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Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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You won’t die in a Volvo. Is this the craziest promise ever made by a brand?

Published 20 February 2013 12:21, Updated 30 May 2013 14:46

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You won’t die in a Volvo. Is this the craziest promise ever made by a brand?

Volvo is pinning its reputation on the safety features that can be bought with its recently released V40.

Making grand, over-ambitious promises is risky business. Just ask Bob Hawke about his 1987 promise that by 1990 no Australian child would be living in poverty. We all know how that ended. Yet despite the risks, car maker Volvo has made the huge, some say nonsensical, promise that by 2020 no person will die as the result of a new Volvo vehicle.

Volvo says: “Nobody should die or suffer serious injuries in a new Volvo car by the year 2020.”

It’s a big claim, but it’s a goal the European car maker is confident it can deliver. Back in 2008, Volvo first promised that by 2020 it could eliminate deaths in its vehicles. But its new promise has gone a step further, with the car maker claiming that through the use of its new sensor technology, even serious injuries will be eliminated.

The probability of Volvo over-promising and under-delivering is significant. A consequence of that involves major reputational risk for the company, with the possibility of losing the respect and loyalty of customers. In an industry as competitive as car making, reputation is everything.

One the most famous “casualties” of making promises that could not be deliver is the US tobacco industry. In January 1954, US tobacco manufacturers jointly sponsored an advocacy advertisement entitled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers”, which appeared in hundreds of newspapers in more than 250 cities, and reached an audience of about 43 million people. The advertisement questioned research that suggested smoking caused cancer and promised consumers that cigarettes were safe, even healthy to consume. Hundreds of millions of dollars of lawsuits later, that promise is still quoted throughout courtrooms in America.

Nobody should die or suffer serious injuries in a new Volvo car by the year 2020.

However Volvo appears to have a strategic plan and some substance behind its promises. The Swedish manufacturer says it will use a variety of technologies, ranging from its city safety low-speed crash avoidance system to its high-speed road train system, that stops vehicles from accidentally swerving and allows cars to travel in convoy along highways. It has also recently released the world’s first car with a pedestrian airbag, an innovation motoring experts and safety campaigners have praised.

Volvo, which is renowned for its excellent safety record, also has a safety and research team that travels to all crash sites where its cars were involved within a 50 kilometre radius of its Gothenburg safety and testing centre to collect real-life data.

Volvo senior safety adviser, Thomas Broberg, describes the recently released V40 as “yet another important step towards our vision that nobody should die or suffer serious injuries in a new Volvo car by the year 2020”.

“They [the safety systems] are designed to warn about threats,” he says. “If necessary, they can also step in and intervene in critical situations.

“Volvo is leading the development of spearhead technology that helps the driver avoid collisions.”

If Volvo’s prediction proves successful, and other car makers choose to implement the technology, it says the 1.2 million worldwide annual death toll from car crashes will reduce significantly in the next decade.

If its promise goes unfulfilled, the reputational risk is enough to cause the company some major carnage.

About the new Volvo V40

• Prices are expected to start at about $35,000

• For $6000 customers can purchase an extras package which includes:

• Pedestrian detection and automatic braking;

• Low-speed collision avoidance system;

• High beam lights that automatically dip when oncoming traffic is detected;

• Radar cruise control with queue assist; and

• Lane wander alert (vibrates the steering wheel if lanes are changed without indicating).

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