Volvo: Still Safe, Not Square & Not Selling Well

Gary S. Vasilash

While we are all for stunning, sleek and curvaceous automotive designs, the question is whether designs of that type are appropriate for all vehicle manufacturers. There are some brands that just don’t seem particularly amenable to voluptuous sheet metal. One could argue—and several people do—that the new Jeep Cherokee’s shaped metal is insufficiently “Jeep-like,” meaning “square.”

Earlier this year, Volvo revealed its Concept Coupe, which is nothing if not stylish.


Volvo crash test 4 Concept Design

Volvo crash test 5 Concept Coupe

For the past several years, Volvo has been chasing more fluid designs, working to break itself free of the notion that its cars were “boxy.”

Its cars were boxy. And they were known for being safe.

It’s not that non-boxy cars aren’t safe, because the 2014 Volvo XC90 SUV received a TOP SAFETY PICK+ from the all-important Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and that designation is as good as it gets from the IIHS.

Volvo crash test 3 Safe, Not Square

Still, Volvo worked at providing more shapeliness to its vehicles, with designers, in effect, giving up their T-squares for French curves.

But when you consider that as Volvo sales in the U.S. have been particularly anemic, maybe that’s not where they need to be.

That is, according to Autodata, for the first 10 months of this year, Volvo has sold 52,112 cars and SUVs in the U.S. That’s down from the same period in 2012, when there were 55,834 units sold.

And as those numbers on their own aren’t telling, consider them in this context: In the month of October 2013, Ford sold 63,803 F-Series trucks. More in a month than Volvo has sold in 10.

Volvo once owned safe.

Volvo crash test 1 Inside the Volvo Safety Lab

Sure, lots of other OEMs like to point out that thanks to the use of ultrahigh-strength steels or electronic active sensors and systems their vehicles are as safe as houses. But they were pretty much behind Volvo when it came to safety, and while there might be parity in some regards, Volvo’s heritage of having safely designed, engineered and built cars* is something that should not have been allowed to fade.

Don’t expect Volvo to create designs that are anything but swoopy in the years to come.  After all, attractive gets people in the car.  But safe keeps them there.