For decades, the Indian luxury car was the ultimate symbol of decadence -- a cushy backseat for senior executives being driven around by smartly attired chauffeurs.
But now, Volvo Auto India thinks it can change this trend. The iconic Swedish brand launched a sports version of its entry-level sedan -- S60 Polestar-- at Rs 52.50 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) on Friday.
The car is pitted against the likes of Mercedes-AMG C43, priced at Rs 87 lakh, the BMW M3 at Rs 45.9 lakh and the Audi S5 at Rs 74 lakh.
The company is pitching the car as a high-energy, zippy beast that embodies both power and luxury, perfect for the young executive who doesn’t mind getting behind the wheel on a weekend trip away from the city.
In fact, Tom von Bonsdorff, the managing director of Volvo Auto India, says, “If you don’t drive it, you better not buy it.”
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Polestar is finally coming to India. Even a mass carmaker like Maruti Suzuki got their RS car last month. Is India growing to accept performance cars?
It’s everybody’s dream to have a performance car in the range. It’s really great to have it.
Few things that triggered our decision to bring Polestar to India: One is of course the sales. We are doing great now. Last year we expected to have double digit growth and this year too, we expect the same. So it’s a good time to expand the range.
Second is: we have had Polestar for couple of years, and it has been rolled out to couple of more markets, so we have increased the production too.
Third is our dealers’ network and enthusiastic customers who had been pushing us for long to get them the Polestar.
How do you see India as a market for performance cars?
Many car companies have their performance brands in India for some time now, so there’s clearly a segment for these cars. India might have some challenges: Traffic here does not really give room for the performance experience; roads have potholes and all.
But that does not mean people don’t deserve to drive these cars. People here have ambitions for fast cars and enough money to fulfill the dreams, and we want to be in that segment too.
I see no reason why India should not have a car like the Polestar. It’s a nice, powerful, luxury vehicle and safe too, something that we at Volvo value more than anything else.
How often do you drive on the Indian roads?
I don’t drive myself too much. It’s more convenient to be driven in the car in India; you can get most work done too.
Are Volvo cars mostly chauffeur-driven?
I dont think Polestar is a brand one would buy and not drive. We are looking at that segment when people, mostly young executives, are driven by chauffeurs to office Monday to Friday, and who would want to get behind the wheel on weekends. Polestar is for the youth who prefer to drive than to be driven.
You don’t buy a car which has 367 HP and 0 to 100 in 4.7 seconds for someone else to drive it for you. If you don’t drive it, you better not buy it.
The colour we are launching it in is rebel blue. It shows the nature of the beast.
So what other Volvo cars will we see later this year?
We will launch a V90 Cross Country, which will be a crossover SUV smaller than the XC90, but will have the same ground clearance. We will launch it in the second quarter.
Globally, we launched a new version of the XC60 in Geneva. We will get it in India soon after they start selling it in Europe.
How do you decide when to bring a car in India?
It’s more of a logistical time taken for the cars to reach here than a business decision. The XC60 was only showcased in Geneva. Once we launch it there (in Europe), soon we hope to get it here by the end of this year.
Your thoughts on the entry of Lexus in India?
We play our own game on our own strengths with safety as our core value, and Scandinavian design cars which appeal to a lot of people.
Lexus sells their cars in a different way. We strictly go with our own strengths. So I wish them a welcome and a reasonable good success. (chuckles)
It’s good to have them. They are a global player and of course they were coming to India.
Do you think they were late?
They’re a globally successful brand. They may be late but then good for them, good for India and the customers too that they have more options to buy from.
Your comments on doing business as GST is set to roll out from July 1?
We don’t see prices going up or falling massively. It will be a smooth transition.
Since we import cars from Europe as completely built units, there’s nothing much for us to expect right now. However, as the GST comes into effect, it will help us getting cars from the port to different states; there will be transparency and this would drive business.
Volvo is known for its pioneering work in safety equipment. In October, India will finally have safety norms implemented. Thoughts on this?
First of all, we have exactly the same equipment in our cars here as our European models. We had radar-based safety features in all our cars, but we had to disable them in earlier cars simply because India did not allow those frequencies.
Recently, the restrictions were lifted and now we are able to sell those radar-based safety features in our cars, since the XC90 we launched last year and now the S60 Polestar (launched on Friday). So S60 will technically be the first car to be designed for the race track but still very safe to be driven on the streets too.
How is it being in India?
It’s a great country, with so many cultures and colours. My family is here too.
I love the food here -- chicken butter masala especially. But the pollution is an issue; you just can’t breathe.
Our drive comes to an end. Mr Tom gets off the red XC90, shakes hands and walks off for his next meeting.