From the Armchair – Volvo's Unseen Answer, The Minivan
by: George Achorn
Feb 13, 2006 - 8:25:00 PM
Perhaps its the safety record, the fact that over 50% of customers are female, or that the company is one of the main players in the station wagon segment, but no one will argue that the Volvo brand is not synonymous with the term family car. A solid offering of V-series wagons, and XC-series soft-roaders support that association strongly, though looking at the range from Gothenburg, it becomes readily apparent that the company is missing a major component of their family car portfolio - the minivan.
Minivans, done right, are big business. First-on-the-block Chrysler makes a mint on the things, and those who take the segment very seriously such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan have built a nice business for themselves and expanded their brands. Those who havent taken it as seriously, Volvo-parent Ford Motor Company amongst them, make due with the less-than competitive offerings they push into the market. However, given Volvos obvious out-of-the-box success with the XC90, it seems reasonable to assume that a minivan from Gothenburg would not only be a major contender in the segment, such design and perhaps shared platform strategy might carry over into strong offerings for the ailing Ford and Mercury brands as well. Further, Volvo is in a great position to market a minivan that could more easily find its own niche.
Consider this. As we mentioned, Volvo is already known for being a strong, safe and family-friendly marque. These are all qualities that suit the minivan target buyer perfectly. Additionally, Volvo has an attainable premium placement in the market, spanning Volkswagen to BMW for cross-shopped competitors.
Volvos position is near perfect to not only be a credible source for a most-trusted minivan, it has the brand perception and the platform availability to move compact and full-sized minivans into the premium segment.
There currently is no real premium offering in the minivan segment. Sure, the Chrysler Town & Country might be claimed as premium and have some nice option packages, but at the end of the day Chrysler has yet to pierce the country club veil as a sought-after badge in anything much other than the wildly popular 300 sedan.
Not so with Volvo. XC90s and V70s may not be as premium in perception as models from BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but theyre well accepted in those same circles and seen as a smart choice.
So heres the plan.
Volvo should build a range of two different minivans. Dust off an old badge designation like the PV letters to establish the models PV50 and PV70 or PV90. Theres heritage there since Volvo used the PV designation far back in their history and if the V in V70 stands for Versatility, then PV would be a natural progression to mean People and Versatility with additional seating capacity and the modern familial nature of the minivan.
First, between Ford and Mazda, there are already several minivans developed for the smaller corporate P1 platform that is shared with the S40, V50 and upcoming C30. Adding a PV50 minivan to this platform would not be difficult at all. The Mazda5 may not have proven the compact minivan segment yet, but with growing gas prices and aging Gen-Xers with babies on the way, this segment is a solid bet. Further, Volvo could offer higher content and material quality with more powerful engines like its T-5 or components like Haldex all-wheel drive to slot a minivan above where the Mazda5 leaves off and cater to those looking for the luxury of a larger car much like the Audi A3 does today in the 5-door segment.
Next, give the larger minivan to be called PV70 or PV90 the goal of being one of the most premium and progressive minivans on the market today. By basing it on the new P2 platform from which the new S80 spawned, Volvo could include great hardware such as 6-speed transmissions, the new 3.2 V6 and even the stump-pulling V8 and combine those again with Haldex all-wheel drive. Throw in elements like the XC90s highly flexible seating architecture and the companys cool rear-seat DVD system and this would be one serious contender.
Further, Volvos subtle but handsome design language would work well with a minivan. The strong shoulders of a Volvo would help it look muscular, and the functional C-pillar taillights would look attractive melded into a minivans shape.
Few minivans can really be called stylish. Sure, the Chrysler products, the Honda and the Toyota dont look bad, but theyre hardly something a car buff looks over at lovingly while sitting in traffic. The Nissan Quest has style, but its typical quirky Japanese styling. No minivan in the market today has a more stylish European flair.
So there it is. While I tend to normally pine for performance models when I think of what Volvo could or should build, a daughter due later this Spring has me rethinking my schema. No, I still probably couldnt be lulled into an existing minivan on the market, but a PV70 V8… that might be a different story.
|Counterpoint: by Chris Stewart (An Admitted Minivan Owner)|
I think George needs to spend some more time in the minivans from Honda and Toyota before saying there is no true premium minivan. While Toyota is not consider a premium brand, the Sienna is a very well appointed minvan and the nearly $40k Limited XLE could easily wear a Lexus badge. Similiarly, the Honda Odyssey Touring edition could wear an Acura badge. These are premium minivans. Mercedes has launched its R series Sport Tourer which might be more in-line with a style that could fit well into Volvo's current product mix between the V70 and XC90 or even as a halo vehicle.
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