Meet: Jon Wakefield, MD of Volvo Cars UK
21 March 2019
The first Volvo rolled off (in fact Volvo is latin for “I roll”) the production line in Gothenburg in 1927 and since then Volvo has become a global brand with manufacturing in Sweden, Belgium and China. In 2018, Volvo Car UK sold 50,319 new cars by which achieving its highest total in 28 years. The LINK spoke to Jon Wakefield, Managing Director of Volvo Car UK, and talked about the past and the future of the automotive sector, the importance of sustainability and why the UK is a great market for Volvo.
Tell us a bit about your journey.
I’ve been in the automotive industry for three decades, working in both automotive manufacturer and retail companies including Lex, Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler Chrysler, Inchcape and the Fiat Group. I’ve been lucky enough to have roles in business development, sales and management, which has been invaluable in giving me the breadth of experience necessary in my current role as Managing Director of Volvo Car UK.
I actually spent two years as a Business Development Consultant at Volvo Car UK in the 1990s, so when the opportunity arose to rejoin the company as Sales Director in 2012, it was an easy decision to make. I was appointed Managing Director in August 2016, and in 2018 I oversaw the UK’s most successful sales results for nearly three decades.
What’s it like working for a Swedish business?
In a word: great. The Swedish culture and ethos is evident in everything that Volvo does, and this filters down to the work that we do here in the UK. Swedes are considerate and thoughtful people, and you really get a sense of this when you work for a Swedish brand. The Swedes also genuinely care about what they do and the impact it has. Not just on the environment and their employees and customers, but everyone that they come into contact with – either directly or indirectly. This consideration for others is what really sets Swedish businesses apart.
How and why has sustainability become a core value for Volvo Cars?
Because what we are doing to our planet is the single biggest issue we face today. And if we don’t do everything that we can now, it will be the single biggest issue that our children will face, and their children, and so on.
As a company, it is our aim to have climate-neutral global manufacturing operations by 2025. We pledge to also have at least 25% of the plastic in our cars made from recycled materials by 2025 – an unprecedented step for a car manufacturer. Of course, there’s a lot we can do before then, which is why we will have eliminated all single-use plastics from our offices, canteens and events across the globe by the end of 2019.
Our immediate- and medium-term focus is electric power - we strongly believe that this offers the best and most viable solution to cutting our impact on the environment.
Why is the UK a great market for the Volvo Cars business?
For a start we are a mature market. Volvos have been sold in the UK for a long time, so we are an established brand with an established customer base and supply chain. We also have the infrastructure and backup services required to sell our products and our services. Add these things together – along with our fantastic range of new cars and the exciting digital services that help make our customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable – and you have a recipe for success.
What are the biggest challenges for Volvo Car UK with Brexit?
To be honest, we don’t know what Brexit will mean for us. What we do know is that the uncertainty and corresponding shortage of confidence in the market is already causing problems, and has the potential to seriously disrupt the entire UK automotive industry. There are also significant trade implications, although none of these challenges are truly insurmountable, and I strongly believe that whatever the outcome, Volvo Car UK will continue to be incredibly successful.
What can we expect from the sector in the future?
The two biggest developments will be electrification and autonomous drive. Our cars will become increasingly powered by electricity in future, and they will also be able to transport you in comfort and safety to your destination, while you have the time to do something more productive and enjoyable.
The ways we access our cars will also change. It’s already happening, but in the future, more and more of us will subscribe to a car access service, where we’ll pay to use a car when we need it. Car manufacturers will morph into mobility providers, enabling our customers to get around on their terms, whenever, wherever and however suits them.
What are the biggest challenges in your job today?
There are many challenges facing the automotive industry at the moment, but this also presents opportunities for success. The continued uncertainty around Brexit and the effect this has on consumer confidence is a huge challenge, although we at Volvo Car UK are well placed to buck the current trend and continue to delivery record-breaking results in 2019 and beyond.
What is the best part about your job?
Working with such a talented group of people here at Volvo. The enthusiasm, ability and dedication that I see every day is inspiring, and it’s a fantastic feeling to know that we’re all pulling in the same direction, determined to succeed.