XC90: A New Definition of Luxury

The Problem

In early 2014, Volvo was facing a customer perception issue: Renowned for its longstanding heritage of “safety,” it was not resonating as strongly with customers against other brands often highlighted as  “prestigious" and “luxurious.” Volvo’s position was stalled in the U.S. with sales on the decline.

As part of a brand transformation, Volvo zeroed in on its newly-designed XC90 SUV as an opportunity to shift perceptions. Volvo saw the launch – the first major change to the XC90 in more than a decade – as a chance to build on that safety heritage and show it could truly compete with luxury brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

Armed with third-party and qualitative research that showed customer sentiment on the definition of luxury and Volvo’s core values, the Volvo Cars USA and WE teams executed a plan designed to highlight Volvo’s comeback and demonstrate its transformation into a luxury brand. The details would stay true to its history but also appeal to a new set of consumers.

Changing Volvo’s perception meant engineering a luxurious encounter at every touch point and driving unexpected and delightful experiences. The goal: make it clear that both Volvo and the XC90 were different.

The Solution

For the car’s reveal, the team executed an excursion to Sweden with more than 30 carefully selected U.S. influencers. The experience started in Stockholm with a design tour of the city that culminated in the XC90 reveal at the art venue, Artipelag, set in a wooded lakes region. Featuring physical and virtual reality vehicle sit-ins, this behind-the-scenes look brought to life the Swedish design principles at the core of the XC90.

Even those influencers who couldn’t make it to Sweden for the reveal received the white-glove treatment. As part of launch, the team established a fleet of XC90s for the media so influencers could drive accompanied with an expert to preview and explain the new features in a 1:1 setting. Engineers and designers showed how the XC90 came to fruition. The journalists took customized drives featuring stops that underscored Volvo’s idea of luxury, like seaside gatherings along the magnificent Mediterranean coast, and time amid orange and avocado groves in exclusive Ojai, California.

Once the XC90 was available at dealers, the team sustained interest by placing the SUV at top lifestyle events, like the Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, Rhode Island, and at a custom-created experience at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum.

The stories generated through these experiences crafted a new perception of luxury for media and consumers alike. The strategy ensured that no matter how or when someone experienced the XC90, it was consistent and luxurious. The new Volvo still represents among the safest vehicles in the world, but it is also now a brand that turns heads.

The Impact

Clearly the message broke through with customers: just six months after the XC90 reached dealerships, sales jumped compared to the year prior. Having held the position across many months  as Volvo’s leading model, the XC90 helped kick start and define the company’s comeback, evidenced by growth in the U.S. market.


Gold SABRE in the Automotive category

Global SABRE Award