Shortly after ten o'clock in the morning of April 14 1927 – 85 years ago – the first series-produced Volvo car rolled out of the Lundby factory in Gothenburg. Behind the wheel was sales manager Hilmer Johansson who now had the major responsibility of selling the planned thousand units of this first series of Volvo cars.
Behind this happy occasion lay a fair bit of stress. Some vital components, needed to finish the first cars, were still lacking the day before and did not arrive until late in the evening by train. But Johan Fingal, workshop manager and head of the assembly workers, kept up the spirit and managed to fulfil his promise of having a car ready in the morning by making his men put in an extra effort. Men who actually did not have any previous experience of building cars.
This, plus some not very detailed assembly instructions led to a slight mishap. The final gear was fitted incorrectly since it lacked the necessary guiding groove which would have eliminated any risk of fitting it wrongly. This led to the car moving backwards when it was supposed to roll off the assembly line.
The often sharp-tounged Gustaf Larson immediately remarked: "This time Fingal has bridled over the bum", meaning that the 'horse' had been harnessed the wrong way around. Newly appointed sales manager Hilmer Johansson was the first man to drive a production Volvo when he drove the first ÖV4 off the line on April 14 1927.85 years later, the occasion was recreated by Volvo Cars Heritage.
The mistake was rectified within minutes and Hilmer Johansson could drive the first ÖV4 out into the April sunshine. He had every reason to feel good because several of these first cars were already ordered by eagerly waiting customers as a result of the press information about the cars which had already been issued by Volvo in August 1926. The second and all following batches of final gears were duly equipped with a guiding groove. ÖV4 no 1 was driven to Stockholm a couple of days later by Assar Gabrielsson and Ernst Grauers, who had been appointed Volvo dealer in Stockholm, and the first public viewing of the car took place in his showrooms on April 19.
During the first year of production, 1927, Volvo built and sold close to 300 cars. This may seem a modest figure considering that the company had tooled for a series of 1,000 units – 996 were actually built. It is, however, important to bear in mind that convincing 300 people to pay quite a substantial sum of money for a virtually unknown and untried product must be seen as quite a sales and marketing achievement. Do consider that:
– Volvo was a brand new make which entered into competition with several well-established makes on the market, mostly American, and was far from cheap. – the price of an ÖV4 was SEK 4,800 which equalled three years' income for an average Swedish industrial worker at the time and the car did not offer any exceptional features in comfort or technology.
– neither Gabrielsson nor Larson, the Volvo founders, had any actual experience of the automotive business and its conditions. This applied to almost the entire workforce. – There were no existing customers to refer to and no real dealer network.
The products did, however, radiate quality, value for money and trustworthiness. The development went fast forward, a great deal thanks to the insight that the company could not survive on the small Swedish market alone and on cars only. Action was taken as early as the second year of operations. The first series of trucks was built and the export commenced. The successful transition from a small mechanical workshop to a vast global vehicle industry had begun. 85 years later, Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation, and Olof Persson, President and CEO of the Volvo Group, did the same thing. They drove the ÖV4 through the original factory door opening of the BC building at the Lundby plant which still houses Volvo Trucks.
85 years later, Volvo Trucks is one of the world's leading manufacturers of heavy trucks and total transport solutions; Volvo's buses have been rolling for many years in numerous world cities; Volvo Penta powers professional and leisure vessels on all the seven seas, and inland too; Volvo's aero engines power one of the world's most advanced fighter aircrafts and several types of civilian aircraft; Volvo Construction Equipment is among the world leaders in the market and its products are used for demanding work in all parts of the world, and some 450,000 Volvo cars are sold annually in about 120 countries. The Volvo brand name is indeed just as vital today as it was then, when it, as a fresh young company, built its first vehicle in 1927.