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2015 Volvo XC90

Volvo

Volvo as a corporation is determined to change the traditional means of doing business in the automotive industry. Some of its dealers may have to be convinced.

Volvo Canada made it known late last week that it would not participate in Canada's three most prominent auto shows in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. But on Wednesday, Jason Campbell, general manager of the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS), messaged that Volvo would indeed be part of the Toronto show in February: "This marketplace and marketing platform are too important for manufacturers and their retailers to ignore," he wrote in an e-mail.

Individual retailers joined together to retain a place on the Toronto auto show floor, with Volvo Canada's blessing but not its participation. At this juncture, Volvo will not be in Montreal or Vancouver whatsoever.

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Volvo Cars Corporation of Sweden has devised a worldwide strategy to "go-to-market in a unique Volvo Way rather than simply doing what has always been done before," says Margareta Mahlstedt, Volvo Canada vice-president, marketing and public relations.

The company will participate in just three major auto shows: Paris in October, Detroit in January and one in Asia, presumably Tokyo. (Toronto's show is not deemed to be major on a worldwide basis).

The auto-show withdrawal follows the successful, innovative online pre-sale campaign of the new XC90. Volvo imported 700 automotive journalists from around the world to reveal the XC90 in Sweden. In the aftermath of the publicity, it took reservations for 1,927 individually numbered First Editions and the car sold out in 47 hours. In Canada, 60 reservations were made for an automobile retailing at more than $80,000. Volvo Canada accepted deposits via its website before transferring the transactions to individual dealers.

"This gives us a certain confidence," Mahlstedt said this week in a telephone conversation. "We know the car is great, and for us as a company this is the launch of a longer journey and rebirth of the brand."

At the Paris show, the display is to be focused on the XC90 and, without providing details, Mahlstedt said the stand will be "unlike what anybody has seen before." At auto shows, thousands of people stroll from one display to another, oogling the cars without being able to experience them – potential customers are generally unable to test-drive vehicles either on the street or in a simulator. Often, they're prevented from even sitting in the vehicle. Volvo intends to give Paris customers a feel for "how somebody experiences the car."

Volvo assessed the significant amount of money spent for 10 days of exposure at the bigger auto shows and determined the investment to be not-so wise. Is this the beginning of a wave, especially for smaller auto makers?

"We are looking to reallocate assets in a manner that better strengthens the brand and allows us to better engage with consumers," Mahlstedt says, adding: "The reality is that auto shows have not existed in several markets for quite a few years. They need to expand the audience. They are not attracting new people."

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Likewise, several auto makers are sizing-up the traditional dealer model. Volvo dealers in Canada contentedly subscribed to the XC90 online pre-sale. Stepping away from the auto show in Toronto, well, some weren't quite ready for that one.

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