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Volvo claims it has a plan for the future

2013 Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid


I had all but given up on Volvo in Canada – and truthfully, Volvo in the rest of the world, too – when a prominent Volvo dealer approached me at the Toronto auto show. Do I want to meet the new Volvo Canada president?, he asked.

That would be Marc Engelen, who took over the top job in Canada on July 1. He replaced Jeff Pugliese, who seems to have been something of a disaster. But don't believe me; believe the numbers. Volvo Canada's sales were down 18.2 per cent last year, in a market that was up 5.7 per cent. Volvo sold 5,578 cars to Canadians last year. The premium car market in Canada is booming, yet Volvo's sales last year were a bust.

But my dealer contact seemed quite optimistic and so did Engelen when I spoke to him. At least Engelen should have some solid contacts back at home base in Gothenburg, Sweden. Before his Canadian assignment, Engelen was a vice president involved in product strategy with Volvo Car.

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Engelen said he had hoped to make big news at this Toronto show, but the parent company had other plans. "Missed it by a matter of weeks," he said.

The New York auto show is where Volvo plans to make a big splash – that and perhaps Geneva. The Geneva show is in early March, New York at the end of March.

Frankly, Volvo has plenty to answer for. From the outside, the company looks to be something of a mess. Volvo has had little to brag about on the new product front for far too long and then there's the black eye the company has taken over the ugly dismissal of its former CEO, Stefan Jacoby.

Last month the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri reported that Jacoby was fired while recovering from a stroke in the hospital. Jacoby told the publication he was fired with no explanation.

"I was shocked. After all I had done for two years, I felt wasted. It was really, really tough," he told the paper.

Jacoby had suffered a mild stroke in mid-September. A month later, Volvo's board replaced him with Hakan Samuelsson, a former CEO of MAN. Jacoby's dismissal came just weeks after Volvo Cars had reported a loss on slowing sales -- a blow to Volvo's plans.

Volvo Cars, now owned by China's Zhejiang Geely, has said it wants to increase sales to 800,000 by 2020 from just over 400,000. The company has high hopes for growth in China and plans to build two factories there. Volvo has not expressed great hopes for Canada, though, and there are certainly no plans to revive kit car production in Halifax.

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At least Volvo has some product news to drive interest, and that's great news for what my colleague Michael Vaughan has called "Volvo Canada's long-suffering dealers."

Just today, Geely announced plans to build a research and development centre in Gothenburg. "The centre will develop a new modular architecture and set of components for future C-segment cars, addressing the needs of both Volvo Cars and Geely," the company said in a release.

It appears that Volvo's Chinese owners are going to Sweden to learn vehicle research and development from Volvo, which already has an R and D centre in Gothenburg. Volvo know-how, then, will show up in future Geely products.

Volvo know-how is has also gone into just-announced updates to the XC70, S80, S60 and XC60.

"This is the most extensive development of existing models in our company's history. Each of the enhancements is designed around our customers' needs. We have focused on quality and attention to detail in order to give these dynamic models a major boost and sharpen their competitiveness," said Lex Kerssemakers, the senior vice-president of product strategy ad vehicle line management.

That is good news for those of us who'd begun to believe Volvo had lost interest in keeping its products up to date and competitive, driving interest and of course sales. Now wouldn't it have been nice if Engelen had been able to make those announcements last week at the opening of the Toronto auto show?

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Guess we know where Canada stands in Volvo's global growth plans.

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