A Volvo saved my life years ago. The front end played accordion exactly as promised. It was smashed in like an English bulldog’s face flattened further, but the damage stopped at the barrier to the passenger cabin. I walked away with a mere cracked sternum, an injury that doesn’t rate a bandage, though it hurt to laugh for endless weeks. I’d suspected, til then, that I was something of a glum person. Turned out I do a lot of laughing. For weeks I was clutching at my chest to avert spasms of pain.
The car was totaled. I’d have bought a new Volvo, but I couldn’t afford one anymore. My divorce meant I’d have to do with compacts. I bought a little yellow Fiat the kids called Tweetie Bird. After that I acquired a no nonsense white Corolla that I test drove in Singapore and sold eventually in Colombo. Next came a Subaru wagon that didn’t mind potholes the size of Lake Victoria and ran so quietly I could sneak up on lions in Tanzania.
And then I got the car I have now, a stripped down Jeep Cherokee that was supposed to take me to Timbuktu, but never did. There were too many wars between there and Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I was posted. I did get to Timbuktu, but I had to fly to Bamako and hire a Landrover and driver, and even with him it was....but that’s another story.
By the time the Jeep had been shipped to Karachi, where it was mostly quarantined for two years, because I had to drive around in a bulletproof consulate car, sometimes with armed guards, and on to Calcutta, where the average speed outside the city was less than 20 mph, the Cherokee had been driven only 25,000 miles. I’d have sold it happily and gone home to buy the Volvo I could now afford. But no one offered me enough for a good-as-new seven-year-old car, so I brought the Jeep home, still thinking about buying a Volvo one day.
Volvos were expensive. They weren’t sexy. But they were safe. And I fit most of the well parodied demographics for Volvo owners. I just hadn’t had a Volvo kind of life, yet. But it was coming. Pretty soon the mileage on this Jeep would be right for its resale value.
New cars had sensuous, fluid lines. Even Volvos had got more curvaceous, though the ads still stressed safety. Sigh. My poor old bought-for-Africa Cherokee was a box on wheels, but it handled the mountains, snow and unpaved roads of northern New Mexico pretty well. A Volvo could wait.
Now I know it will never happen. I haven’t changed. Volvo did, by changing hands.
Volvo got bought by Ford, it seems, and Ford management decided that an ultra-safe Volvo reflected badly on the rest of its fleet. The roof, in particular, was too strong. It’s unclear whether Ford-owned Volvo was simply prevented from advertising this safety feature or Volvo roof strength was actually downgraded to match that of the overall Ford fleet, but either way the implications are ominous.
Another dream gone. There’s no point in buying Volvos anymore.
But I can imagine a better world: Ford buys Volvo because it wants the expertise to build safer cars, and within a few years the whole Ford line is as safe as Volvos once were. Or even safer.
Given that scenario, there might even have been a Ford in my future. This Cherokee isn't going to last forever--I hope.