Toyota Drivers: The New Volvo Drivers?

Posted: July 11, 2011 in Cars

Anyone growing up in the eighties will remember them. Volvos. They were a car, and of course, still are. But I will always remember them fondly as what they were. They were square, they had push-me, pull-you styling and they were safe. Oh god yes, they were safe.

I can remember the advertising, Volvos being smashed into everything conceivable, thrown off buildings and the like. Afterwards a Swedish man would come and open the doors and show us that the little dummies inside were all okay, he would point out that the passenger cell was intact and that the pedals had, in fact, dropped to the floor so they wouldn’t push up through your foot and replace your knee joint.

There were many safety advantages to buying a Volvo, but unfortunately not much else. Evidently Volvo had one of the smallest styling departments in the world, with the possible exception of Porsche, and weren’t bothered by things like fashion. If cars were colours, Volvo would have been beige.

Then there were Volvo drivers. It was a generalisation, but an entirely apt one. You would see them coming from miles away. Not because the cars were big, but because every other car on the road was doing something to avoid it: driving into ditches, U-turns, parking and hiding behind the dash hoping the Volvo driver wouldn’t see him. If there was someone on the freeway doing eighty and holding up traffic, chances were it was a man, driving a Volvo, wearing a hat.

In the nineties something happened. It started when Volvo decided to run a couple of station wagons in the British Touring Car Championship. Everyone else chuckled and took bets on how badly the Volvos were going to do. They were right of course and Volvo finished behind the Fords, the Vauxhalls and the Renaults, not to mention everyone else.

The next year however, when everyone was still chuckling about the Volvos, the Volvos were doing something else. They were quietly, in smart Swedish fashion, winning everything they could. So now they had performance, but they still needed something else. The styling department were thrown a copy of GQ and Harpers Bazaar and sternly told to get on with it.

So, in a short period of time, Volvo had not only performance but also the beginning of style, sort of, and a different type of people started buying Volvos. No longer being bought by men in hats, they were being bought by people who had brunch, with lattes, and who spent more than $10 on a haircut. More importantly these people believed in cool, or at least their interpretation thereof, and we ended up with the Volvo C30. Everyone wins. Well…almost.

The people who traditionally bought Volvos no longer had their own marquee. They were car-less. Something had to fill the gap. I have made my summations based on being held-up, distressed by, yelling at and otherwise horrified. The old Volvo drivers have moved to Toyota.

With Volvos this wasn’t an issue, as there weren’t enough of them to matter. Now we are talking about the biggest car company in the world. There are Toyotas everywhere. Camrys, Corollas, other Corollas and yet more Corollas, and we can’t get away from the god-awful Prius.

How many times have I been boxed in on the freeway, doing eighty, by three cars and noticing that all three were a version of Toyota? Or watching, aghast, as a lady does a thirty point turn to get out of a car park big enough for doughnuts in a Road Train. Avoiding a weaving car doing the speed limit minus thirty with the male driver’s face pressed against the glass, all in a Toyota and yet, not a hat in sight.

How have Toyota managed to do this? Well, quite simply they make cars that don’t break. They are bland, boring and only exist to go from A to B, but they’ll never fail. Toyota have made their fortune by selling reliability and the person that buys reliability is not that far away from the person who buys safe. In fact they may be worse. So much worse in fact that I’ll make the following outlandish statement: If you buy a car based only on its reliability you shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

This article first appeared in the September 2009 issue of The King’s Tribune 

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