Putting a V-8 engine in a vehicle for the first time means Volvo enters new markets and aims at buyers different from typical safety-conscious Volvo owners.

“We're still the same company, we're just appealing to wider groups of people,” says John Neu, manager-product development for Volvo Cars of North America (VCNA).

That includes consumers who want the power of V-8 rather than what has been under Volvo hoods until now.

Safety remains a Volvo attribute, but style and power are not to be ignored in today's market, say Volvo executives.

“You need to include excitement, performance and design so shoppers don't reject you before you start the sell,” says Roger Ormisher, VCNA vice president-public affairs.

Neu says the Ford Motor Co.-owned Swedish auto maker wants a consumer mindset to shift from “‘safe, boxy, boring, and my Swedish uncle had one’ to ‘safe, stylish, exciting, and I got one in my driveway.’”

The first Volvo to get a V-8 option is the popular XC90 cross/utility vehicle, introduced two years ago with inline 5- and 6-cylinder engine choices.

“A V-8 in the XC90 allows Volvo to go after 30% of the market we weren't in,” says Neu, noting that one in three SUVs sold in the U.S. is V-8-powered. “We haven't been able to go after that group before.”

Citing market data on vehicle owners' emotional desires, he says:

  • 62% of V-8 buyers vs. 53% of existing XC90 owners indicate their vehicles give them a feeling of control.

  • 60% of V-8 buyers vs. 45% of XC90 owners say their vehicles are points of pride.

  • 44% of V-8 buyers vs. 31% of XC90 owners say their vehicles give them a feeling of power.

The same survey indicates V-8 buyers compared with XC90 buyers are less interested in safety and peace of mind from a vehicle. They're also more interested in dining out, travel, TV and sports.

“We're going to market differently to different groups,” says Neu. “We've never seen sports as a top hobby for Volvo buyers.”

Volvo particularly will pitch the V-8-powered XC90 in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston — markets known for strong V-8 sales.

“We want to get the buzz going in those trend-setting places,” says Neu.

Putting a more powerful engine in vehicles known for safety may seem like a culture clash. But Neu, using a sports analogy, says it makes sense.

“A hockey player doesn't put on protective gear because he's afraid of the puck,” he says. “He does so because he wants to be in front of the puck. It's feeling secure so that you can attack life.”

Adds Walt Langley, VCNA's vice president-product marketing: “Safety allows you to experience life. We need to say safety is not just about passive protection.”

XC90s equipped with the bigger engines will say so. V-8 badges are affixed to both the front and rear of the vehicles.

“That badging has a lot to do with the show-off factor,” says a Volvo staffer. “People buy V-8s for that, as well as for power and versatility.”