In some ways, it’s an enviable position. The overwhelming majority of Volvo Canada’s growing clientele are choosing to acquire the brand’s flagship, the most expensive product in the Volvo lineup, the new XC90.
This is not the norm. Honda Canada’s best seller is their compact Civic, not the big Pilot SUV. Volkswagen’s volume isn’t produced by the Touareg, but rather by the Jetta and Golf. Even at Canada’s most popular premium auto brands, the major volume players are affordable C-Class and 3-Series sedans, not Mercedes-Benz S-Classes and BMW M5s.
But the XC90’s position atop Volvo Canada’s sales leaderboard doesn’t just speak to the new XC90’s success. Through the first-quarter of 2016, sales of Volvo’s other models – S60, V60, S80, XC70, XC60 – are down 19 percent, a troubling statistic were it not for the XC90’s surge.
On the whole, Volvo Canada’s sales are up 54 percent this year, led by the flagship XC90 which produced 47 percent of first-quarter sales; and more than two-thirds of Volvo’s sales in March.
Aside from the XC90, much of the Volvo lineup is woefully outdated. Last year’s top-selling Volvo, the smaller first-generation XC60 crossover, was introduced in 2009. The high-riding, third-generation XC70 is even older. Volvo’s latest introductions – the V60 Cross Country and S60 Cross Country – are variants of a car introduced in late 2010. As for the oft-forgotten S80 sedan, the oldest model in Volvo’s lineup, its S90 replacement is primed and ready to go.
It’s clear that the S90 is not going to be a car on which Volvo Canada can rely for meaningful volume. The S90 offers stunning exterior and interior styling, but Volvo has always been a bit player in a category controlled by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series; a category which is enduring its own fair share of difficulties as buyers move away from sedans into more flexible vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, and Volvo’s own XC90.
Fewer than 1,600 copies of the S90’s S80 predecessor have been sold in Canada since 2008 – BMW sold nearly 2,000 5-Series’ in 2015 alone.
It’s conceivable that Volvo’s non-XC90 models are simply mired in a particularly harsh seasonal slump.
“Although our retail sales – excluding fleet and rentals – have seen a minimal reduction, we are confident that with the spring selling season and market-leading S60 and XC60 Special Editions, in terms of value, equipment, and technology, we will continue to see contributing sales from the rest of the lineup,” said Kyle Denton, Volvo Canada’s public relations manager.
De-emphasized fleet sales are a factor, and the addition of special editions near the end of a model’s life-cycle are a requisite part of boosting an aging model’s sales. Moreover, spring is undeniably an important season for the auto industry, as well. In 2011, for example, Volvo generated one-third of the brand’s calendar year volume during the May-July quarter.
The results from March are nevertheless representative of a North American Volvo trend developing over the last few years. The company’s traditional wagon market has moved on to small crossovers. Volvo Canada reported only 36 wagon sales in March, just six percent of the brand’s total volume. As for sedans, Volvo Canada sold more than 3,000 S60s in 2002 but only 1,525 S60s during the latest-generation’s peak in 2012.
There can be no doubt that based on the current lineup, you’re increasingly likely to see a new XC90 on Canadian roads and increasingly less likely to see a new Volvo passenger car leaving a Volvo dealer with temporary permits. The XC90’s March total of 391 Canadian sales propelled it into the luxury mainstream. Among premium brand three-row utility vehicles, only the BMW X5, Acura MDX, and Infiniti QX60 sold more often than the XC90 in March, with the Volvo fending off a challenge from the similarly new Audi Q7, sales of which more than tripled, year-over-year.
March’s 391-unit result was the best Canadian sales month for the XC90 in the model’s 13-year history. Only on five previous occasions had Volvo Canada even sold more than 300 XC90s in a single month, and not since May 2006, nearly a decade ago.
Like Volvo’s other models, the previous XC90 had grown old and become increasingly ignored. But if Volvo’s subsequent launches go as well as the XC90’s, we’ll quickly forget that Volvo’s Canadian sales tumbled 59 percent between 2005 and 2015, and we’ll quickly see Volvo Canada as part of the surging global Volvo market.
Around the world, Volvo sold more than 500,000 new vehicles in 2015, a record for the Chinese-owned Swedish brand. Through the first-quarter of 2016, global Volvo volume is up 12 percent.