Volvo’s iron mark has been etched into automotive industry milestones ever since our company was formed in 1927.
Volvo’s penchant for innovation started in earnest with a safer form of windscreen in 1944, when laminated glass was introduced on the PV444 15 years before it was a requirement.
The company’s global reputation as a safety pioneer has been enhanced ever since, including breakthroughs in child-seat safety – which we cover elsewhere in this edition – while innovations have covered other key areas, including connectivity and powertrains.
Here, I Roll provides a chronological guide to our Top 10 Volvo innovations, the majority of which were world-firsts.
THREE-POINT SAFETY BELT – 1959
It’s well known that Volvo designed the lap-sash seatbelt, a three-point arrangement that combined three key benefits: ease of use, comfort, and effective protection. Yet related developments that may be less familiar include the seatbelt reel (1968), the first installation of a three-point belt in the rear centre seat (1986), the seatbelt tensioner that eliminated slack and minimised forward body movement (1989), and the automatic height-adjusting reel (1991).
LAMBDA SOND – 1976
In the mid-1970s a sensor the size of a finger would take a grip on a long-standing environmental issue: vehicle exhaust emissions. The Lambda Sond was the result of years of laborious research by Volvo – in response to increasingly stringent emissions regulations, especially in California. The sensor regulated the air/fuel mixture to achieve the narrow band of optimum efficiency of the catalytic converter, which dramatically reduced exhaust pollutants. It was such an environmental breakthrough that Volvo eschewed its patent rights to allow other car makers to adopt the technology.
SIDE-IMPACT PROTECTION – 1991
Volvo’s ground-breaking 850 model included an integrated side-impact protection system among its myriad special features. A reinforced body structure that included a cross member in the floor helped distribute crash forces across a large part of the vehicle and minimise the strain of an impact on occupants. Protection was enhanced throughout the 1990s with the introduction of the side-impact airbag (1994) and full-length inflatable curtain airbag (1998).
ROLL-OVER PROTECTION – 2002
When Volvo launched the original XC90 SUV, it immediately introduced to the segment pioneering technology designed to cater for the inherently lower stability of these high-riding vehicles. Not only was the roof structure toughened with boron steel but a sophisticated electronic Roll Stability Control system helped to keep the XC90 on all four wheels in the event of an emergency swerve situation.
BLIND SPOT INFORMATION – 2003
In congested or fast-moving traffic, it can help to have an extra set of eyes – which was the thinking behind Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System. Using rear-facing digital cameras integrated into the vehicle’s side mirrors, BLIS could inform drivers when it wasn’t safe to change lanes by illuminating a subtle warning light in the A-pillar when another motor vehicle has moved into an obscured area of vision.
LOW-SPEED AUTONOMOUS BRAKING – 2008
A solution to help drivers avoid the common rear-end low-speed collision arrived in 2008 in the form of City Safety. This autonomous emergency braking system, which debuted on the original XC60 SUV before becoming standard on all Volvos, used laser detection to calculate whether a collision with the vehicle ahead was likely. If the driver is too slow to react – or doesn’t react at all, as happens in 50 per cent of ‘rear-enders’, according to statistics – then City Safety applies the brakes automatically to either avoid or minimise an impact.
PEDESTRIAN AIRBAG – 2012
Volvo’s 2020 Vision aims for no-one to be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020, yet the company is also conscious of other road users. For proof, look no further than the Pedestrian Airbag that debuted on the 2013 V40. If signals from the seven sensors embedded in the V40’s front bumper are interpreted by a control unit as contact with a human leg, the bonnet lifts 10cm to create a gap between the pedestrian and engine components, then a U-shaped airbag deploys across the lower section of the windscreen to help cushion the pedestrian’s head.
RUN-OFF ROAD PROTECTION – 2014
The second-generation XC90 introduced Run-off Road Protection – a system that can detect an imminent accidental road-departure scenario and tighten the front seatbelts automatically to restrain occupants as much as possible while the car is in motion. An energy-absorbing functionality between the seat and seat frame then deforms mechanically to cushion the vertical forces occupants are subjected to during a hard landing. The combination of maintaining the occupant’s upright posture and cushioning the impact is designed to lower the risk of spinal injury.
POWERPULSE – 2015
Turbo lag is an inherent issue with virtually all turbocharged engines, but Volvo had an ingeniously simple idea that it applied to its D5 twin-turbo diesel engine. When the driver demands significant acceleration, compressed air stored in a pressurised air tank is released into the exhaust manifold – mixing with the exhaust gases to provide more instantaneous ‘boost’. The result for the driver is significantly quicker throttle response.
CONNECTED SAFETY – 2016
In late 2016, Volvo’s 90-series models – such as the XC90 and S90 – ushered in a new era of vehicle-to-vehicle road safety in Sweden and Norway with the ability to share safety-critical data between cars via the cloud. Slippery Road Alert uses sensors to ‘note’ any road surface anomalies such as water or ice, and anonymously distributes the information to other Volvos to forewarn their drivers. Hazard Light Alert also helps Volvo drivers prepare to slow for a potential issue earlier if a Volvo ahead has activated its hazard lights.