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Hmmm: Volvo's New Owner Promises To 'Liberate This Tiger'

March 30, 2010
Side Exterior View - 2010 Porsche Panamera 4-door HB 4S

Side Exterior View - 2010 Porsche Panamera 4-door HB 4S

2010 Volvo XC90

2010 Volvo XC90

Ford's sale of Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely has been a case of good news/bad news for Volvo enthusiasts. Unfortunately, recent comments from Geely's founder, Li Shufu, aren't soothing the nerves of those worried that Geely might misguidedly "improve" the brand into an early grave. Case in point? Mr. Li's recent comparison of Volvo to a cat in a cage: "A tiger belongs to the forest. It belongs to the wild world and not confined in a zoo. We need to liberate this tiger." Sounds like someone has big changes in mind.

Now, on the one hand, Volvo has often been labeled the red-headed stepchild of the Ford family, and given Ford's new "One Ford" strategy, Volvo was on track to become even more of an outcast. Many Volvo enthusiasts on this site and elsewhere argue that Ford has inhibited Volvo's growth since it purchased the Swedish marque in 1999. Those people hope that with a new owner will come new freedom for Volvo to evolve in exciting ways.

On the other hand, although Ford has placed limitations on Volvo, it has, for better or worse, conserved the brand's image. No, Volvo may not have developed as it would've on its own, but it didn't lose its way, either. Compared to Porsche -- a brand that, to some of us, has watered itself down with rides like the Cayenne and the new Porsche Panamera (at left) -- Volvo has at least been consistent. Given Volvo's not-too-flashy, safety-minded customer base, that's not a bad position to be in.

We should point out that in making his "tiger" statement, Mr. Li was technically speaking of Volvo production and consumption. Volvo currently produces and sells most of its vehicles in North America and Europe, but Mr. Li plans to open a facility in Beijing that will produce about 300,000 units per year for the Chinese market. He continued: "I see China as one of the markets where Volvo could show us it has the opportunity to liberate itself and show the potential that is has. That is the rational [sic] for the deal." And in that respect, Volvo fans can likely breathe a sigh of relief: increased production simply means more owners of Volvo vehicles, which translates into a stronger company and better brand recognition.

However, Li clearly sees Volvo as restrained, and his efforts to "liberate" the brand could mean new models and segments for Volvo. That's slightly worrisome for Volvo fans because -- how to put this delicately? -- Geely has produced some butt-ugly cars as well as some that totally infringe on other companies' designs. Not that every Volvo's been a stunner, but none can compare to some of Geely's recent efforts, which include a concept that was, ironically, named the Geely Tiger.

The sale of Volvo is nearly done, and we have high hopes for the company's future. But we also hope that Mr. Li and his associates have the good sense to take a light-handed approach with their newly adopted child -- at least for now.


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