The New Volvo S90: Can It Take On The BMW 5 Series?
We’ve been talking a lot about Volvo’s reinvention for a some time now at Autos Cheat Sheet. While the Swedish-Chinese company has a long way to go (it was America’s 26th best-selling brand in August), it’s made up a lot of ground in an astonishingly short period of time. Thanks to a new modular platform designed to underpin its entire lineup, the company is building its first-ever U.S. plant outside of Charleston, S.C, that’s set to open in 2018. And after we drove the all-new XC90, our Collin Woodard said, “for those who appreciate understated luxury, they’re going to have a hard time finding a better SUV for their money than the Volvo XC90.”
But the company’s reinvention doesn’t rest solely on the XC90. The company is in the midst of rolling out eight new models, all due by 2018. And now that its new luxury SUV is in dealerships, the next step is to replace the aging S80 luxury sedan, the range-topper that’s been Volvo’s top dog since 1998. The new model will be called the S90 and is being designed to take on the standard-bearing BMW 5 Series in the competitive luxury midsize sedan segment. This will be no small feat; as Bloomberg Business points out, Volvo sold around 12,500 S80s in 2014. In contrast, BMW sold over 373,000 5 Series.
More bad news: The S90 was scheduled to be unveiled at January’s Detroit Motor Show, but its design was leaked when a Chinese toy company released photos of 1:43 scale models, which almost immediately went viral. The good news? The car is drop dead gorgeous. It borrows liberally from the show-stopping 2013 Volvo Concept Coupe and Estates, especially the front fascia with “Thor’s Hammer” headlights already on the XC90, and the bold horseshoe-shaped taillights. In profile, the car has elements of the Jaguar XJ and Audi A7 while still having a distinct identity of its own. In miniature form at least, it really looks like a contender.
If there’s a leak this size with most automakers, they would hastily release some press photos, and probably move the unveiling to an earlier date. But Volvo isn’t like most other automakers. In fact, it’s much, much smaller. While companies like BMW boasts a healthy 8.9% profit margin through the first half of this year, Volvo’s margins sit at 2.2%. As a result, the company is sinking its resources into development, and pulling back on things like advertising and PR. On the automaker’s absence from the Frankfurt Motor Show (the largest in the world), Volvo’s sales chief Alain Visser tells Bloomberg that the show would merely be an exercise in “spending millions of euros to show that Audi, BMW and Mercedes are a lot bigger than us.”
That said, Visser adds that the “S90 is the ultimate test” out of all the models due within the next few years. It isn’t easy to introduce a new model into a competitive lineup, and Volvo has been on the outside looking in when it comes to luxury sedans for nearly two decades now. The 700 and 900 series cars of the ’80s, and ’90s were formidable contenders in the then-growing import market, and even the S80 had some success when it was new. But all of those models – and most of Volvo’s current lineup, in fact – aged into obsolescence, and in a segment crowded with the 5 Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class, and Cadillac CTS, there’s no room to fall behind.
For decades, Volvo has built some of the most unique and beloved cars money could buy. It began to lose the plot when it was taken over by Ford, and it’s still struggling with the after-effects of that disastrous period even after five years of nurturing ownership by Chinese Geely Automobile. But now, Volvo’s plan for the future seems to be taking shape, and if the S90 is as beautiful as the leaked model, and as good as the XC90 SUV, happy days may be just around the corner from the company. If this seems unrealistic to you, just remember the incredible turnaround former stablemates Jaguar/Range Rover made in their post-Ford years. Who says lightning can’t strike twice?
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