Volvo is a Swedish automaker and a pioneer in all things related to automobile safety. The company operated independently until 1999 when it was acquired by the Ford Motor Company. Ford sold Volvo Cars to its current owners, the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, in 2010.
Volvo Cars formed in 1999 when Volvo Holdings sold off its automotive arm to the Ford Motor Company. That move ended nearly 75 years of independence for Sweden’s largest automotive manufacturer, but also provided assurance that the Volvo brand would continue.
Volvo was founded in 1915 as a wholly owned subsidiary of SKF, a ball bearing company. Volvo is translated as “I roll” in Latin, a term originally intended to describe a ball bearing product, but eventually used for SKF’s automotive line.
The first Volvo model was an open carriage, four-cylinder vehicle known as the ÖV 4, which was released in 1927. Fewer than 1,000 units were produced, owing to its cabriolet design that was hardly suited for Sweden’s climate. That car was replaced by the closed top PV650 Series, which was a five-seat passenger car with a V6 engine.
Volvo managed to maintain production during World War II and used those years to innovate. In 1944, the roll cage arrived, which is one of Volvo’s earliest safety features. It allowed Volvo to reinforce the body with a metal cage to protect passengers. That same year the company introduced a laminated windshield, providing superior protection over standard glass windshields in the event of a crash.
After the war, Volvo continued to modify its product line. In 1959, the company introduced the first safety belt fastened with three points. It quickly found its way to two Volvo models, the PV544 and the Amazon. Five years later the company introduced the first child seat and followed up with the industry’s first crumple zones and front seat headrests.
Volvo established its U.S. operation in 1955, introducing its PV444 fastback coupe to the market. It was followed four years later by the Volvo 122S (Amazon), which was joined by the compact V140 Series in the late 1960s.
Throughout the rest of the century, Volvo continued to add new products and introduce numerous safety features that were later adopted by the industry. These features included the first warning system for safety belts, a collapsible steering column, energy absorbing bumpers, wide-angle rearview mirrors, anti-lock brakes, air bags, a rollover protection system, side curtain air bags and the first blind spot information system.
In the 1990s, the Volvo brand was composed mostly of sedans and wagons. By the new millennium the automaker introduced the compact Volvo S40 and the C70 coupe and convertible. In 2002, the Volvo XC90 rolled out, which is an SUV based on the Volvo S80 platform.
After Volvo ownership was transferred from Ford to Geely in 2010, the company sought to remake itself with modern models, including the V60 Cross Country, XC60 SUV and a new XC90. Volvo also started transitioning to a fleet composed entirely of supercharged and turbocharged engines.
Volvo is a premium brand and is usually compared with other European manufacturers, including Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Infiniti, Lincoln, Cadillac, Buick, Lexus and Acura models also compete. Certain mainstream models from Volkswagen, Ford, Jeep and Toyota match well with Volvo.
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