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Driving Change

Volvo's radical attempt to redefine car ownership is surprisingly popular

This article is drawn from the Transport Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Tuesdays.

The hottest thing in the auto industry these days is . . . no autos.

Last week, at the LA Auto Show, Swedish carmaker Volvo didn't have a single car on display at the iconic car event. 

Instead, the 91-year-old company, acquired by Chinese automaker Geely in 2010, opted to highlight what its customers could experience by "subscribing" to a Volvo car through tech, software and industry partnerships. The company showed off a wooden sign that read "this is not a car," in the middle of its expo display. 

It might seem a bit cheesy, but at least Volvo is embracing it.

The auto industry is going through a massive transformation right now, which for many automakers will include a drop in overall car sales as urban drivers opt for new mobility options, such as ride-hailing and car sharing, over vehicle ownership. General Motors' recent decision to shut down five of its car lines (and the factories that made them) is part of this overall trend

Americans are still buying SUVs and trucks, but fewer traditional sedans. Automakers are also tumbling into the wild world of electrification and autonomous tech, and they need to invest heavily in technology to survive. 

A small (and once declining) automaker such as Volvo actually has an advantage in this disruption in that it can bet aggressively on new business models. Geely bought Volvo in a firesale from Ford. It since has boosted revenue and profits to record levels through tech investments and solid sales in China.

Volvo's year-old subscription service, Care by Volvo, has been substantially more popular than expected. And another recent indicator that it's gaining some traction: California dealers are pushing back on it. 

As the auto industry plunges down the rapids, the ride-hailing companies are looking to get big and mature as fast as possible. Both Lyft and Uber reportedly have confidentially filed to go public, and they are hard at work on mobility strategies that include city partnerships, micro-mobility (scooters and bikes) and sustainability plans.

The auto sector is also getting into the micro-mobility world. Ford acquired scooter maker Spin last month and plans to continue to grow its city footprint. Of course, the volatile scooter-sharing industry is in flux, too, despite huge valuations and increased ridership. 

BTW, if you're particularly interested in micro-mobility trends, check out The Micromobility Conference next month in the Bay Area. Readers of this newsletter can get 25 percent off with this discount link. I'll be interviewing some city leaders there. Come and hang out — it should be fun!

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