Volvo’s Australian branch is on a mission.
Building on comments from the chairman of Volvo’s parent company, Geely, Volvo Cars Australia’s managing director, Matt Braid, says he wants to change customer perception.
“Overseas we're seen as a luxury brand, associated with the likes of Lexus, Audi, BMW,” Mr Braid told TMR at a Volvo track event in Perth.
“In Australia, we've been pulled down a bit by being viewed as a competitor to more expensive Japanese cars.”
That, of course, is not where Volvo sees its future here, “We are definitely in the prestige market,” he added.
But while Volvo’s products are built to high standards and are laden with technology, to some the move into V8 Supercars seemed like a strange decision for a prestige brand.
Surely mixing with Holdens and Fords dilutes the message Volvo is trying to get across, right? Braid doesn’t think so.
“The sponsors we attract are generally high end and very different to what you’ll see on the other brands," Mr Braid said.
"Garry [Rogers Motorsport] has been doing this a long time, so he’s built up long-term and solid relationships with excellent companies."
“The fact that V8 Supercars is now getting into pay TV means that we're also attracting a different audience to what it was before.”
Braid says the point of difference between Volvo and the other brands racing, however, is the way that it approaches event hospitality.
“When we do race events, and look after corporate sponsors, media and customers, we do it in line with our prestige positioning; everything is presented as a high-end brand.”
“Have a look inside our marquees and even customers who come along say, ‘Wow. This is amazing.’ They haven’t seen this level of hospitality at V8 Supercars before.”
So, has it been worthwhile investing this much money into the race series? Absolutely, Braid says.
“The old adage of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ has been something we definitely have seen the value of,” he said.
“We’re getting people in the door that we've never seen before. They've seen our brand on TV and it has brought them into the dealership.”
“After the Clipsal race, for example, our S60 enquiries spiked and it has remained high, but interestingly they spike after any given race meeting.”
Podium positions for Polestar GRM notwithstanding, he candidly concedes, “Sure, we'd like it to do even better, but the interest level is markedly higher than before we went racing. We're very pleased with those indicators.”
Braid also mentions that (Volvo's particular shade of) blue has suddenly become more popular, crediting its impact on customers directly to racing.
“Before Rebel Blue was seen as a hero colour, and the dealers would have one for the showroom and not buy in a lot because they wouldn't sell them,” Mr Braid said.
“Now they're saying to us that they need a stack of Rebel Blue cars because people keep asking for it.”
When asked whether it was just S60 which benefits, Braid notes that Volvo goes racing to showcase that model, but customers who come in for other models have mentioned V8 Supercar racing in their conversations with dealers.
“We're seeing more S60s walk out the door but certainly our overall sales have increased, so we're really very pleased with our business case.”
More S60 sales could also be attributed to the Polestar performance car being added to the range as a running model for MY14 onwards.
Braid also wants to capitalise on the interest in the Polestar name.
“We're not going to make Polestar a 'club' as such, but absolutely, we want to highlight the model,” he says.
“We know that Polestar owners are the most enthusiastic about their driving, so we’re also going to be doing more drive days, like today.”
He credits the Polestar’s success with the fact that Volvo has listened to its customers. That feedback led to the reduction in the Polestar’s price last week.
“We even ask the customer questions about the car, what they like, what they’d like to see improved," Mr Braid said.
"When you're a small brand, like we are here in Australia, with a small number of cars, it allows you to be a lot closer to the customer. That's what we pride ourselves on. We know most of them by their first name.”
Since its initial launch in Australia, the Polestar S60 - and the V60 wagon - will get a wider global launch in the coming year.
“It’s funny,” Braid says, “as the race team want to make their ultimate road car. They asked themselves how they would do it, building on existing components and engineering a fantastic sporting sedan.
"It really just started out as a bit of a side project.”
Some 'side project', that one.