Volvo PV 544
9:00 AM | January 16 2017

A Volvo Moment: Volvo’s CEO celebrates a momentous number

It is cold. There is a thick layer of snow on the ground in the port of Gothenburg and a plume of white smoke is rising our of Volvo CEO Gunnar Engellau’s mouth. Whether that is due to his ever-present pipe or the chill is unclear.

Gunnar Engellau is standing next to a PV544 that has been stencilled on the side of the body. Someone has helpfully brushed snow off the car. The stencil seems to have been done in haste because some of the text has ended up in the middle of the door joint. But this is an important moment that needs to be documented. Together with 709 other Volvo cars, this PV is due to arrive at a port in New Jersey in January 1960. This means that 50,000 Volvo PVs have been sold to the USA.

Engellau’s predecessor Assar Gabrielsson took the first steps in Volvo’s road to US exports. During the first half of the 1950s, Gabrielsson undertook several trips to examine the opportunities available. However, it was not until 1955 that it was decided that demand in Sweden was sufficiently saturated that they could also begin to look beyond its borders and invest in exports.

Initially, Volvo concentrated on the western states of the USA where the acceptance of imported brands was deemed to be greater. The PV444 was sold in an export edition for the USA with a B14A engine that had twin SU carburettors and 70 hp, 20 more than the standard engine offered.

The PV sold relatively well and climbed to second place in the charts of imported cars sold on the west coast. It was not long before there were hundreds of dealers in place, and representatives in place in New York, Boston and Texas. Spare parts warehouses were developed in Fort Worth, Detroit and Los Angeles.

On this cold day in the port, Gunnar Engellau stands alone in front of the camera. The reflection in body paintwork reveals that several other people are standing next to the photographer. Despite the fact that this is a moment to celebrate, in end it is but a mere snapshot. Gunnar Engellau appears to be looking out to the world filled with self-confidence. Under his leadership, exports to the USA picked up rapidly - perhaps he senses that exports are merely in their infancy... A moment in Volvo's history.