Thursday, January 28, 1999 Published at 20:55 GMT
Business: Your Money
Volvo drivers have nothing to fear
Fewer boardrooms, just as many showrooms
Volvo drivers do not need to worry about a cultural collision after Ford's takeover of the Swedish carmaker - rather than a crumpling of those unique Volvo lines, history suggests the reverse will be true.
While household names in global car brands are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, prestige brands have largely retained their unique character and the subtle differences in styling.
Jaguar, also now under Ford's parental wing, has retained much of its traditional English styling. Likewise, it would be hard to confuse a Rover model with a BMW, a Volkswagen with a Lamborghini or Vauxhall with a Saab. But in each of these pairings, both makes of car have the one owner.
Car executives understand that these days image is as important as cost and safety in the minds of the Western car owner. Ford is no different.
Carmakers long ago learnt the lesson that it does not pay to merge one brand into another, said Jay Nagley, managing director of car consultancy Spyder Automotive. He cites Austin-Morris' 'debasing' of the Wolseley and Riley marques in Britain after taking ownership of the old carmakers in decades gone by. "After ten years, they might as well never have bought them, the names were worthless," he said.
Ford chief's promise
The American car giant's president and chief executive Jac Nasser went to great pains to dismiss fears that Volvo cars with Ford badges will be soon be seen on European and American roads. He said: "One of the things about brands is that each carries its own DNA. We believe Ford is sensitive to the things that make a brand what it is. Our track record with Jaguar shows this."
The company said it won't ignore what is sees as Volvo's prestige branding, its popularity among women drivers and a younger US age group and its reputation for safety and security.
Professor Garel Rhys, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University, says that big car takeovers help preserve unique marques that otherwise might fall by the wayside, the victims of a stretched global car industry. "The bigger companies are able to bring the resources needed to renew and carry on the unique brands," he said.
After sale service
But where will Volvo drivers go to buy their next model, or service the current one?
Ford's current portfolio of brands sell through separate dealership networks. While saying there is no planned change to this strategy, the company won't rule out the possibility that prestige lines like Volvo, Jaguar and Lincoln might one day be sold from under the one roof.
Its a similar situation as regards servicing. Ford says that it is always possible to have any car in the Ford portfolio serviced at any dealership, but the dealership specialisation generally applies to servicing too. Mr Nagley agreed: "Ford doesn't want Volvo drivers tripping over Ford Fiesta drivers."
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