (someoene will write in and say this was all on the C6 Corvette, I expect.)

  3. Cars have definitely come a long way over the past decade, even within the narrow scope of ‘production/assembly’. However, advances large and small may not be readily apparent to every quarter of society (even among us automotive enthusiasts), and we’re all ignorant of something, somehow, in some way.

    I feel those who gravitate to this site are all particularly more knowledgeable with and appreciative of aesthetic design, product/brand lineage, etc, less so outright technological prowess. This much is very obvious (and completely fine… one can haunt the SAE site for that) so just enjoy the place for what it is – a community of very very keen eyed enthusiasts talking about car design. I wouldn’t have expected the July article about the Golf IV to have come from any other place on the internet ❤

    Cheers guys

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