Volvo Launches M 'Mobility Brand,' Plans Car-Sharing Service

BMW might have something to say about that.

Volvo

In the car world, M is a hallowed letter, thanks to BMW's M performance division and the many great cars that have worn M badges through the years. But now Volvo is launching a new "mobility brand" focusing on alternatives to car ownership, and it will also be called M. Does BMW know about this?

"Volvo Cars is becoming more than just a car company," CEO HÃ¥kan Samuelsson said in a statement. "We recognize that urban consumers are rethinking traditional car ownership. M is part of our answer." The new brand will debut in Sweden and the United States next year.

Volvo didn't offer many details on the services M will offer, but a company press release did say that M will provide "dependable, on-demand access to cars and services through an intuitive app." So it sounds like M will focus on car sharing, similar to General Motors' Maven mobility brand. BMW and Daimler also offer car-sharing services, branded ReachNow and Car2Go, respectively.

M will draw experience from a Volvo-operated car-sharing service in Sweden called Sunfleet, the company said. Sunfleet currently has a fleet of 1,700 cars and 500,000 annual transactions, according to Volvo. Sunfleet will be integrated with M in 2019, with all memberships incorporated into the new brand.

Volvo will also try to distinguish its car-sharing service from competitors by focusing on how people use their cars. The automaker said it is developing "proprietary technology" to track users' specific needs and preferences, and try to customize the experience based on that. It's unclear how this will work in practice, however.

Stockholm will be M's base of operations. Volvo plans to conduct a large-scale beta test of M services there this fall, ahead of the full launch next year. The automaker said more details about M and its services will be released in the coming months.

Volvo is one of several automakers trying to diversify beyond merely selling cars. The rise of car sharing and other mobility services presents a threat to new-car sales, but also an opportunity if car companies can successfully operate the services themselves. Volvo is also betting that subscription services, where customers pay a monthly fee much like they do for cell phones, will be the next big thing. These trends point to a future where relatively few people actually own the cars they are driving.