It’s no secret that Volvo needs to make some big changes if it wants to survive in the American market, but things are quickly getting out of control for the beleaguered brand. After years of spiraling sales in the U.S., the once-popular Swedish automaker became the 29th best-selling automotive brand in April, surprisingly falling behind Porsche, as the once-niche sports car maker gains market share with its new Macan crossover.
Buyers took home 1,537 Macans in April, helping Porsche hit a best-ever sales month of 5,217 cars. Between the Cayenne, Macan, and Panamera luxury sedan, Porsche has successfully branched out from its sports car roots to field a competitive lineup of luxury sedans and SUVs — and into the market Volvo is struggling to hold on to. After selling a record 139,384 cars in 2004, Volvo’s sales dwindled to just 56,366 cars in 2014, and 2015 could turn out to be even worse.
Like Volkswagen, Volvo’s biggest sales issues lie with the U.S. market. It sold a record 465,866 cars worldwide in 2014, thanks to a strong demand in Europe and China, but its American presence is practically nonexistent. This year, it could possibly reap benefits from its all-new XC90 SUV, which has received glowing reviews, but it’s the lone bright spot in Volvo’s aging and unpopular lineup, and reinforcements are still a few years away.
While Volvo never offered the sportiest models from Europe, its quirky-looking styling and reputation for safety gave it a comfortable spot in the American market for decades, where it developed one of the most fervent cult followings of any automaker. But things have changed from the company’s glory days, and it has spent the better part of a decade trying to adapt. Advances in safety features from all major automakers have all but stripped the company of its “safety car” image, and its lack of sporting pedigree doesn’t do it any favors trying to compete with offerings from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi (which also posted record-setting sales numbers in April).
Like many other European companies, Volvo used to get by selling a few models that would carry over from year to year with few changes. But those days are long gone, and car buyers see little reason to buy a new model when the used one is nearly identical. The XC90 is built on Volvo’s new modular platform that will underpin eight new models by 2018, but that’s still a long way off, and Volvo has a hell of a storm to weather in the U.S. before it can expect things to get better.
While this is more bad news for Volvo, it’s very good news for both Porsche and its fans. Porschephiles bemoaned the introduction of the Cayenne SUV over decade ago as a cynical attempt to increase market share, but they were only partially right. For every Cayenne, Macan, and Panamera the company sells, Porsche has more money to develop its enthusiast cars. It attracts new customers to the brand, increases profits, and builds new sports cars to keep the faithful happy. With the company opening its $100 million customer experience center outside of Atlanta this month, the brand is stronger than ever, and its current good fortune is paying dividends for everyone involved.
In the end, April’s sales numbers provide an interesting look into how fluid the current state of the auto market is. It’s further proof of how dire Volvo’s American situation is, but it also highlights how far Porsche has come in the past few years. Porsche’s current success makes it seem like the company will thrive for years in the American market. Let’s hope that within a few short years, a revamped Volvo can say the same.