In India, it is important to make a strong first impression because first impressions here last for generations, which is a long time. Talk to anyone from Fiat India and they might explain this with a couple of perfect examples. Will a similar story haunt the practical Swedes? Over to their neighbours then. The first image that raids our mind when we hear the tag Volvo is a big, bulky bus with comfy reclining seats, a big screen with a regional movie running on repeat, a couple of unwell passengers using the on-board washroom every 10 seconds and you dozing off without paying attention to any of that.
I am on a mission here - I won’t let Volvo do a “Fiat, the second” to themselves. While Fiat started shooting themselves in their feet, legs, thighs, arms until they were left with nothing else but their head and shot that as well, I wasn’t even born to salvage something for them. The tale started with the hateful Premier Padmini which finally stopped causing accidents in the year 2000. The list included both kind of breakdowns – mechanical and organismal. This mishap went for an agonising 36 years. Don’t take me wrong, I like the Italians. Their current line of offerings are way too good for a mediocre Indian motorist. But the thing is, it is the mediocre Indian motorist who is delivering “bread & butter” to nearly all the successful names in the automotive industry. Sooner or later, the Italians will find a way to join the gang.
Alright, let’s get back to Volvo and learn how they came about doing things in their own unique way.
1. In 1927, the founders of Volvo cars under the parent company SKF (a Swedish ball bearing factory), quoted, “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is and must remain, safety.” Since then, all their cars have been built on the same mantra. Even today, all the cars on offer in India scored 5 stars in the Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) safety rating. Volvo cars are amongst the safest that money can buy.
2. Volvo, in Latin, deciphers to “I roll”. The name Volvo was meant for a subsidiary of SKF ball bearing factory but it never came in use until 1927 when under the same name cars were manufactured. Although accidently, they got the name spot-on.
3. The Volvo logo, a circle with a diagonal arrow pointing up from left to right, is not a male gender symbol that we know today. The origin of this symbol came even before Volvo was born. Ask any ancient Roman, if you can unearth any, this symbol represented the god of warfare, Mars. Volvo founders decoded that the symbol is synonymous with durability, strength and safety.
4. Volvo cars were and are known for their toughness and safety as they can withstand the cold and rough weather in Sweden. This encouraged Volvo to become the first foreign car maker to setup a production plant in North America. A place called Dartmouth in Nova Scotia, Canada was chosen for this facility as the tax incentive offered by the state government was immensely helpful. The factory opened in 1958 and continued to build Volvos for another 40 years.
5. Cars of today come loaded with a lot of safety equipment. Prior to 1970’s however, the safety levels of a vehicle were no less than medieval. Volvo introduced a car called the 240 in 1974. The car was so rock-solid that the American National Highway and Transit Safety Administration purchased several 240s, and evaluated them to set new car safety benchmarks for years to come.
6. As we all know, Volvo manufactures buses and even trucks. But did you know that Volvo built tractor-trailers, construction equipment and military vehicles? Well neither did I. Another astounding fact is that Volvo cars was part of AB Volvo group till 1999 when Ford Motor Company acquired the marque. Starting 2008, Ford felt the full grunt of the financial crises which hit many industries worldwide. To save themselves, Volvo cars was sold off to a Chinese automobile manufacturer, Geely Holding Group in 2010.
7. Volvo and SAAB (another car maker from Sweden) were mortal enemies on the road. But when it came to their country’s fleet of defence forces, they joined hands to build a jet fighter. It was called the SAAB 37 Viggen which served as Sweden’s primary fighter jet from 1971 till 2005. It was designed and built by SAAB AB, which unlike the SAAB car badge is still in business. The RM8 turbofan engines however were built by Volvo Aero (part of the Volvo AB group).
8. If you have been following the posts on Horsepower India, you must be aware of the next fact which involved a Volvo car. Although this time around you get more in-depth math. Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, New York has clocked over 3 million miles (and still counting) in his 1966 Volvo P8100. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most miles driven by a solitary owner in a non-commercial vehicle. Not sure what to compare it with? Allow me. The mileage on Gordon’s Volvo surpasses that of the distance flown by all six Apollo moon landing missions. Math is over. You can breathe now!
Safety for passengers was Volvo’s top priority and it shows in the list of inventions that they came up with in various models over the 6-7 decades of car production.
- The PV series of Volvo cars saw the installation of a laminated windscreen in 1944.
- The retractable 3-point seatbelt that all the cars in the world use today was invented by an engineer for Volvo cars. It came part of the standard equipment in Volvo cars in 1959 when everyone else still used the unreliable fixed seatbelts which used the same mechanism to tighten up as a strap on a handbag. The design was kept open in the interest of safety of people and made available to other car manufacturers for free.
- Volvo were the first to develop a rear-facing child seat in 1964 and introduced its own booster seat in 1978.
- In 1991, the 960 model was the first car to have a 3-point seatbelt for the middle of the rear seats and a child safety cushion integrated in the middle armrest. In the same year, Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) was introduced to the 700, 940/960 and S80 models, which diverts the force of a side impact away from the doors and into the safety cage.
- In 1995, Volvo cars were the first to install side airbags and made part of the standard equipment across all their range.
- Continuing with airbags, Volvo were the first to install a head-protecting airbag. This was a significant invention as many testing authorities reported that head protection airbag system can reduce the risk of death by up to 40% and brain injury by up to 55%.
- In 2004, Volvo introduced the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which detects vehicles entering the vehicle's blind spot with a side-view-mirror-mounted camera, and alerts the driver with a light.
The list above is just a few examples how Volvo worked. Volvo is to the automotive industry, just like World Health Organisation is to the world. If you think that’s high praise, then I would like to leave you all with a question – Which other car manufacturer kept safety for the passengers as the top priority across all their range of offerings? Believe me, you won’t find an answer to that question unless of course you decide it is Volvo. Hats-off to them for religiously following the key mantra for passenger safety which has existed in their DNA from day 1.