Dear Volvo, we are not exclusive!

IoT and digital are cool, but companies such as car manufacturers can’t move fast enough to take full advantage of it.​​​

Kristina Podnar
October 3, 2018

My family is a Volvo family. I remember being 10 years old and daydreaming of owning my own car. On hot summer days, I would watch German and Italian license plates on Volvo station wagons pass through my hometown in Croatia. When I grew up, my Volvo would be dark blue, filled to the brim with beach-going stuff, and have a rack on top that was never used.

In 2003 my dream finally came true. After a round of salary negotiations that put me on par with my male colleagues, I rewarded myself by buying a 2003 Volvo V70. I have a deep affection for this car. It was the car that my son rode in as a newborn, wearing a red cap that said “Volvo for Life”. Over the years our family added a Volvo crossover to the garage, and most recently we replaced the old V70 (after 15 years and 201K miles!) with a new Volvo sedan.

There are many things to love about Volvo cars. Of course, there is the tradition of safety, brought into the modern age with such features as city smart driving, which stops the vehicle if it detects a pedestrian in its path. But what’s been most exciting is the incorporation of technology to make life with the Volvo car easier and more convenient. Things such as the Volvo On Call mobile application that provides the car’s location, fuel level, lock status, maintenance warning, notice of an open door or window, ability to control the car’s climate, and flash the lights and honk the horn (helpful for locating your car in a sea of vehicles after a game or a concert).

As you can tell, I really want to love everything about Volvo. But no matter how much I try, and how long I have tried, I can’t make it a 100% committed relationship. And it all comes down to digital! Maybe it was Apple that set an unrealistically high digital satisfaction rate for everyone else in my life, with its ability to enable three new devices, transfer two pre-existing devices amongst different people, and have me out the door in less than 45 minutes. Or UPS, which manages to get important documents from my door to the middle of Rome in less than 48 hours. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The reality is, the bar is high, and Volvo has failed to even get on the chart!

When I leased a new Volvo this past June, my only requirement for the salesperson was to ensure my Volvo On Call app worked by the time I stepped out of the dealership. Sadly, it couldn't happen. Nor could it happen for the next 4 days during which I kept driving to the dealership. You see, Volvo headquarters in Sweden runs the entire Volvo on Call app infrastructure and the servers or software weren’t cooperating.

What should have been a 12-hour wait turned into a 72-hour ordeal, and what was supposed to be easy became a headache on par with having two root canals. Not only could I not get my app set up, but when the system was finally up and running, the salesperson told me I had to delete my existing account. I needed to create a new account associated with the new car. In other words, you can’t just disconnect an existing Volvo from your app and add a new one. Per the Volvo salesperson, you have to delete your entire account and start from scratch. How and why could a company that I had been so loyal to disappoint with something so simple?

After a 3-month Volvo standoff, I gave the company another chance. I walked into the dealership earlier this week with my husband, ready to sign the paperwork for another new car. All excited, I reached for my phone and asked for his new car to be linked with my Volvo On Call app. It seemed like an innocent request, but here again, came the Volvo disappointment.

The sales person explained the many great things that the Internet of Things (IoT) promises with the Volvo On Call app. There is the ability to start my car remotely, connect it to my calendar, see how much gas is in the car, tell when the car is locked and set a reminder for when it is left unlocked. What I can’t do is add and control two Volvo vehicles via my app. That seems like a basic requirement, a common function, and a simple capability. It also seems like a reality in the US market where households have at least 2 cars, if not more.

Being a policy and standards girl, I thought there might be a policy issue with having multiple vehicles attached to the same account for liability reasons. Sadly, apparently not, it is just a hard data point. Much like Volvo’s choice to install 3G (over a 4G network) into all of its new cars. This confirms what I have thought for a while: IoT and digital is cool, but companies such as car manufactures can’t move fast enough to take full advantage of it.

When we talk about disruption and the need for digital transformation, it is possible that an IoT services competitor will disrupt companies such as car manufacturers. After all, it is an app on a phone and nothing about phones or technology is proprietary for long. But it is more likely that car manufacturers, such as Volvo, will lose the brand loyalty of customers to another car company because they can’t deliver on today’s basics. And an app is now a basic, with Mazda, Honda, and Volkswagen all touting their own versions.

With all of that in mind, and digital progressing at an amazing speed, if you can’t get the basics right, personally I feel no qualms about saying, “It’s not you, it’s me. And Volvo, this relationship is no longer exclusive!”

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