The new S90 sedan will help boost Volvo's sales, Annwall says (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

Bjoern Annwall joined Volvo Cars as global head of marketing, sales and customer service in October last year. The former McKinsey consultant succeeded industry veteran Alain Visser in a job that involves transforming the Swedish carmaker into a globally competitive premium brand with a strong presence in the world’s top two markets, China and the US, and elsewhere. Annwall spoke to automotiveIT at the Geneva auto show in early March.

Mr. Annwall, In coming years, Volvo wants to boost global sales by 60 pc to 800,000 units from 503,127 last year. The company has ambitious plans for the US, Europe and China. As Volvo is owned by China’s Geely, do you get any help from your parent company there?China is definitely one of our key target markets for growth. Volvo is run as an independent company, also in China. Clearly we are helped by having a manufacturing infrastructure in China. But it’s run by Volvo. Growth in China slowed down last year and we decided to preserve margins rather than push sales volumes. This year, we’re back on a growth track with extremely strong sales in the first months. With the help of our new S90 and XC90 models, we foresee strong growth in China this year.

Let’s talk about e-commerce. Where do online sales fit into the overall sales and marketing strategy for Volvo?We see huge benefits for consumers from e-enabled sales. We already know that the research process is totally online, but some consumers also want the full buying process to be online and we have to cater to them. That doesn’t mean we want to cut the dealers out of the equation. It needs to be done in collaboration as delivery and service need to go through a dealer. We’ve run some pilot projects, but we’re now working on a more general online offer with an initial focus on Europe. We’ll look at where it makes sense to have an online sales option.

And what are you doing to bring your dealerships into the digital age?We never want to forget that, whatever we do, it needs to have value for the customer. That’s why we have the Volvo Personal Service concept, which providescustomers with a personal service technician who takes care of your car and is your main point of contact. In terms of enabling a more digital showroom experience, we are piloting the Hololens experience, which uses augmented reality to be a kind of bridge between the online search process and the offline environment where the deal needs to be closed. The Hololens lets you look at a car and configure it without the dealer having to have all different configurations right there in the showroom. It’s where online meets offline.

A lot of the digital technologies come from non-traditional automotive players. How do you work with them?There’s no lack of technology opportunities and the automotive and technology industries will have to manage them together. For Volvo it’s very important that we filter which technologies add value for the consumer. You can very easily get an extremely cluttered customer experience. We’re not in tech for tech’s sake, but we are here to make sure our consumers get safe and user-friendly mobility. That consumer-centric mindset is extremely important, because the opportunities are endless and consumers’ time is definitely not.

You’ve been with Volvo less than half a year. Any surprises so far?If you walk around an auto show like Geneva and work in the industry you understand even better that this industry is a bit bi-polar in its personality. It has a bit of an identity crisis. You hear the roar of V8 engines on the one hand, but talk of electrification and grams of CO2 on the other. There’s talk of a fantastic driving experience and autonomous driving in the same sentence. There’s online and offline. There are a lot of these big inflection points at the moment. One of the biggest is that the tech industry and the auto industry are coming together and some automotive players need to come to terms with this. If they do so, we can do great things together.

Safety has traditionally been the biggest reason to buy a Volvo. But now that most cars are considered extremely safe, is it still the differentiator you need to meet your growth targets?If you take a traditional car-industry view, I agree, safety is almost a bit boring now that most cars can be considered very safe. But if you look a step ahead at the enormous number of fatalities resulting from transportation, you see a different picture. Our Vision 2020 goal, which calls for no serious injuries or deaths in a Volvo by 2020, sounded totally impossible just a few years ago. But with autonomous-driving technology, it has become perfectly achievable. That is why Volvo is investing heavily in autonomous technology. It has the potential to really save human lives, while also solving congestion and environmental issues. Consumers’ trust in the technology is one key requirement for achieving autonomous driving. And, if there’s one company in the world that has that trust, it’s Volvo. That trust is more valuable than ever.

-Interview by Arjen Bongard