Nearly 89 years ago, Volvo – Latin for “I roll” – was born on April 14, 1927. As the famous automaker’s anniversary approaches, it deserves a closer look for all that it has accomplished in both car safety and design over the decades.
The first Volvo didn’t officially roll onto an American dock until 1955. Despite all the years since, however, Volvo’s relationship with American drivers hasn’t grown dull. In fact, the opposite is true. The company reported U.S. sales of close to 5,300 vehicles in February. That’s a staggering 31 percent increase from one year before.
Not that Volvo is content with sales success alone. A sweeping $11 billion transformation plan is in the works that would take vehicle architecture, manufacturing capability and a revamped product range to new heights. This desire to constantly improve is no surprise if you know a little bit about Volvo’s history. They’ve always been perfectionists.
A drive through history
When Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson founded Volvo, they had two predominant goals in mind: quality and safety. Those objectives remain the company’s hallmark. Beginning with the four-cylinder OV4 – often nicknamed “Jakob” – and PV4 models, Gabrielsson and Larsson were committed to producing cars capable of thriving in Sweden’s severe climate.
Volvo grew steadily through the years. In 1932 the company hit the production milestone of 10,000 autos. Dealers were begging for models that the common people could afford. Everything looked like roses. Then a little event called World War II rolled around. For years, Volvo was just one of many companies that couldn’t produce anything unrelated to the war effort.
By the autumn of 1944 though, Volvo was back on its feet with one of its most famous cars – the PV444. Combining American styling with the size of European autos, the PV444 was Volvo’s first true small car. It was an enormous success, one that would shape the company’s production for the next two decades.
The 1960s and 70s saw a wave of safety innovations emerge from Volvo plants (more on that soon) as the brand gained popularity and expanded to new sites in Sweden, Holland, and the U.S. By the time the 1980s were set to begin, Volvo sales had eclipsed the 4 million mark.
Looking back at the cars Volvo has given to the world over the last 89 years – from the earliest Jakob to the XC90, which is currently proving so popular with drivers – reveals a company whose engineering and design have never stopped evolving. What they’ve accomplished in improving car safety (and, in effect, lowering the costs of online car insurance) is laudable.
Practically since its origin, Volvo has been a pioneer of innovation in the automotive industry. In 1959, for instance, Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin forever changed the auto safety game by introducing three-point seatbelts to the PV544 series production model. Few people can be credited with saving so many lives since. The company even waved the patent so every manufacturer could use it.
“Volvo based the rearward-facing child seat on the way astronauts sit.”
Of course, that was only the start of Volvo’s safety developments. The rearward-facing child safety seat was revealed in 1972. Reportedly inspired by the images of astronauts lying on their backs during launch, the seat was revamped in 1976 with the child booster variation. So next time you put your young child in a car seat, feel free to imagine them wearing a space suit.
What other landmark innovations is Volvo responsible for? The Side Impact Protection System, for one. Created in 1991, SIPS was among the first efforts to provide side safety measures for drivers and passengers through interior energy-absorbing materials and reinforced structural support. A few years later, SIPS became the side-impact airbags we all rely on today.
There’s more we could talk about – including whiplash protection and a blind-spot monitoring system – but you get the idea. Many of the features that let us feel safe on the road are due to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Volvo engineers. That’s an enduring legacy any automaker would be proud of.