The news that Ford are to sell Volvo to Chinese car company Geely raises two interesting issues about brands, cultures and emotional values. Firstly, Ford have made a number of forays into the luxury car market – highly successful car makers, they shrewdly recognised that they cannot change their brand values overnight so set about acquiring brands that already embodied the necessary values, including such marques as Jaguar and Volvo. Putting aside the wider commercial and economic issues, what the company seemed to underestimate was the emotional power of the underlying Ford values.
I remember asking a lifelong Jaguar driver if he was pleased with his latest car, he smiled and gave a resigned shrug; ‘Yes, it’s very nice – but underneath, you know it’s just a Ford’.
Now, of course Jaguar is owned by Indian giant Tata, and without the huge brand pedigree of Ford, customers have fewer preconceptions: we all wait to see as the balance is redressed with Jaguar now having the stronger brand associations in the automotive world.
For China and Geely we see another interesting perspective on brands and cultures. China has a huge automotive industry, and an equally huge domestic market. Its growing affluent middle class is also hungry for established, luxury consumer brands. Acquiring a brand such as Volvo with its European cachet makes admirable sense.
As China looks to affluent European and US markets for its car output it will have brands with the culturally appropriate emotional values – provided it nurtures them in the meantime. Anyone who remembers the early forays of Japanese brands into European markets will recall the years of hard work they had to apply to develop culturally acceptable products and ultimately acceptance of the brands. Of course, things have moved on and manufacturers and marketers have adapted to the needs of foreign markets in a more sensitive and sophisticated manner. Markets too have become more accepting of output from manufacturers in diverse countries.
So Ford can return to its massive brand legacy of being a volume ‘people’s’ car maker; Volvo’s brand values again show their commercial importance over and above the economics of manufacture and China, long a brand wilderness is learning very fast.