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Thursday, 16 March 2017 13:08

Analysis: Volvo in memoriam

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The Volvo S60 Supercars are no longer, benched following Volvo's withdrawal from Supercars and its legal stoush with Garry Rogers Motorsport.

In V8X Supercar Magazine issue #97, we remember its brief but spectacular stint in the series and ask some key questions around Volvo's involvement in Supercars.

Issue #97 is your must-have guide to the new season, including full-field driver profiles, team-by-team changes and event previews. Included with the print edition is a 2017 Freightliner-backed Supercars calendar fridge magnet and V8 champions and Shane van Gisbergen poster.

Issue #97 is on sale now in stores with the digital edition available in the official V8X app (in the App Store and Google Play), online at DigitalEdition.V8XMagazine.com.au and in the Magzter app store.

CLICK HERE for more information on issue #97.

History does repeat! After winning the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship with Robbie Francevic, the Volvo 240T disappeared from the grid as the Swedish manufacturer withdrew from global motorsport.

Thirty years on, following further success with another New Zealand driver, Scott McLaughlin, Volvo pulled the plug on its Supercars involvement.

Despite being on the pace from the outset with its S60 Supercar, Volvo walked away from Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) and the series after its initial three-year deal and insisted its engines were not to be used by the team in a privateer capacity moving forward.

GRM could've retained the S60 body panels on the control Car of the Future chassis and run the generic Supercar Chevrolet engine. But, according to team boss Garry Rogers, "The traditionalist in me knew it was not the right thing to run a Chev engine in a Volvo chassis in a touring-car category."

So why did Volvo pull the plug? The initial deal incorporated Volvo Car Australia and Volvo's independent performance arm Polestar together with GRM. When Volvo head office announced in 2015 that it had purchased Polestar Performance, its head-office edict of moving away from V8 engines and motorsport took hold over the key technical player in the Supercars program.

How involved Volvo head office was in the original deal is now being questioned considering the decision to withdraw once Polestar was brought in-house, especially given the insistence on a total withdrawal following 2016.

Even with the Gen2 regulations allowing Volvo to move away from a V8, which hasn't featured in its road-car line-up since 2010, Supercars wasn't considered an option moving forward as the brand realigns its image to more environmentally-friendly cars with three/ four-cylinder engines and electric options.

Did Volvo gain from Supercars? In terms of branding, it did seem there was a positive influence on a brand more associated with safety than performance. Volvo notched up record sales in Australia in 2016, nearly 19 per cent up on 2015. But it was the luxury SUV range that produced significant increases, while sales of the S60 model were down.

What direct impact Supercars had on the perception of Volvo in the marketplace and, therefore, on those sales figures is unknown. But considering the immediate impact Volvo had on the track that did translate into off-track traction in areas such as merchandise sales, it stands to reason there was some correlation.

Volvo's motorsport involvement is now centred on its Scandinavian Touring Car Championship and World Touring Car Championship, while GRM has been forced to revert back to running Holden VF Commodore Supercars.

What lessons can Supercars learn from Volvo's decision? That manufacturers are fickle and ultimately at the beck and call of head office, complicating commitments to a domestic series.

While Volvo Car Australia appeared keen to continue, it could only accept the decision from Sweden. Without tangible evidence that racing in Supercars results in a direct sales boost to that particularly model, getting manufacturers to commit is incredibly difficult.

With GT3 booming and having a direct link between the race-track and the road and electric cars the way of the future, selling international manufacturers on Supercars is proving troublesome, even with the open technical regulations of Gen2. And, as Volvo proves, getting them into the series is one thing, getting them to stay is another!

VOLVO IN SUPERCARS BY THE NUMBERS:

Races: 103
Wins: 6
Poles: 17
Podiums: 23
Championship best: 3rd (Scott McLaughlin, 2016)
Bathurst 1000 best: 5th (Scott McLaughlin & Alexandre Prémat, 2015)

CLICK HERE to purchase issue #97.