There’s a new Volvo wagon now, more luxurious than the old ones and aimed at a slightly different, more upscale audience. See the new volvo wagon here.
HOW DID STATION VOLVO WAGON COME TO DEFINE THIS VOLVO SWEDISH CARMAKER?
IF THE VOLVO BRAND were a Rorschach blot, most Americans would see a station wagon. But this didn’t come about as the result of some Swedish plot for domination of the American suburbs. It was an accident. In the mid-1950s, around the time that Volvo first considered exporting cars to the United States, the brand was unsuccessfully experimenting with selling chassis to independent coachbuilders, but in so doing had built up a surplus of unsold chassis. “So,” says Volvo historian Per-Ake Froberg, “the management said, ‘Let’s start to do our own wagon.’” Aimed at Sweden’s small-business owners who needed a practical car and a family car but who couldn’t afford both, the wagon was a way to grow the line-up and use the extra platforms. The resulting Duett and subsequent Amazon were oddball outliers and likewise found homes with American oddball outliers. “East Coast or West Coast. Liberal, highly educated, intellectual,” Froberg says. “Somewhat radical, a bit bohemic.” After that, the brand more or less made a wagon version of every model. It was with the release of the 144 wagon that the long-roofed Volvo began to morph into the rectilinear package seen in our minds’ eye. But the real breakthrough for the brand in America came with the 200-series estate, introduced in 1974. By the time its production run ended in 1993, nearly 2.9 million had been sold worldwide. Based on Volvo’s Experimental Safety Car, shown at the 1972 Geneva motor show, the 200-series cemented the brand’s reputation for safety. The U.S. government purchased some two dozen sedans and wagons for testing in 1976 and canonized them as the benchmark all other manufacturers had to meet for crashworthiness. “And when that became known,” Froberg says, “Volvo of course used that. There was a famous ad of a Volvo in front of the Capitol saying: ‘It shouldn’t take an act of Congress to make cars safe.’ ”
The release of the 240 wagon also coincided with baby boomers coming into their peak earning/breeding years. Before Jeep Grand Cherokees, SUV “coupes,” or even minivans, a wagon was the original active-lifestyle vehicle. Over the next few decades, with the 700, 800, and 900 series, wagons became Volvo’s best-sellers, accounting for around one-third of the brand’s American sales—and even more in some regional markets. Then, just recently, Volvo fled from the wagon in a quest to move upscale. According to Bob Austin, who was head of marketing for Volvo Cars of North America from 1991 to 2002, the thinking was that “in order to move up-market, you needed to be more stylish, more expensive, and less practical.” Basically, all the qualities that are the wagon’s antitheses. With the updated V60 and the forthcoming V90, Volvo’s wagon sales have rebounded from their recent nadir, and the brand seems to be re embracing the estate. This is in part because kids who came of age during the wagon’s last ascension are now in the market for grown-up cars, and nostalgia’s siren song is loud. But it’s also because the cars’ innate durability means the brand cannot outrun its heritage.“Other brands have done a wonderful job repositioning themselves. But they were aided by the fact that their older cars were largely disposable,” Austin says.“Volvos as boxy and durable wagons? There are still cars out there from the ’80s and ’90s demonstrating that every day.”