NEW ORLEANS -- Dealers are cheering the changes at Volvo: new leadership, an altered facilities program and a new marketing focus.
The revised facilities program removes the connection to margin that was part of the previous plan, announced in 2013. Dealers pushed back against that plan, and executives canceled it.
The new program will pay dealerships that renovate up to $500 per car sold for as long as three years. Stores with exclusive Volvo showrooms and service areas get the $500 payment. Those with shared facilities will receive $250 per car.
Depending on store volume, the program will cover 25 to 40 percent of facility project costs, said Tony Nicolosi, CEO of Volvo Cars of North America. A typical Volvo upgrade costs about $1.5 million, he said.
"We're removing some of the risk," said Nicolosi, who reviewed the changes with dealers at the make meeting. "At least the dealers have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what they're going to earn."
Volvo dealers have struggled as sales stagnated during a long stretch without significant new product. In 2013, Volvo sold 61,233 vehicles, down 10 percent in a year when industry sales rose 8 percent.
Frequent applause erupted during the meeting. Later, several dealers said they were happy with Nicolosi, who became head of Volvo's U.S. sales arm late last year, and Bodil Eriksson, named executive vice president for marketing Jan. 15.
Said Chip Gengras, a Connecticut dealer and chairman of the Volvo Retail Advisory Board: "We're most excited about what's going on on the marketing end."
Volvo will reduce TV advertising, expand digital and spend up to 50 percent more on marketing overall.
The message will return to the brand's roots -- a turnabout from last year's campaign, which poked fun at buyers of German cars, with the tag line: "Volvos aren't for everyone, and we kind of like it that way."
Those ads are over. "Volvo is an inclusionary brand," Eriksson said.
Volvo is projecting 65,000 sales this year. That would be a 6 percent increase from 2013.
Said Kevin Flanagan, president of Smythe Volvo in Summit, N.J.: "Volvo is definitely moving in the right direction."