Volvo is actually Latin for “I roll”, which is exactly what the company did in April 1927 when the first car rolled out of the factory in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Founded by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson, quality and safety which were both of paramount importance to the company, a concept that still applies to the vehicles produced by Volvo today.
In the beginning, the company produced both closed top and cabriolet models of their new four-cylinder OV4 and PV4 models, which were constructed to better withstand the harsh Swedish climate, something that had been an issue with contemporary US imports. Both models carried the Swedish symbol for iron attached to a diagonal piece if metal on the front grille – a piece of Volvo’s heritage that can still be seen on models today.
Early Volvo Models
The first car that left the factory in 1927 was the Volvo ÖV 4, nicknamed the “Jakob”, which was a four-door phaeton powered by a 4-cylinder 2-Liter engine. The next year saw the company present the Type-1 truck – the Volvo’s very first commercial truck — and a second car model, the Volvo PV 651. It was a strong first year of production, with 1,383 vehicles sold.
In 1929, a six-cylinder PV651 model was introduced that was both longer and wider than the Jakob. The success of this release helped the company to purchase its engine supplier and buy its first factory. Things were going so well that by the end of 1931, they were able to return it’s first dividend to shareholders.
Then in May 1932, Volvo hit the first production milestone of 10,000 automobiles — 3,800 of them cars, and 6,200 of them trucks — and it wasn’t long before Volvo dealers were asking the company to develop a more inexpensive car for families and “regular people”. They delivered with the PV51 model of 1936, similar to the more expensive PV36 in design, but smaller in size and not quite as equipped.
In 1935, the Swedish automaker launched the Volvo PV36, a luxury car with a six-passenger layout and a futuristic design that included a streamlined car body and a slightly more expensive price tag.
WWII had an impact on production, but by the autumn of 1944 the company had unveiled one of its most significant cars – the PV444. Considered Volvo’s first “true” small car, its stylish design combined American flair with European size. It was instantly successful, and the PV444 and the PV544 would dominate Volvo production through to the 1950s and ‘60s — taking a slice of the US automotive market along the way.
Volvo’s Commitment to Safety
In 1944, Volvo became one of the first automakers to address safety issues. The Swedish company came up with a slogan, “We did not invent the car, but we set the safety standards” something that has been the cornerstone of company’s corporate philosophy to this day.
In 1957, Volvo introduced two-point safety belts for a driver and a front seat passenger on all of its cars, which was something no other automaker could offer. They would go on to install two-point safety belts in the rear seats, and in 1959, Volvo engineer Nils Bolin would invent a three-point safety belt. In fact, Volvo became the first automaker to offer safety belts as a standard equipment for all of its cars.
The company also installed dashboards made of soft plastic on all the vehicles they were producing, in addition to rear facing child seats, collapsible steering columns, side collision protection and the three-way catalytic converter with Lambdasond.
In August 1966, the company presented a new model – the Volvo 144 — which would become the new leader in terms of safety. It was equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, a collapsible steering column, and brand new locks on three-point safety belts. In addition, the chassis was strengthened with crushable energy-absorbing parts, and it became became the first model to be equipped with a V-shaped separate circuit brake system. This was important because the system would continue to function, even if one of the circuits went off.
By 1970, Volvo had produced more than 2 million cars.
Driving Volvo Forward
In 1987, Volvo became the first company to install front and rear fog lights on its vehicles, but later that year they would contribute an equally important innovation — a little safety device known as the airbag.
By the 1990s, the company had solidified a reputation both for safety and for attracting a certain kind of person that was interested in safety, who lived in a suburb, and likely had a favorite passage from “War and Peace”. It’s a distinctive demographic, but one that has lead to success — between April 1927 and November 2018, Volvo produced 20,611,749 cars.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
In 1999, AB Volvo sold its passenger car business to Ford for $6.45 billion. Volvo joined Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin in Ford’s “Premier Automotive Group.” It turned out not to be a group made in heaven, so in 2010, Volvo went to Chinese carmaker Geely and its founder Li Shufu for about $1.8 billion.
Since then Volvo has partnered with Uber to develop self-driving cars, and they already offer advanced lane-keeping technology that will steer you around obstacles like pedestrians and animals. The company has a goal of building a fully autonomous driving vehicle by 2021, along with selling its cars directly online, replacing keys with smartphones, allowing for car-sharing through an app, and even handling upgrades and ownership on a subscription basis similar to something like what phone companies offer.
They truly aim for every vehicle owner to live their slogan: “Volvo for life.”