Maybe because it is comparatively small. Maybe it is because it was once considered, like another brand that hailed from its country, quirky. But Volvo is a company that has to be respected for its persistence, diligence and, yes, conscience.
Realize that this is a company that in 2015 delivered a total of 503,127 vehicles—globally. To put that number in some perspective, know that in 2015 Hyundai delivered 579,985 cars—just cars, not crossovers, too—in the U.S. alone.
Yes, Volvo sales on a global basis are comparatively modest. However, there’s that persistence. In 2012, the company delivered 421,951 vehicles, which grew 1.4 percent so that there were 427,840 in 2013.
But then there was an 8.9 percent gain for 2014 to 465,866 vehicles, and an additional 8 percent to reach last year’s number of 8 percent.
Volvo has been owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding since 2010. Geely is headquartered in Hangzhou, which is about 5,000 miles southeast of Gothenburg.
As is the case with other European luxury marques (including BMW, Mercedes, Audi), Volvo’s single biggest market in 2015 was in China, which represented 16.2 percent of its sales. (Sweden was number 2, at 14.2 percent, and the U.S. third, at 13.9 percent).
For the past few years Volvo has been making a statement the likes of which I’m not aware of any other vehicle manufacturer—from anywhere in the world—making: “That by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.”
Sure, every major OEM is working to make its vehicles increasingly safe. But let’s face it: it isn’t very often that vehicle manufacturers draw attention to the fact that people can be killed or seriously injured in their products. (Volkswagen should be given credit for its 2006 “Safe Happens” television commercial which shows that distracted driving can have consequences—and that was a few years before drivers became really distracted: the iPhone wasn’t introduced until 2007. In the case of the commercial, the driver and passenger walk away. But in February of this year the National Safety
Council estimated that in 2015, 38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads and 4.4-million seriously injured. They didn’t walk away.)
According to the World Health Organization, there are 1.2-million traffic fatalities on a global basis, putting road traffic injuries at number 9 in the top 10 causes of death. However, it is number 1 for those between 15 and 29, ahead of suicide, HIV/AIDS and homicide (2012 figures).
Now everyone in the world is not going to be buying a Volvo in 2020. And there are literally more than a billion cars in the world right now. But each death or serious injury that doesn’t occur to someone you love or know is exceedingly important.
In April, Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, announced another initiative that the company is pursuing. Volvo has a sustainability program. And its new program, which it is calling “Omtanke,” Swedish for consideration or care, has as a key part of it: “By 2025 we will have delivered 1-million electrified cars to the market.” A couple of observations about that. One is Volvo didn’t officially launch its “Electrification Strategy” until October 2015 and it doesn’t plan to have a fully electric vehicle on the market until 2019. Of course, electrification includes hybrid vehicles, as well, so the 1-million cumulative number doesn’t seem all that large in the context of a world where Tesla has more than 350,000 preorders of the Model 3 (probably more by now), but it is when you go back and consider those Volvo sales numbers and take into account that it is generally selling larger sedans and crossovers, not Volt- or Prius-like models. Which means that it is a non-trivial number. Volvo is also pledging to be carbon-neutral in its manufacturing operations by 2025, too, so it underlines the importance of the effects of product and process on the environment.
The commitment is laudable. The fact that the company’s top executive makes commitments to safety and to the environment with aggressive targets attached is impressive.
Again: It is not like other vehicle manufacturers aren’t making some impressive strides in both of these areas. But here’s a smaller company that is working hard to get bigger, and making cars that are incredibly safe and developing electrified vehicles in a period when the world seems to be drenched in oil are both undertakings that are costly and risky.
I have the sense that Volvo wants to get to the future the right way.