Killing Marketing

I read with interest the news that Volvo will be limiting all their cars to 112mph (180 kph) in a bid to reduce road deaths. We are told this is due to a high proportion of road accidents having speed as a cause and that Volvo had a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of nobody dying in their cars from 2020 onwards. In fact the previous generation XC90 actually can already claim that ambition in that nobody has died while driving one so far.

It got me thinking though as to why I think this is purely a badly thought through marketing stunt. Don’t get me wrong I am a true fanboy of Volvo, having loved the brand since a young age and even regularly cycling over to my nearest dealership to go over any new metal. I knew all their cars inside out – true geek levels of knowledge. Even to the point that salesmen would check specification details with me… Anyway back to the reasoning behind the idea that this announcement will not resonate with modern customers.

Firstly I wonder how many crashes start at over 100 mph – as many will understand it isn’t the speed that kills but the inappropriate use of it. Cars are crash tested up to 40 mph so any accident above that speed is a fingers crossed moment.

Secondly the top speed of 112 mph is still quite fast, I doubt many of us achieve that on our trip to the supermarket or on the drive back home. Certainly their choice for this speed was not to alienate their German customers who have the ability to drive with no limits on some roads. I believe parts of the US and Australia have the same ability, although in the outback I don’t think the road surface will support north of 50 mph. So if you can still kill yourself quite well at 112 mph then why reduce it from 132 (in the case of the XC90) or 155?

Thirdly I buy products in some part because of the engineering that has gone into it. I like a Rolex Watch because it can go 100 meters under water or an Omega that can survive in space. Not that I can test it but if it can survive that then it can withstand general day to day. The point is if a car can do 150 mph then imagine how solid, safe and reliable it must be at 70. The car is just ticking over, the brakes are not stressed, the experience should be lovely. Compare that to a lower end car that is running a 1 litre engine which has a top speed of 100 mph. That car is at 70% of capacity at 70 mph – a noisy, thrashy experience. Now I appreciate while Volvo might limit the speed the car could still achieve more and hence give that great experience at lower speeds but that isn’t how consumer minds work.

Lastly automation is upon us and within the next decade we will have fully autonomous cars. Ultimately they will not allow you to speed when under computer control. So a top speed is frankly serperfulous as drivers that engage automation will not be able to speed anyway. So what does a top speed afford you? Even today there is talk of the EU passing legislation that will limit all cars made from 2022 to the maximum speed limit of any road and carry a mandatory black box. Scary times for any car loving enthusiasts. Certainly it is a hobby I don’t intend investing in once we get to that stage!

I think Volvo could have done better here and instead of focusing on top speed focused on how great their automated driving is and advancements they are making in self driving cars.

In the meantime I am going to continue to buy cars that I believe are over engineered until Volvo or the EU ruin it with lots of unnecessary restrictions.

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