850 estate was an incongruous but impactful entry into BTCC racing
Volvo’s growth has been underpinned by SUVs in recent years – but there’s still hope for a wagon revival
It was the sight of Jan Lammers and Rickard Rydell wrestling their unapologetically boxy Volvo 850 estates around the circuits of Britain in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship that did it for me.
Forget the Alfa Romeos that won everything that year: it was Volvo, maker of safe, practical, boxy cars, that became cool in my eyes.
The road-going 850, with its transverse engine, Delta-link rear axle, side impact protection system and other innovations, was a seminal car for Volvo. It was the result of a development programme known as Project Galaxy, which at the time was the largest single industrial investment in Swedish history. That is how important saloons and estates were for Volvo.
So the news that Volvo is removing its saloons and estates from sale in the UK is hugely significant and a blow to those of us who love automotive variety – but it’s not entirely unexpected. The firm’s revitalisation over the last decade or so has come from the incredible success of its SUVs, and their sales dwarf those of the S and V model lines.
In a sense, the cull of the saloons and estates is a by-product of Volvo’s ongoing transformation under company boss Jim Rowan – whose background is in tech, not automotive – from a car firm into a tech company that produces electric cars.
Rowan is probably bored with being asked about future electric Volvo saloons and estates in media sessions, and his stock answer is that nothing is ruled out and he would love to offer such models in the future, but the firm is still relatively small and has to choose where to focus.
That makes absolute business sense and is backed up by the strength of Volvo’s SUV line-up, but still… It feels like Volvo won’t really be complete without safety-first saloons and brilliantly boxy estates. You only have to drive into the Swedish countryside to see the popularity of such models in certain regions.
Surely when the market is right in the future, Volvo will offer saloons and estates again. They will be electric and have a heavy focus on software, technology and safety. And hopefully, they will be as straight-edged as ever.