Is Volvo Staging a US Comeback?

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In January, Volvo sold just 3,472 vehicles in the United States. Last month the company reported U.S. sales of 7,900 vehicles, more than double the January total. Year over year, sales in September rose 40%.

While still a small fraction of the roughly 1.5 million vehicles sold in the United States last month, the growth rate is impressive. But Volvo, which has been owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding since 2010, sales remain 2.7% below its year-to-date total for last year. U.S. sales for the first nine months of 2017 total 56,963, down 1.1% year over year.

Volvo’s best-selling U.S. model last month was the all-new XC90, a luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a¬†manufacturer’s suggested retail price beginning at $45,750. Volvo reported sales of 2,993 XC90s in September, 21.4% higher year over year. The only other model that sold more than 1,000 units was the new midsize XC60 SUV, which pushed out 1,807 units, up 56.2% year over year.

Global sales of Volvo cars rose 11.2% year over year in September to 53,674, including a gain of nearly 30% in its adopted home market of China, where the company sold 11,544 units. In the first nine months of 2017, global sales totaled 413,472, up 9% year over year, and sales in China rose nearly 30% year over year to 82,341 units.

The company’s third largest market is its native Sweden, where it sold 5,745 units in September and a total of 54,105 for the year to date. China, U.S. and Sweden sales account for about 47% of Volvo’s sales for the first three quarters of 2017.

More interesting than the numbers are Volvo’s other initiatives. The company was the first to announce that by 2019 every car it sells will include some degree of electrification. Volvo has also committed to investing $1.1 billion in its South Carolina to build the electrified versions of the XC90 beginning in 2021.

Volvo recently introduced its compact 2018 XC40 SUV that is expected to reach U.S. dealers in May at a base price of around $33,200. The company has also launched a “Care by Volvo” subscription service under which customer/subscribers pay the company a flat monthly fee that includes everything related to the car except the cost of fuel. While the company has high hopes for the program, it does not expect to make any money on it in the near term.

Does this sound like another carmaker that also sells fewer than 10,000 vehicles a month but still manages to attract a lot of public attention? Like Tesla, Volvo punches way above its weight in automobile circles. Volvo’s strength is based on its brand and its history of making good, safe cars. With financial support from Geely and a long-term plan that could be a money-loser for a few years, Volvo now has to execute. Stay tuned.