Magazine article Management Today

Circling the Wagons

Magazine article Management Today

Circling the Wagons

Article excerpt

Roland Barthes memorably said that 'cars are our cathedrals'. The high priest of semiotics meant that like the great monuments of medieval Europe, the automobile is at once familiar yet magical. Like the cathedrals, cars are the collective work of anonymous artisans but are dense with emotional power, which we either accept or reject. And always with passion.

Cathedrals and cars have personalities - and geography. None more so than Volvo.

Volvo cliches may be wearily familiar but cliches are only established on a foundation of truth. The geography of Volvo is suburbia: Westchester or Weybridge, it doesn't matter which continent. The psychic address is the same. Its historic appeal has been to responsible middle classes, their families, pets and luggage. Never mind that for a few years in the 80s, the last of the cart-sprung 240 wagons had an idiosyncratic appeal for groovy Milanese architects (who perhaps admired its mighty tectonic proportions, medieval handling and quaint detailing). Volvo means school runs, dentists, antique dealers, headmasters. Volvo means wagons.

A stage army of decent humanity was mobilised by the persuasive offer of capacious volume, personal safety and environmental responsibility that Volvo made its own. The readers of the trade press knew Volvo sometimes overplayed the safety hand, its US agency scandalously faking some ads, but dentists in New York State and Surrey do not subscribe to Advertising Age. In any case, Volvo's safety proposition was mostly genuine: all other things being equal, the passenger cell of a big car surrounded by lots of forgiving air and well-made metal is probably a safer place to have an accident than one surrounded by a smaller amount of impact-absorbing structure. It was not rocket science. Then the rest of the motor industry got safety too and Volvo's selling proposition was no longer unique. Not only was Volvo's lunch eaten, its cupboard was bare. Without the myth and reality of safety, Volvo meant dull styling, unresolved handling, and quality that was in fact no better than so-so. The brand issue was confused further by an aborted merger with Renault, which got as far as bilingual notices in Renault's offices. Anyone who has done comparative dining out in, say, Goteborg and Beaulieu-sur-mer could see that here were two cultures not easy to integrate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.