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Scandi-chic helps Volvo steer to 30-year UK high

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Alan Tovey
·3-min read
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Volvo XC40
Volvo XC40

Scandinavian reliability, green credentials and motorists’ near-insatiable appetite for SUVs are paying off for Volvo, as the Swedish carmaker reported its best-ever quarterly sales.

Once seen as fusty, the company appears to have shaken off its old image and caught up with the times. Volvo sold 185,698 cars worldwide in the three months to March 31, up 40pc on the same period last year.

In March alone, global sales rose more than 60pc year on year to 75,315, partly helped by the rebound from Covid-19 in China, the world’s largest car market.

British consumers are also buying into the brand, with Volvo reporting a 3.28pc market share during the quarter, the highest in 30 years. A decade ago Volvos made up about 1.5pc of the UK market.

The company’s strongest ever showing in the UK was back in 1989, when it made up 3.66pc of British new car sales.

Jim Holder, editorial director at What Car?, said Volvo had become a "classless premium badge when people are getting bored of the same old German marques". "Volvo gives the same quality but in a different way,” he added.

“If you turn up on the school run in a giant Audi or BMW, you’re seen as a show-off, but if you arrive in a Volvo then that’s respected."

Just how things have changed from the company is underlined by the 1990 Dudley Moore film Crazy People.

In it, the comic plays an marketing executive with mental health problems who comes up with a hit advert that labels Volvos as “boxy, but good” and advises drivers to “be safe instead of sexy” by buying one of the Swedish cars.

Present-day Volvo, which was bought from Ford by Chinese manufacturing conglomerate Geely a decade ago, has been boosted by demand for SUVs, the high-riding cars that make up about 40pc of the market.

It has also capitalised on the push for greener vehicles. In 2017 the company became the first major car manufacturer to say all cars in its range would offer an electric option within two years, and set out an ambition for half of its sales to be fully electric by 2025.

Last month Volvo said it would only sell electric vehicles by 2030, going further than similar pledges by rivals such as Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and GM.

Best selling cars 2020
Best selling cars 2020

The carmaker, which invented the three-point seat belt in 1959 and gifted it to the world, losing out on billions in patents, has also built on its reputation for safety. In 2016 it pledged to “death proof” its vehicles, setting out an ambition to end deaths and serious injuries in new models by 2020.

Volvo's push to overhaul its range has come at a cost for traditional dealers, however. Earlier this year it outlined plans to end customers haggling with sales staff by setting centralised prices and offering an online portal for sales.

Showrooms will remain as delivery and maintenance centres.