Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Winning by sticking to your roots; Volvo and Range Rover

So that makes two brands trotting out old cars in a bid to highlight just how good their new cars are.

Firstly, we had Volvo asking journalists to drive old workhorses like the 240, 740 and 850 at the UK launch of the naughty S60. Joe Simpson, writing for Car Design News remarked on how much improved the overall performance of the new car was.

He also noted, however, just how far Volvo had strayed from what made it great in the past: infallible ergonomics, practicality and a distinctively Scandinavian lack of aggression (surely the antidote to all those angry Audis and brusque Beemers). Essentially, he came away with the impression that although the badge was the same, the car (and brand) was trying to be something very different and decidedly untrue the roots that made Volvo loveable. Indeed, Volvo’s global sales figures stand testament to just how unlovable they’ve become.

Which is all in stark contrast to the example set by Range Rover whose sales figures, despite the downturn, are steady and rising. In the past week both Autocar and InsideLine have published stories comparing late model Series 1 Range Rovers with the newly refreshed Series 3 model.

Unlike the Volvo case, trotting out the old with the new has been an object lesson in the returns reaped from slow and steady investment in the brand.

What both articles really rammed home was just how little the physical embodiment of the brand had changed. Sure, the panel gaps with which you could open bottles have made way for tolerances that (almost) shame the Germans and massively soft coil springs have since been replaced with the whizzardry of cross-linked air bladders. But from the form language (inside and out) to the insistence on peerless off-road performance and comfort, the class of ’93 is easily the equal to the class of ’11 (and, importantly, vice versa).

I’ve long whittered on about my love of brands that stay true to their core but Volvo and Range Rover provide demonstrably divergent lessons in why authenticity in product – not just the gloss of the brand – still wins the race.

P.S. Happily, through speaking with Peter Horbury (Volvo’s newly reinstalled design director) at the Paris Motor Show, I learnt that the S60 can be considered a stylistic dead end, the publicity stunt is seen as a home goal and that there’s an authentically bright future in store for the brand. Tacka gud.

Images: Land Rover, Volvo

Category: Branding, Design Strategy

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.