The Volvo story

The Volvo story

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The year was 1926 and in the Sturehof restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, two men were having a dinner of red crayfish. As they talked, they also sketched on a napkin the ‘map’ of the ‘road’ a new automobile-making company would take. It was the end of two years of discussion and the decision was made to realise the dream.

The two men were Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, the former a businessman and the latter an engineer and designer, but both were car enthusiasts. In wanting to become automobile manufacturers, they decided that there should be greater in-house control over quality of components and assembly. At that time, it was normal practice for a manufacturer to source components from other companies and assemble them. However, quality was not always high and Gabrielsson and Larson were determined to offer their customers the highest quality possible.

Indeed, quality was of paramount importance to the two men and would be a priority in the company’s products. The basic idea was that they should design and draw the components for the car themselves, select the suppliers to produce these parts according to their specifications and then do the assembly work with the aid of experienced car builders.

Designing the first Volvo
While design work proceeded, the car was known for some time as the “GL” (for Gustaf Larson) or simply the “Larson”. This was done in Larson’s apartment in Stockholm with a team of young engineers. An important member was Jan G. Smith, a young Swedish engineer who travelled to the USA during the previous decade and worked for a number of carmakers. He kept a scrapbook from as early as 1914 that contained information regarding different design of cars, sketches and calculations.

The design principles were summed up by Eric Calberg, one of the first Volvo employees: “The first principle was that no design could be adopted unless it had been tested for at least two years. The second was that no parts of the desired quality were to be purchased in Sweden if they were available at a lower price abroad. The first principle made the Volvo a user’s rather than an engineer’s car.”

By July 1926, the final drawings were done and it was Gabrielsson’s job to find the money for the project. His attempts failed and they realised that it would probably be easier if they had some test vehicles to show prospective financiers. They therefore decided to produce ten prototypes. The first test vehicles were produced in nine months and this time, Gabrielsson succeeded in obtaining the financial support.

The name and the brand mark
Once there was something concrete to be seen, SKF (Gabrielsson’s employer) became interested. The company had been somewhat cautious to begin with, but it provided guarantees and credit for an initial series of 1,000 vehicles. SKF also provided the factory premises and the name, AB Volvo, which had been used in a previous business operation. Volvo is Latin and means “I roll”.

As for the brand mark which many people wonder about because of its similarity to the symbol for a male, an examination of the earliest Volvo badges will reveal that it had actually started out as what looked like a spear through a circle. Perhaps it was intended to symbolise a spear behind a shield, the sort of thing a Viking would have carried thousands of years earlier.

In later years, the company must have decided to ‘condense’ it and so it ended up with just a circle and an arrow at the top quadrant. So it probably has nothing to do with male chauvinism!

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