King of Prussia: Volvo Plays ‘Naughty’ and Gives People a Free Test Drive

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Volvo showcased a revamped 2011 S60 in dramatic fashion in King of Prussia. The purpose of the event, which was part of the “Naughty Volvo Tour,” was to give potential buyers and other members of the public a deeply interactive chance to check out Volvo’s new performance and safety features.

The event, which was held in the parking lot of the King of Prussia Plaza, featured multiple opportunities for the public to drive the new S60. The most popular event was a competition between the S60 and comparable cars from Audi and BMW. This was done on an obstacle course that featured hairpin turns and simulations of falling rocks and deer that drivers had to avoid.

Surprisingly, members of the public were allowed to speed through the course without any supervision in the car. The only thing drivers had to do was register beforehand, give their driver’s license number and sign a liability contract. The fact that the audience was so free to do what they wanted and drive as fast as they wanted exemplified the “naughty” theme.

The other popular attraction was a timed obstacle course that visitors could drive the S60 through. The prize for the fastest time was an iPad, which proved tantalizing for many people. While there were no deer or falling rocks in this course, there were tight turns, including a 90-degree turn near the end. Given the speed at which the S60 accelerates and brakes, as well as its cornering ability, the turns in this course created quite an experience.  It was clear this course was intended to strip Volvo of its “soccer mom” image and give it a sportier, “naughtier” edge. As with the other obstacle course, drivers could ride unsupervised after giving driver’s license information and signing a liability waiver.

A third attraction was a demonstration of the safety features on the S60, which include a pedestrian and vehicle detection and emergency stop system. “You can go up to 18 m.p.h. and, if a pedestrian is detected, the vehicle will automatically brake and come to a stop,” said Steven Marks, the assistant tour manager. Marks added that the system can “mitigate” an accident involving a pedestrian if the vehicle is moving below 50 m.p.h.

To demonstrate this technology, members of the audience were invited to either drive or ride in an S60 with a Volvo employee on a course with test dummies representing people and vehicles. If driving, visitors were instructed to drive about 15 m.p.h., take their foot off the accelerator, and just let the Volvo stop itself. The Volvo employees were emphatic when they told drivers not to hit the brake. Given the sudden nature of the stop, many drivers would have been tempted to hit the brake long before the vehicle detected an obstacle. The rapidness at which the S60 was able to stop was quite impressive. Sure enough, the mock pedestrians and vehicles never received a scratch.

Volvo repeatedly went back to the “naughty” reference when describing the S60. According to Linda Gangeri, Volvo’s manager for American advertising, the strategy was a way to make Volvo seem cool and sporty, in defiance of its prudish reputation.

Bill Follmer, a racecar driver who was on hand to assist with the obstacle course, put it even bluntly. “Volvos used to be no fun,” said Follmer. However, Follmer was impressed with the sporty performance of the S60. Volvo really pushed the limits with its “naughty” campaign, as one sign read “ready to spank the competition.”

Overall, it seemed like Volvo was simultaneously emphasizing the new-found sportiness of the S60 and its safety innovations. In other words, the S60 was supposed to be both “naughty” and nice. Allowing members of the public to test drive the S60 with very few restrictions certainly was an innovative approach. It should be interesting to see if auto buyers are turned on by Volvo’s campaign.

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