Volvo: The brief brand history – 1

Volvo means “I roll” in Latin, conjugated from “volvere”, in relation to ball bearing.

AB Volvo is a world-leading Swedish manufacturer of commercial vehicles, trucks, buses and construction equipment, drive systems for marine and industrial applications, aerospace components and financial services. But it did start out as a car manufacturer, founded by Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larsson. The main purpose of the company was to produce the safest cars possible, following the death of Assar’s wife in a car crash. The automaker was founded April 14, 1927 in the city of Gothenburg, as a spin-off from roller ball bearing maker SKF (Svenska Kullagerfabriken AB).

“Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is and must remain, safety”, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson 1927.

The name Volvo was originally registered in May 1915 as a separate company within SKF AB and as a registered trademark with the intention to be used for a special series of ball bearing, but this idea was only used for a short period of time and SKF decided to use “SKF” as the trademark for all its bearing products. Volvo AB began to function on the 10th of August 1926 when the SKF Sales Manager Assar Gabrielsson and Engineer Gustav Larson, started production of 10 prototypes and set up the car-manufacturing business Volvo AB within SKF group. Volvo AB was introduced at the Stockholm stock exchange in 1935 and SKF then decided to sell its shares in the company.

In 1927 the first series-manufactured Volvo car, the Volvo ÖV4, rolled off the production line on the island of Hisingen, Göteborg. Since then, Volvo has developed from a small local industry to one of the world’s largest manufacturers of heavy trucks, buses and construction equipment. Just 996 cars were produced between 1927-1929. ‘ÖV4’ was replaced by model PV651 in April 1929. Its success on the market helped Volvo buy out their engine manufacturer and thus become a serious car producer. By 1931, it was already returning its first dividend to shareholders.


Volvo ÖV4, 1927

The first production milestone of 10,000 Volvo’s was reached in May 1932 and it was not long before Volvo dealers were asking the company to develop a more inexpensive car “for the people”. This was the PV 51 model of 1936, similar to the more expensive PV36 in design, but smaller in size and less well equipped.

The Second World War significantly restricted Volvo’s production of cars, but by the autumn of 1944 the company had unveiled one of its most significant cars – the PV444. The PV444 was one of the most significant cars of the war era, the first “true” small car, a mixture of American flair and European size, it would become a resonant success and the best sold model throughout the 1960’s. And The PV444 would be the first models to gain Volvo a slice of the important US market during the 1950’s.


Volvo PV444, 1944

The P1800 was Volvo’s first sports car, made in the early 60s and it was so popular that it was featured in the hit TV series “The Saint” starring Roger Moore.

Volvo’s first sports car was the P1800, unveiled in 1960. Considered to be an excellent touring car with it’s sleek coupe lines, the P1800 went on to find fame in “The Saint” TV series with Roger Moore behind the wheel.


Volvo P1800, 1960

Safety features and accident protection were a key factor in this cars design and this was enhanced even further in 1959 when both the Amazon and PV544 were equipped with three-point safety belts – a world first and an invention pioneered by Volvo’s head of safety engineering, Nils Bohlin. Safety and quality were still paramount for Volvo and that’s why the 240 series which replaced the 140 had even more safety innovations in that department, like crumple zones, rear facing child seats and collapsible steering columns. Together with the smaller 340 models, they would make for most of the sales during the 70s and 80s for Volvo.

A completely new and different Volvo was launched to the world in June 1991. The Volvo 850 was Volvo’s first front wheel drive executive car which, with a transverse, five-cylinder engine. Its high level of safety combined with real driving pleasure won the car many independent awards. By now, productions costs were mounting up and Volvo was one of the few independent producers out there, after a proposed deal with Renault fell through in 1993. This forced the company to seek new marketing strategies and that’s how the sleeker S40 and V40 models were introduced in the factory’s production line.


Volvo 850, 1991

They, like the Volvo C70 coupe and convertible that were introduced later that year, were cars that combined all of Volvo’s traditional values of safety, environmental care with sporty, elegant and exciting design and engineering.

With the Volvo S80 sedan of 1998 and the V70 wagon of 1999, all of this new engineering and design was brought together in a cars that both Gustaf Larson and Assar Gabrielson would have recognised as Volvo’s that represented their wishes for safe, quality products, but that can hold a fascination and desire for customers in today’s sophisticated car market.

Between 1927 and 31 December 2010 Volvo produced 16,636,626 cars.

In the early 1970s, Volvo acquired the passenger car division of the Dutch company DAF, and marketed their small cars as Volvos before releasing the Dutch-built Volvo 340, which went on to be one of the biggest-selling cars in the UK market in the 1980s. 1986 marked a record year for Volvo in the US, with 113,267 cars sold. The appearance of Japanese luxury brands like Acura and Lexus in subsequent years meant the loss of a significant market share for Volvo, one which they have never regained.

In 1999, Volvo Group decided to sell its automobile manufacturing business and concentrate on commercial vehicles. Ford saw advantages in acquiring a profitable prestige mid-size European automobile manufacturer, well renowned for its safety aspects, as an addition to its Premier Automotive Group. The buyout of Volvo Cars was announced on January 28, 1999, and in the following year the acquisition was completed at a price of $6.45 billion USD. As a result of the divestiture, the Volvo trademark is now utilized by two separate companies:

  • Volvo Group – a manufacturer of commercial vehicles, etc. owned by Swedish interests.
  • Volvo Car Corporation or Volvo Cars – a manufacturer of automobiles owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and formerly owned by Ford Motor Company.

Volvo Automotive’s motto is “Volvo for life” attributed to the reliability and safety of their cars. Combined with their company symbol, which actually stands for iron ore and according to the company, represents “Rolling Strength”.




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