Into the 1990s
In the early 1990s, two interesting corporate developments took place. The first was the participation of Mitsubishi Motors in the Dutch subsidiary while the second was Volvo’s merger with Renault — or rather, intended merger. Practically all the groundwork had been laid for the ‘marriage’ and both parties were optimistic of increased strength after merging. However, at the last moment, Volvo’s shareholders opposed the merger and it was cancelled.
The action would motivate everyone within Volvo and instead of the prospect of not surviving into the next century, there came a new long-term strategy to become a serious player in the luxury segment.
By the early 1990s, the last of the ‘original’ Volvos (the 940/960) was retired and front-wheel drive was spreading throughout the range, with 4-wheel drive also available in some models. The ‘tanks’ were no longer evident and some very potent Volvos began to join the line-up.
Even the badging system changed
The significance of the change was underscored by a change in the decades-old model numbering system. Between the 1960s and 1990s, three digits were used – 122, 144, 264, 245, etc – and for a while, there was some logic in each digit. The first digit was the model series while the second referred to the number of engine cylinders, and the third was for the number of doors. But when the 700 series came out in 1981, things want a bit astray with the 740 and 760.
|Volvo went FWD with the 850|
The 850 and 900 models were the last with the old numbering system and during the transition, the last models received interim badges in the form of S70 and S90, respectively. The new system of numbering had actually gotten off to a complicated start with the new ‘small Volvo’ that was a joint development between Volvo and Mitsubishi and built in the Dutch factory.
The model was to have been called the ‘S4′ but Audi objected since it has a model with that badge so a ‘0″ was added to the end to make it a Volvo S40. There was also a plan to offer a stationwagon version and initially, before Audi objected, it would have been the ‘F4′ (‘F’ for ‘flexibility’, presumably) but after that, it too had to become an ‘F40′. Then Ferrari complained! The Italian maker had a model with that exact same badge and did not want Volvos being mistaken for its supercar. So Volvo had to settle for ‘V40′, with ‘V’ indicating ‘versatility’.
Ready for the 21st century
The first sign of a revitalised Volvo came in the form of the C70 Coupe, the work of British Chief Designer Peter Horbury. In the course of various interviews, Horbury would reveal that until the 1990s, ‘design’ was not actually in Volvo’s vocabulary and there was actually very little effort to style anything (even though there was a ‘Chief Designer’). When Horbury took over, even the seatbelt buckles got attention from the styling studio…
The C70 had Hollywood giving it a running start as it featured briefly in The Saint, a modern version of the 1960s TV series which had also used another Volvo, the P1800. It also signalled another major change in Volvo design: no more straight lines! As Horbury put it: “we threw out the box and kept the toy”.
In rapid succession came exciting new models – S80, V70XC and S60 – all very different from Volvos that the world had known just 10 years earlier. In the midst of this flood of all-new Volvos, the company’s passenger car division was acquired by Ford to be a part of its Premier Automotive Group (which includes Lincoln, Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin). As part of this new ‘family’, Volvo’s decades-long reputation for building safe cars has given it the lead role in the field of safety at Ford.
75 years after two Swedes founded a company to build high-quality cars, the core values of the company remain as strong as ever. These core values are grounded in safety and the preservation of life, which also extends to life as a celebration. Hence the “Volvo. For Life”. philosophy.