Karin Bäcklund is the Volvo Ocean Race director at Volvo Cars and her objectives are crystal clear.
"The Volvo brand name naturally becomes even better known when it is seen by millions of people all over the world. So it's important that we strengthen the aspects of the brand that are associated with excitement and adventure and help the company to be perceived as more emotional and not only rational."
The Volvo Ocean Race offers an excess of excitement and adventure. It is one of the world's most gruelling sailing competitions in which elite yachtsmen compete to see who can circumnavigate the globe most quickly. They need to know that they have the best possible safety equipment and can rely on it.
"As in every extreme sport, it's a question of respect for safety, using the equipment that is available. If you are safe, you can have more fun," says Karin Bäcklund.
She points out that Volvo's core values of safety and environmental care are interwoven with the sport in a natural manner. The boats that are used are absolutely world class in terms of both quality and technology and the actual competition is environmentally sound.
From year to year, the level of safety in sailing races has improved, just as it has in passenger cars. Nowadays, competitors are obliged to wear a life jacket and lifeline when they are on board and the situation demands it. GPS navigation is a technology that is used by cars and boats alike. In the Volvo Ocean Race, it is not simply an aid to navigation, it also enables the Race Office to see the location of the boat, together with its direction and speed, at all times. The moment anything dramatic happens, the Race Office is alerted. One new feature is that a substantial section of the bulb and bottom of the boat are painted in a fluorescent orange to be seen from the air.
The Volvo Ocean Race receives tremendous media coverage. The last race took place in 2005-06 and it was covered in 192 countries. The media figures are impressive. Over 1.8 billion viewers were able to follow the race, more than 17,500 articles were written and the total media value was USD 86 billion or in excess of SEK 533 billion. This extensive exposure not only enhances brand awareness, it also sells cars. There is clear-cut evidence that people who are aware of the Volvo Ocean Race are more likely to choose a Volvo as their next car.
"However, it isn't simply a question of the media. During the last race, 2.8 million people visited one of the stopovers. We are expecting even more this time," says Karin Bäcklund.
Guests can test-drive
At the stopovers, Volvo Cars will be presenting its cars and its core values at a large touring exhibition. All the invited guests, both Volvo's and those from the syndicates, such as Puma and Ericsson, will be offered the chance to take a test drive. At some of the stopovers, the general public will also be able to test-drive cars.
"We have a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with new and old customers and business partners in a setting where none of our competitors is present. This time, we are expecting a total of more than 15,000 unique Volvo guests for all the 11 stopovers."
On this occasion, interest will focus on two new features: the latest car model, the Volvo XC60 -cross-over, and the latest world first in safety, City Safety, the system that brakes the car if it is about to hit something at low speed. This is one way of reducing low-speed collisions at parking lots, for example.
Volvo XC60 to be launched at stopovers
Many markets will be co-ordinating the launch of the Volvo XC60 with the Volvo Ocean Race. In Spain, the local test drives of the Volvo XC60 will take place around Alicante in conjunction with the start. South Africa and Singapore are other countries that will be launching the car when the Volvo Ocean Race boats are in town.
"Volvo Ocean Race combines event marketing, sales, introductions, products and brand on the same occasion. This kind of setup means that we get so much more from the event," says Karin Bäcklund.
In 2008, three Volvo models are being sold in a special Volvo Ocean Race edition in either Ocean Blue or Electric Silver. It looks as though sales will total 8,500 cars.
Teamwork and high performance
Within the company, the links with the race are less a question of sails and nautical miles and more a matter of teamwork and performance. On board a 21.5-metre yacht, eleven people are not only obliged to share the limited space. At any given moment, they must also attempt to sail more rapidly and more intelligently than their fellow competitors. The parallels with the demanding automotive industry are obvious.
"The Volvo culture is also characterised by teamwork, collaborating across professional borders and what we call the ‘power of we' or team spirit. When it is given the opportunity to blossom, it can move mountains," says Karin Bäcklund.
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