Volvo: Spearheading Vehicle Safety Through the Years

Founded in 1927, Volvo has become synonymous with safety, reliability, and high-quality motoring. Unlike many brand names, Volvo does not stem from the creator’s last name. In fact, Volvo is Latin for “I roll” and was founded by two individuals, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson. At the time, many car manufacturers were more focused on appearance and aesthetics, but these two men decided that it was about time that the world had a car that put safety and quality first.

Volvo ÖV4 and PV4
Volvo ÖV4 and PV4. Photo courtesy of Volvo.

Their first two vehicle releases were the ÖV4 and PV4. Named for its open top and 28-hp four-cylinder engine, the ÖV4 was often called “Jakob” and featured an ash and beech wood frame and sheet metal body. The first ÖV4 left the assembly line on April 14, 1927. Volvo’s first sedan, the PV4, debuted that summer with an insulated wood frame covered in leather. The following year, the automaker released its first truck, the Series 1, which was shaft-driven and had a fully enclosed cab and pneumatic tires.

World War II broke out in 1939, just six years after Volvo started to release luxury vehicles. During the war, the company served the armed forces. Seeing as Sweden remained relatively neutral throughout the war, Volvo’s operations weren’t significantly impacted as the production of vehicles from more-involved countries. Volvo’s first post-war car was the PV60-1, which was also the last of their large, side-valve six-cylinder vehicles. Only 500 were produced. At around the same time, the carmaker debuted the PV444 at Stockholm at the same price as the ÖV4 — 4,800 Swedish kronor.

Lundby plant paint shop
The paint shop at the Lundby plant. Photo courtesy of Volvo.

Volvo remained an independent car manufacturer for many years. However, the automaker attempted to merge with Scania AB in 1999, but the move was unsuccessful as the European Union prevented it. After this plan failed, Ford purchased Volvo, and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd bought the company in 2010.

The Three-Point Safety Belt System

Prior to Volvo’s incorporation of the three-point safety belt system, most vehicles had only lap belts (or two-point waist restraints). It was found that in crashes, lap belts often did more harm than good. But in 1959, Nils Bohlin, Volvo’s first safety engineer, invented the three-point seat belt. It combined the traditional lap belt with a diagonal belt crossing over the chest. The belt was anchored either side of the passenger’s seat so that it would remain in place and not shift if sudden movement occurred. It reduced the passenger’s chances of injury or death by more than 50 percent in a collision. While Volvo could have kept the patent for this innovative design and profited from it, they chose to open it up when they determined that the design was too important of a safety tool.

Three-point seat belt in Volvo 130
Three-point seat belt in a Volvo 130. Photo courtesy of Volvo.

Other Safety Systems Invented by Volvo

  • Rearward-facing child seats (1972)
  • Side impact protection (1991)
  • Whiplash protection system (1998)
  • Inflatable curtains (1998)
  • Rollover protection system (2002)
  • Blind spot information system (2003)
  • City Safety automatic braking system (2008)
  • Pedestrian collision system with full automatic braking (2010)

Rearward-facing child safety seat Volvo testing
The first prototype of the rearward-facing child safety seat being tested in a PV444. Photo courtesy of Volvo.

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