The Nordic Touch
Volvo Cars Thailand continues to present the best of Swedish design and safety to Thai consumers, its network of franchise partners creating a second-home experience in their showrooms
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Callam Waller
Sweden is synonymous with innovation, design and trust.
Labelled the most reputable country in the world by the Reputation Institute, it is home to a number of enduring global brands which carry a progressive set of values.
Volvo is one of them. Renowned for building reliable and safe vehicles, this cornerstone of its identity has enabled the automaker to penetrate markets all over the world, the combination of safety and Swedish style truly standing the test of time.
Thailand and Chris Wailes are a case in point.
“The reason why I only had an interest in joining the company was down to the fact that I grew up with a Volvo car from a young age,” Wailes, now Managing Director of Volvo Cars Thailand, explains. “My mum had both 240 and 340 models, so I already knew quite a bit about the cars… a good start as a fresh and eager young salesperson!
“I have continued throughout my career with Volvo because I truly believe in the values the company has in terms of protecting people both inside and outside of the car, together with bringing premium mobility solutions for consumers regardless of which country you live in.”
Having worn the plastic tyres off of his red peddle car when he was five years old, Wailes was destined for a career in the auto industry, beginning as a trainee salesman in the UK in 1988.
Now heading up the Thai business after fulfilling roles in Europe and China, he is leading the brand into a new chapter, a story which formally began in 1999 when Volvo Cars Thailand became a national sales company of Volvo Car Group.
Today the division is headquartered in Bangkok, where 10 of its 14 franchised retail outlets are located either centrally or in the surrounding area. The remaining four can be found in Chiang Mai (north) Khon Kaen (northeast), Phuket and Hat Yai (south), with a new facility in Chon Buri (south of Bangkok) set for opening by the end of 2019.
A touch of Swedish savvy
Thailand, like most auto markets, is crowded, making the ability to stand out imperative if any meaningful traction is to be made.
This brings Wailes back to the opening statement. “Our safety heritage is well documented, and we of course ensure that this remains front of mind with Thai consumers,” he says.
“However, the fact we are a Swedish brand with Scandinavian style is equally important. This design language is not only seen on our cars, but at all of our external events which show consumers the clean, elegant, premium feel which is uniquely Swedish.”
Such Nordic flair is also on display throughout the showrooms operated by Volvo Cars Thailand’s retail partners, what is known as the Volvo Retail Experience.
“Being in Thailand, so far away from Sweden, having daily temperatures which normally start with a three means we have to be very creative in how we show this to our customers,” continues Wailes. “The majority of Thai people have never visited Sweden, and most have never experienced the cold winter temperatures, let alone snow!”
Around 80 percent of the company’s retail partners have upgraded their facilities to the Volvo Retail Experience, meaning customers can benefit from a one-to-one relationship with the technician who has maintained their car. Regular maintenance can be carried out within 30 minutes if the customer wishes to wait, with freshly ground coffee and freshly prepared meals ready to enjoy.
While the Volvo Retail Experience is very much centred around a people-first culture, so too is the way in which franchisee relations are managed.
“Our retail and business partners are the most important group of people we have,” says Wailes. “Without our partners we would not have the success we have today.
“We have a very simple motto at Volvo Cars Thailand with all our partners – we win together, or we lose together. Business partners I describe as the cogs in the wheel, and we need all partners to work together to ensure that each cog drives the big wheel. If one cog stops the whole wheel stops.”
“We have regular meetings with all partners, keeping everyone updated on how we are performing against our key KPI’s, and these are open forum meetings where everyone is encouraged to share any ideas they have.
“We also try to find ways of simplifying the wider operations. For example, not waiting for consumers to come to us. We go to them instead. In my view there are always areas which you can improve, making life less complicated for our business partners and consumers alike.”
Freedom to Experience
All of this is geared towards improving the experience for the customer, no better demonstrated than by the opening of an experimental showroom by a long-term retail partner.
The franchisee needed to find a new location due to its aging site and expiring lease, and in the space of six months a new home in Huamark, Bangkok was built.
No small feat, the challenge required a sizable dose of creativity.
“The experimental part was that we worked closely together to transform a five-story unused car park into a Volvo Retail Experience showroom,” Wailes reveals.
“This was a unique and likely one-off experience for both of us, and we worked very hard together with the contractors, architects, and local authorities to bring the project to completion in March. The reaction from customers, media and local business leaders was fantastic.”
A project with a futurist twist, Wailes recognises the need to move with times as the way consumers interact with brands continues to evolve.
The appeal of hands-on experiences has played an enormous part in this shift, and Volvo Cars Thailand has responded by launching its own mobile test track in order to take its cars to its customers.
Known as The Volvo Way, Freedom to Experience, the track is the first ever double height test track in Thailand, opening in May 2019 in central Bangkok.
“Not only can consumers turn up and experience our latest SUV’s on the track, they experience what the Volvo brand stands for with our brand experience centre in the middle of the site,” Wailes says.
“When inside they can also see the cars on the track being driven, and the agility they have over obstacles so they can understand the history of Volvo Cars, our safety heritage and what makes us different.
“All inside areas are air conditioned and we have a team of professional drivers taking the customers around the track and explaining what is happening – for example when only three wheels are connected to the surface.”
The idea is to move the track around different parts of the country and generate conversation with Thai consumers, conversation which Wailes says is still continuing months after the inaugural event.
“The majority of consumers have mobile phones, are connected to the internet 24-seven and are purchasing more and more digitally,” he continues.
“These changes are happening faster in some countries than in others, and to continue to be relevant we also must adapt and change to reflect current times. Our mobile test track idea was thus born – I don’t believe that we should wait for people to come to us, as our customers tend to be time poor.”
Staying on track
Moving with the times also includes the vehicles themselves.
Asked what trends are steering the direction of travel within the industry, Wailes states that Thailand is following the global curve when it comes to electrification and hybrid vehicles.
“There is a shift towards plug in hybrid cars,” he explains. “For instance, on our XC60/S90/XC90 models, just two years ago 50 percent were diesel and 50 percent petrol. Now it is 80 percent plug in hybrid.
“I believe that battery electric vehicles will be adopted here very quickly and will grow steadily in the future, together with the adoption of car sharing and other mobility solutions. This also means that we need to adapt and change as our consumers do, and we are already well placed to do that.”
Adaptation will be accompanied by expansion, Wailes revealing ambitious plans to grow the footprint of the Volvo brand across Thailand.
“When I joined Volvo Cars Thailand in June 2017, I sat down with my management team and we discussed what had worked well and areas which we could improve,” he recalls.
“To keep things short, we have been focusing on the basics. The reason why is that all human beings tend to change the way they perform their respective roles over time and this tends to lead to over complicating tasks.
“By focusing on the basics such as customer experience, doing what you say you are going to do and delivering a new car at the time you promised the customer at their chosen location, the customer experience automatically improves.”
Wailes has also had to incorporate the bigger picture. Volvo is a worldwide corporation with its own global strategies to execute, and a central part of the MD’s role is to ensure this is communicated in a way that is relevant to Thai consumers.
Confident that the business is on track to deliver its transformation targets, Wailes finishes the conversation by looking ahead in an upbeat tone.
“In the short term we will continue to focus on going beyond expectations when it comes to customer experience.
“We will continue taking our cars to our consumers and drive forwards our education on road safety with the younger generation, all whilst being prepared to adapt as our consumers’ mobility requirements change.”