Volvo was founded in 1927 in Gothenburg, Sweden under the ownership of SKF, a Swedish ball-bearing manufacturer. Volvo was placed on the stock exchange in 1935, and accordingly, SKF sold the majority of its shares.
AB Volvo owned the company until 1999, when it was acquired by the Ford Motor Company. Volvo Cars was sold yet again in 2010 to its present owner, Geely Holding Company, based in Taizhou, China.
When Volvo Cars was founded in 1927, its philosophy was set by Managing Director Assar Gabrielson and Technical Director Gustav Larson who stated that since cars are driven by people, the company’s ‘guiding principle’ should always be safety. Safety has been a defining feature of Volvo’s production throughout its history, and it continues to be a leader in that department.
Volvo cars were introduced to the market with the release of the 120 Series in 1961. These cars were notable for the inclusion of 3-point seatbelts, which is testament to Volvo’s admirable history of pioneering safety features. This trend continued into the 1970s, with Volvo VESC (Volvo Experimental Safety Car) model, which was seen as a benchmark of safety for years to come.
By 1967, Volvo had begun to find favour as a maker of solid family cars. Volvo cars became known for their ‘boxy’ appearance and hefty storage space. They were accordingly seen as cars that focused on safety and practicality at the expense of style.
By the mid-1990s, the apparent lack of style and ‘cool’ factor of Volvo cars had begun to take its toll on sales, as many other manufacturers began to focus on increasing safety while managing to maintain a level of aesthetic value. From 1997 onwards, Volvo began to make noticeable changes to the styling of its output in an attempt to shed its ‘uncool’ image. This included not only sleeker body shapes, but also models aimed at the sports car market.
Nonetheless, Volvo continues to be an innovator in the car manufacturing industry for its safety features, which includes the world’s first pedestrian airbag in 2012.
Volvo was introduced here in 1961, with the 124, which became part of the 120 Series a year later in 1962, with the release of the 122 and 125 models. The 120 Series cars are also known as the Amazon. As previously mentioned, these cars were notable for the inclusion of 3-point seatbelts for added safety.
The Volvo P1800 was a sports coupe with a 2.0L engine that was made famous by its use by Roger Moore in the British television series, The Saint. However, it would not be sports cars that would make Volvo’s reputation.
The Volvo 140 Series was introduced to the market in 1967, with the 144 sedan model, followed by the 145 station wagon in 1968. These models compounded the association with Volvo as a maker of good, solid family cars in the marketplace. As part of its ongoing quest to produce safer cars, Volvo utilised a number of clever innovations. These included crumple zones, to lessen the impact in the event of a crash, on the 140 Series in 1967.
Child seats that were rear-facing, a collapsible steering column, and side collision protection, as well as airbags and pop-up headrests were introduced by Volvo in 1972 as part of its VESC concept car and received a number of high-profile plaudits in the process. In many ways, the VESC provided the benchmark for safety for decades to come and provided much of the basis of the Volvo 240 Series, released in 1975.
The 760 sedan model was released in 1983 and won Volvo further plaudits for its quality as well as for its safety features, including ant-submarining seats, and also for its outstanding roadholding abilities.
The year 1992 marked the arrival of the 850 model here, which was Volvo’s first attempt to address criticisms of sluggishness and perceived lack of style. It was also the first front-wheel drive car that Volvo had produced. Including a transverse 5-cylinder engine, the car was praised for its performance in addition to its ubiquitous safety features.
The year 1997 marked a key turning point for Volvo. They decided to address their reputation for unattractive yet reliable and highly practical cars, with the arrival of the V40 and S40 models, which incorporated sleeker, rounder designs. These models had a much more dynamic appearance. New V40 models included the innovative pedestrian airbag with ‘leg-sensing’ technology at the front of the vehicle.
The C70 coupe was released the same year and went even further. Although first-generation C70 models had the same long nose of many of its forebears, it did away with many Volvo staples, including the storage and rear-passenger space, which was minimal. Although perhaps not on par with other sports cars, the C70 was much faster and more focused on performance than any previous Volvo, while maintaining all the safety features for which Volvo is still known.
In many ways, Volvo cars were seen as must-haves for many of those with growing families, due to their space, economy, and safety. In many ways, Volvo stood apart from its competitors due to its resolute commitment to safety, which separated it from pretty much every other manufacturer.
Fellow Swedish manufacturer Saab produced cars that were very similar to Volvo in appearance, but upon introduction of the innovative Volvo 240, they were left wanting in terms of reliability, safety, and even appearance. Their Saab 95 model was somewhat dated by the time the 240 was introduced.
Competition came later from the likes of BMW and Audi, which added German engineering into the mix. From around 1992 on, the Volvo 850 had competition from the BMW 328i, and the later V40 had competition from the likes of the Audi A3.
Arguably, Volvo cars do not have the same level of aesthetic sophistication and certainly do not carry the same level of prestige or resale value that their German counterparts do. The engineers at Volvo, however, are innovators who have managed to maintain the company’s rich history of innovative design with regard to safety and have also gained a reputation in recent years for attractive styling.