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Volvo's safety reputation should be preserved by its new owners

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
Volvo needs to protect its reputation.

If it stumbles under Chinese ownership, it may be impossible to regain those loyal buyers. If I were a Volvo dealer, I would be concerned.

Mention the name “Volvo” and the word “safety” automatically comes to mind. Decades of dedication to protecting occupants from serious injury drew buyers to its cars, sometimes two and three times.

I still remember an ad campaign, circa the 1970s. It showed five or six Volvos, stacked on top of each other, proving the strength of the vehicle's greenhouse. None of the roof pillars on the car at the bottom of the stack bent under the weight of those vehicles. There have been numerous ads touting Volvo's devotion to safety that were as impressive.

A few years ago, I visited Volvo's safety research center in Gothenburg, Sweden, an amazing, state-of-the-art facility. I witnessed the dedication to safety innovation and occupant protection, witnessed several crash tests, spent hours talking with Volvo's engineers about upcoming technology to reduce occupant injury. They are a very dedicated group of engineers.

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. took possession of Volvo from Ford Motor Co. last month. Geely is the first Chinese automaker to purchase an established auto company.

I don't have inside information, but I expect there is tremendous pressure to trim costs, especially with no end in sight for the global recession. However, almost immediately Geely and Volvo have to approve a vehicle program that will launch in mid-decade and beyond. We're talking billions of dollars.

The current product line shares platforms with Ford. Geely and Volvo have to decide whether the automaker will continue to share platforms and other technology, look for another partner or do it alone. And safety probably will be a big part of the discussions -- specifically, how much of the r&d budget will be devoted to safety innovation.

I can't predict what Volvo will do under Chinese ownership. Maybe Geely has already decided that Volvo's devotion to safety innovation is sacred, a deal maker for most car buyers, and will remain untouched.

If not, Geely is putting at risk every positive image Volvo created in the past five decades.

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