Volvo starts nautical engines Successor to Whitbread charts future course

May 02, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman BTC | Ellen Gamerman BTC,SUN STAFF

One day, a young sailor will look out at the sea, imagine a distant adventure and proclaim: "I want to do the Volvo."

The Volvo?

It may sound a little strange, but the future organizers of the Whitbread Round the World Race expect that one day a new generation of sailors will know the 31,600-nautical-mile adventure its new name, the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World.

Volvo, the Swedish car company, revealed details yesterday about its new ownership of the race after a 25-year sponsorship by the English brewery Whitbread. Volvo, which sponsors motor sports, golf and equestrian events, will inherit the television and promotional rights.

"Our ambition is to create a partnership with the sport," Tuve Johannesson, president and chief executive of Volvo Car Corp., said at a news conference at which he unveiled the new race name and logo. "It is here where our customers are to be found."

The future of at least one North American stopover seems secure under the new leadership, because 35 percent of Volvo customers live on this continent. Meanwhile, Volvo executives say they are pleased with the Baltimore-Annapolis stop and sound ready to return.

When asked if the Chesapeake region would have to maintain its strong Volvo customer base to lure the race back to the region, Johannesson replied: "The arrangements are fantastic here. It's such a pleasure to be here, we may even consider not taking that into the formula."

As race organizers consider ways to "de-Whitbread" the event so that future sailors will think of it as "the Volvo," Volvo executives have suggested some changes in future round-the-world races. The race may lose one stopover (it has nine), and a stop in Volvo's home in Sweden is also possible.

Race organizers did not rule out the possibility of taking bids from potential stopover cities in the future. The race, which costs a city more than $300,000 to accommodate, could become even more expensive.

"That has been thought of for a long time," said Mel Pyatt, an executive with Volvo Event Management, adding that bids only work if cities have money to spare and don't sacrifice their port's quality as a stopover as a result. "It must be a win-win situation," he said.

The race will still begin in England, although Volvo officials would not identify the city. As for the rest of the stopovers, Johannesson said the company had not firmly decided on any ports, and was not likely to do so until at least the end of the year.

The class of boats will now be called the Volvo Ocean 60. Also yesterday, Volvo announced it will become the title sponsor of the world youth sailing championships.

Pub Date: 5/02/98

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