GOTHENBURG, Sweden—Several years ago, Volvo Cars announced its “Vision 2020” plan. The goal was as simple as it was bold: by the year 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.
As we get closer to that date, Volvo has started to get more specific about how, exactly, it plans to get there. First, there was the announcement earlier this month that, starting with model year 2021, all new Volvos will be restricted to 112mph (180km/h). And last week, the company invited journalists from around the world to visit its headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, to learn about its other plans for this initiative.
As you might have expected during such a tour, Volvo was at pains to let us know exactly how many safety innovations the company has been responsible for in the years since it introduced the three-point safety belt as standard in 1959. Side-impact protection structures, side airbags, whiplash-preventing seats, blind-spot monitoring, and plenty more active and passive safety systems throughout the years have helped the company earn its current reputation for safety.
“Looking into the data, we’ve done a lot with passive and active safety, but to get to zero, you have to tackle human issues,” says Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. By this, he means the trio of distracted driving, intoxicated driving, and inappropriate speed. “Now we’re coming into a situation where we have a technical capability to do something about this. We can let the car intervene if the driver is behaving badly. For example, driving outside a school: is it really individual freedom to drive past it at 250km/h? Do we have the right to intervene, or do we have an obligation? We want to enter into a dialogue, we don’t have an answer, and we don’t want to be big brother, but Volvo can lead the discussion on safety.”
The speed-limiter announcement certainly sparked a discussion—333 comments and counting just on our short article alone. Although Samuelsson has said it’s worth doing if it saves even a few lives, he’s open about the fact that the speed limit was really the company’s way of throwing down a marker. “We are quite sure we need to send a signal of some kind to start this dialogue. But I think indirectly with that, you attract certain customers and probably discourage other customers, and I think we did this rather deliberately. We want to create a stronger and safer Volvo community. Now we’re opening up the discussions with insurance companies to see what benefits this would bring to Volvo customers. We want to attract people who want to drive safely. That would discourage the boy racers,” he said.
However, don’t expect future Volvos to have restricted acceleration to go with their new, lower top speed. “If you were to have some kind of emotional value of a powerful car, you feel that with acceleration, but you very seldom feel that with speed. And you could argue that, in some cases, it means safety—if you could complete an overtaking maneuver quickly for example. So we have no plans to limit acceleration, and with electric cars it will go in the other direction. There will be tremendous acceleration with electric cars, but they will never be very fast, because you empty the batteries too quickly.”