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Coming off record year, Volvo predicting “good, but choppy 2012”

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Volvo Trucks is predicting a "good, but choppy 2012," coming on the heels of a banner year for the company, in which it grew its North American Class 8 retail market share nearly three points.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Volvo Trucks is predicting a “good, but choppy 2012,” coming on the heels of a banner year for the company, in which it grew its North American Class 8 retail market share nearly three points.

Volvo, referencing WardsAuto Group data, indicated it grew its North American market share to 12.1% in 2011, a new high for Volvo and representing the largest gain of any OEM. Its Canada/US retail sales grew from 12,100 units in 2010 to 23,820 units in 2011. Meanwhile, penetration of its own engines and I-Shift automated transmission also reached new highs at 80% and 40% respectively.

The strong year has instilled a little swagger into Volvo, which has traditionally been perceived as a modest brand.

“We’re quite pleased with where we are today,” said Ron Huibers, the Canadian-born president of North American sales and marketing with Volvo. “Market share is a good measure of relative performance, and we achieved a record level, but what we’re also excited about is what we have coming down the pike as well.”

While Volvo was not yet willing to reveal specific details of what it had in-store for 2012 (besides a new horsepower rating for its XE13 powertrian package, which you ran read about here), the company feels its strong focus on integration will drive its growth going forward.

“It’s not integration, we’ve integrated,” Huibers said during an executive roundtable here. By far the most successful example of what the company has been able to achieve through its integration strategy is the success of the I-Shift automated transmission, which has seen its penetration rise steadily over the past five years.

“So many customers haven’t experienced I-Shift and once they do, it becomes a virtual hook,” said Huibers. “It augers well for our future.”

Product enhancements introduced in 2011 have also contributed to the truck maker’s recent success. Magnus Koeck, vice-president of marketing and brand management with Volvo, said redesigned hood-mounted mirrors have improved aerodynamics and visibility and have enjoyed a 67% take rate since their introduction last year. A new lightweight fifth wheel developed with Fontaine and standard Bluetooth have also served Volvo well since their introductions.

“Last year was pretty big for us when it comes to product introductions and all those have been really successful with customers,” Koeck said.

Volvo has also done well with its new auto-hauler, a “purpose-built” car hauler that Huibers said is “taking off quite strongly for us.”

Volvo also attributes its recent success to its dealers, many of whom have increased their hours of operation to better service customers.

While officials didn’t share specific sales projections for 2012, Huibers said the industry could soon be seeing the type of demand that set new records in the mid- to late-2000s; the types of numbers the industry didn’t think would ever be replicated. He said credit is available to solid trucking companies looking to add or replace vehicles and that the industry seems fundamentally sound. However, he did caution that supply shortages and rising costs could keep things in check.

“The industry is still facing constraints today,” Huibers said. “That continues to be a bottleneck and the problem is that it’s not predictable. What we’re also experiencing is that the shortages are putting upward pressure on costs for us.”
And despite his optimism about the future, Huibers also noted the US consumer remains jittery.

“Any given day all it takes is a ‘boo’ and people will pull back,” he admitted.

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