Volvo dealers don't want to be left behind as the Chinese-owned Swedish automaker forges into future technologies.
As autonomous and connected driving develop and the future of traditional vehicle ownership is in question, Volvo has placed bets on new business models, including a subscription service and increased involvement with sibling brands Lynk & CO and Polestar.
These ventures are poised to fundamentally change auto retailing, and dealers are seeking to ensure their voices are heard and their roles are secure as Volvo moves forward.
"We've been really loyal. We've been the most consistent thing in Volvo," said Matthew Haiken, general manager of Prestige Volvo in East Hanover, N.J. "We've been through good times and bad times and really bad times. It's really crucial that as we expand this footprint of what is the Volvo Car Group that every single column needs to be run through a Volvo Car dealer."
Volvo introduced its subscription service, Care by Volvo, in September at the launch of the XC40 compact crossover. The service enables customers to sign on for two-year ownership periods, paying a flat monthly fee that includes insurance, maintenance and concierge services. The same system will be the sole ownership model for Polestar, which launched in October as a stand-alone electric vehicle performance brand.
In July, Volvo took a "significant" minority stake in Lynk & CO, its sibling brand under the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group umbrella, which plans to sell vehicles directly to U.S. consumers in 2019.
These developments have created unrest among Volvo's approximately 300 U.S. dealers, leading to a "painful" first meeting with Volvo Car USA CEO Anders Gustafsson. But Gustafsson's efforts to communicate with retailers and ensure their role in the future have had an easing effect.
"I think it was really successful. For us to get to the next level, he needs to build up respect and trust," said Haiken, who took over as chairman of the Volvo Retail Advisory Board in June. "He really cares and wants to see us really improve."
But as Volvo plans its transition from announcements to concrete business practices, dealers will closely monitor their changing role.
Haiken said, "It's really important that within all those brands, they are touched and controlled by a Volvo retailer."