Still a China outsider, Volvo banks on "Linsanity" appeal

Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:25am EDT
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By Fang Yan and Ken Wills

BEIJING (Reuters) - When Chinese car maker Geely bought Volvo 18 months ago, some predicted a government which has made it a priority to buy or build high-end international brands would roll out the red carpet for the country's first fully-owned premier marquee.

Not so. Under Chinese law, Volvo, which is still registered and incorporated in Sweden, is branded a foreign company and gets the same treatment as General Motors (GM.N: Quote), Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) or German luxury car maker Audi.

This means Volvo cars are not among those Beijing wants its officials to drive as part of a plan to have government agencies buy locally branded fleets, leaving that $15 billion market to rivals such as FAW and SAIC Motors (600104.SS: Quote).

But Geely, the parent of Geely Automotive Holdings Ltd (0175.HK: Quote), is giving its Swedish brand a Chinese face.

Volvo has hired 23-year-old New York Knicks basketball sensation Jeremy Lin to help sell its luxury cars in both China and the United States, the two biggest car markets in the world.

Lin has signed a 2-year contract to appear in advertisements and act as brand ambassador for Volvo in an endorsement deal the company said was "another milestone of Volvo's revival".

The high-profile marketing coup comes as Volvo aims to more than quadruple its sales in China over the next three years, and analysts said Lin's branding appeal would help accelerate sales among younger Chinese drivers.

"For our region, Jeremy Lin is the pride of the whole Chinese population," Freeman Shen, chairman of Volvo Car China operations said in a statement.   Continued...

A logo is pictured on the Volvo booth during the second media day of the 82nd Geneva Auto Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 7, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse