Volvo history: How the Swedish manufacturer became the leader in safety innovation

From 1927 to the present day, OSV takes a look at the history of Sweden's emblematic brands...

Synonymous with safety, reliability and quality, Volvo is one of Sweden’s emblematic brands. Known throughout the world as more of a premium marque, in Sweden it’s largely considered a practical family car. But, how did this practical family car come about?

Let us take you back to 1927…

When did Volvo start making cars?

Volvo, Latin for ‘I roll’, was founded by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson in 1927, with the intention of making a car that put quality and safety first. It was created as a subsidiary of ball bearing manufacturer, SKF, in Gothenburg.

The company produced closed top and cabriolet models of their OV5 and PV4 models. Both were constructed to withstand the Swedish climate. However, car sales were slow. It was the first Volvo truck that proved to be an immediate success. It was truck sales that resulted in the Volvo’s financial success at the very beginning.

The first luxury car was the PV645, and was unveiled in 1933. Though trucks were still King, Volvo were investing heavily in car development. Then, of course, the war happened.

Volvo history
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What happened to Volvo during World War Two?

During the Second World War, production slowed. Instead, they turned their attention to serve the armed forces and expanded its operations significantly. However, Swedish neutrality meant the war did not affect Volvo as it did the likes of BMW and Citroen and by 1944 the company had revealed the PV444.
The PV444 was the first “true” small car by Volvo and was an instant success. The car dominated production, along with the PV544 through the 1960s. It was also the car to make way for Volvo in the US export market.

When did Volvo use the three-point-seatbelt?

One of Volvo’s most notable innovations is the use of the three-point safety belts. This was a world first and was just the start of Volvo’s safety innovations. In 2009, Volvo reported that one million lives had been saved since the invention of the three-point safety belt. And, it should be noted that Volvo did not keep this to themselves. They realised its safety potential and made it available to all manufacturers.

Other safety features Volvo introduced to their cars in the late 1960s/70s included;

Volvo History
  • Crumple zones
  • Rear facing child seats
  • Side collision protection
  • Collapsible steering columns

Where are Volvo factories?

In 1964 Volvo opened a new production plant in Torslanda, Sweden. This factory was able to produce up to 200,000 cars a year.

Interestingly, the first factory Volvo opened outside of Sweden was in Nova Scotia in Canada. But, it was their aim to expand further into the European market that led to the opening of more factories.

In order to get themselves into the European market, Volvo opened up a factory in Belgium in 1965.

In 1968, Volvo branched further afield and opened a factory in Malaysia. It was after this that they returned to the luxury market with their sleek 6-cylinder 4-door 164 saloon car.

While this was going on, Volvo were continuing to win safety awards as well as expanding their bus, truck, aircraft and industrial vehicle divisions.

That’s not to say Volvo turned their back on cars. They stepped into the premium market with personalised high-quality cars. The Volvo 400 series became well known for its Roadholding, safety and interior.

What was the first Volvo sports car?

Like many car manufacturers, Volvo did foray into the world of Sports cars with their P1900, which was launched in 1956. However, this had a short production run, but was later replaced with the P1800.

The P1800 found fame in the TV series “The Saint”, with Roger Moore behind the wheel.

When did Ford buy Volvo?

After a merger with Renault fell through in 1993, Volvo was one of the remaining independent car manufacturers.  However, in 1999, Volvo tried to merge with Scania AB, the Swedish commercial vehicle manufacturer. But, the European Union prevented them from doing so.

In the same year, however, Volvo sold their car division to Ford motor company. This Volvo division were placed in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group with the likes of Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Interestingly, Volvo’s satellite navigation system was used in some Aston Martins, including the Vanquish, DB9 and V8 Vantage.

Volvo History

Who owns Volvo?

Volvo Car Corporation was under the ownership of Ford until 2010 when it was sold to Geely Automobile of China.

Renault also had a stake in Volvo in the mid-2000s. By 2010, they were Volvo’s biggest shareholder with 21.7%.  However, they had sold these shares by 2012.

Who does Volvo own?

In 2001, Volvo bought Renault Vehicules Industriels and renamed it Renault Trucks.

In 2006, Volvo acquired shares in UD Trucks from Nissan Motor Company. In 2007, however, Volvo took full control of UD Trucks, with the aim of extending their presence in the Asian Pacific market.

What is the Volvo 2020 Vision?

Let it be said that Volvo are very ambitious. And very passionate about safety. So passionate and so ambitious, in fact, that their 2020 vision is that “no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car” (Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of Volvo Cars)

Their latest XC90 is their safest ever car. Their IntelliSafe technology includes things such as;

Volvo History
  • 360 Surround View technology
  • Driver Alert Control with a Rest Stop Guidance function
  • Active High Beam Control
  • Blind Spot Information
  • Lane Keeping Aid

So, while it may seem ambitious, it’s probably not at all unrealistic.

And that brings us to the present day. Between 1927 and 31 July 2016, Volvo have produced 19,228,570 cars. They continue to be considered the innovators of safety and reliability. Although currently owned by a Chinese company, Volvo still claim they are ‘as Swedish as ever’

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Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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