Volvo as the car brand we know today has a reputation for being one of the safest, most innovative brands on the road. For Volvo, safety is such a priority that they’ve actually launched the Vision 2020 initiative. Said President and CEO of Volvo Cars Håkan Samuelsson, “Our vision is that by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.” Pretty ambitious for a company that sold over half a million cars last year.
That lofty vision started with humble beginnings almost 100 years ago. Volvo began in Sweden in 1927, when founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson started manufacturing automobiles within parent company Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF) – a company which produced ball bearings for the auto industry, and eventually functioned as Volvo’s financial backer.
The Volvo name was actually conceived in 1915. The brand name was initially intended to be used for just another new series of SKF ball-bearings. But that idea was scrapped almost immediately, and SKF ended up using its own initials as the trademark for all of its bearing products. It wasn’t until 12 years later that the first Volvo automobile rolled out of the factory bearing Volvo’s name, looking like this:
Image from volvocars.com
Why is it Called Volvo?
Both the two founders and parent company SKF wanted a brand name that could be spoken and written internationally with minimal chance of pronunciation or spelling errors. Volvo (stylized as VOLVO) certainly fit the bill.
If you know Latin, you already know what Volvo means. (You probably know a ton of other cool stuff, too.) Volvo was named after the Latin word, “volvere,” meaning “to roll.” “Volvere” is the infinitive form of the verb – conjugated into the 1st person, it is “volvo,” meaning “I roll.” So, when you’re driving your Volvo, you’re really just driving your “I Roll.” (But be warned: if you refer to your Volvo as your “I Roll” in public, you may elicit some eye-rolls.)
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The hidden meaning behind the Volvo brand doesn’t stop there. If you’ve ever seen a Volvo, you may have noticed that its emblem looks a bit like the male gender symbol.
Image from thenewswheel.com
Volvo’s badge isn’t implying anything sexist – it actually hearkens back to the ancient chemical symbol for iron. The symbol was adopted by the scientific community roughly at the same time as Volvo was reemerging. It’s also the astrological symbol of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war, and has since become synonymous with the male gender.
Incorporating the chemical symbol for iron into Volvo’s emblem was meant to represent the car’s strength, safety and durability. Sweden already had a great reputation for steel production, as had just been proven in WW1, and this emblem referenced that.
Though Volvo Cars was purchased by Ford in 1999, Volvo’s iconic emblem and brand are here to stay. Part of the terms agreed upon in the acquisition stipulated that the brand name should be used in the future by Volvo Cars as well as by the rest of the companies in the Volvo Group. That means that you’ll never see a Volvo car without it personally telling you, ‘”I Roll!”
Emma Roberts is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about learning, traveling, and language. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Brigham Young University.