But the company is also going to be selling a car in the U.S. that is made in China, which puts a spotlight, an unwanted one, on Volvo's owner, the Hangzhou-based Geely, which acquired the company from Ford five years ago. The car, a stretch version of the Volvo S60, is the first from China hitting U.S. soil wearing Volvo livery, but there will certainly be more. What does it mean? Will anyone care?
My iPhone, my shoes, my clothes, pretty much everything else mass produced I own is made there, why not my car? What’s in a name, anyway. Does it matter if the Swedish car you are driving is a Chinese-built car made by a Chinese company? Is there, in the consumer's mind, a difference between “Volvo, designed, engineered and built in Sweden (and owned by Geely)”; and “Volvo, made in China, by a company called Geely, which owns Volvo”?
Yeah, there could be a problem. Volvo is a beloved name, a beloved brand. But could it be drifting toward intellectual-property purgatory: a brand that exists solely as a name, and everything that name represents? An idea acquired by Geely? Volvo is an aspirational brand and a big part of that equity in the U.S. is surely its Swedish provenance. Consumer Reports’ 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center last year ranked Volvo in the top 10. It has pitched itself against Mercedes-Benz in fairly recent advertisements for its crossovers. It wants to be taken seriously as a luxury brand.
By contrast, Chinese-made still means “gimcrack” and “knock-off” for a lot of Americans. One can assume that Geely will start making its own Geely-nameplate cars in Volvo's new plant near Charleston, S.C., which has a capacity for 100,000, way more than Volvo needs in the U.S. And, if Geely elbows its way onto the assembly line, will Geely cars find their way onto showroom floors with Volvo? God, I hope not.
Volvo marketers, meanwhile, are imbuing marketing with Swedish-ness. The company just launched a new campaign that features Swedish electronica artist Avicii as something of a brand spokesperson. The video for the campaign for the XC90 SUV is something like a travelogue of Stockholm and Osterlen, as we see Avicii's stomping grounds, and his family and friends. Doth she protest too much? Is this a “We are Swedish, seriously” moment?
In a statement about the campaign, Alain Visser, SVP of marketing, says it celebrates Volvo's evolution to “new, more nimble and customer-responsive Volvo cars.” It's also a truly global Volvo now, since it has manufacturing plants on three contents, or will once it gets the $500 million U.S. factory up to speed in 2018. By the way, and off-topic, here’s a good article on the money trail for foreign automakers assembling vehicles in the U.S. It’s worth paying attention to because “Made in America” is a key talking and marketing point for these companies.
And how about Geely’s ambitions in the U.S., assuming it will share some of Volvo’s assembly line down in Charleston? A Chinese car made in America? Well, good luck. It only took Kia and Hyundai 20 years to convince Americans to consider their cars that didn’t involve Filene's Basement pricing. Geely will have some fun trying to find some actual reason to be in the U.S. beyond selling the cheapest possible car.