22 mar 19

How do you build a safe car? Just ask Volvo

Volvo has been collecting accident data for decades, covering over 40,000 separate real-life incidents with their cars in Sweden. It is probably the car manufacturer with the most valuable knowledge in this area – and on Wednesday, Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars announced at a media event in Gothenburg that his company will be sharing this knowledge with other manufacturers. Free of charge.

Just like it did 60 years ago, when a Volvo engineer invented the three-point seatbelt. Rather than making millions by patenting the invention, Volvo decided to share it with the industry, for the sake of making life-saving technology available to everyone. Since 1959, the three-point safety belt is estimated to have saved over one million lives globally.

Equal Vehicles for All

To celebrate this milestone, Volvo launches Project EVA – an acronym that stands for Equal Vehicles for All.

 “We have data on tens of thousands of real-life accidents, to help ensure our cars are as safe as they can be for what happens in real traffic,” says Lotta Jakobsson, professor and senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “This means our cars are developed with the aim to protect all people, regardless of gender, height, shape or weight, beyond the ‘average person’ represented by crash test dummies.”

That’s the first aspect of the EVA philosophy. The second is that Volvo is sharing the results of more than 40 years of research involving over 40,000 cars and 70,000 passengers with other OEMs. “By letting everyone download this, we hope to make every car safer,” Lotta Jakobsson added.

We asked Volvo whether this could be a threat to the company’s leading position in terms of crash safety. If the other manufacturers know how to build cars just like Volvo does, how can the company claim safety is their USP? “We will always keep a competitive advantage – not every innovation we develop will be available immediately to the competition," a spokesperson said.

Picture copyright: Volvo Cars, 2019

Live crash test

As if the assembled press needed convincing that Volvo cars are amongst the safest on the planet, Volvo invited them to witness a crash test from the first row at its safety centre in Gothenburg. Seeing, hearing, feeling and even smelling a live high-speed crash-test is an eye-opening, throat-grabbing experience that makes it gruesomely clear how quickly an accident happens.



That was indeed the key topic raised during today’s media event: a quick look at your smartphone or a moment of weakened attention suffices to bring an abrupt end to a journey that started unsuspectingly. That is why Volvo will be fitting driver-monitoring cameras in their cars, which can trigger different degrees of intervention: from warning all the way to stopping the vehicle.

The road to zero casualties

Indeed, even more important than building cars that offer a high survival rate in an accident is trying to avoid the accident in the first place. That is where ADAS come in. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are a key competence of Volvo – few other OEMS offer the level of intelligent crash-avoiding technology Volvo does. They also pave the way to highly assisted and eventually fully automated driving.

Vision 2020 is how Volvo sees the foreseeable future in terms of safety: ADAS combined with ultra-high protection in the event of a crash should together mean the end of people getting killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo, starting in the early 2020s. That is when Volvo introduces the SPA2 platform, which will be inaugurated by the next-generation XC90.

There are some hurdles to take before this materialises. Volvo identifies three focus areas: speed, distraction and intoxication. As to the first area, Volvo already announced it would be introducing a speed cap of 180 kph. “If a speed cap of 180 kph helps save even just a few lives, it is worth becoming an industry standard,” Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said.

On top of that, all new Volvo cars will have a so-called Care Key allowing Volvo drivers to set limitations on the car’s top speed before lending their car to other drivers.

180 kph: two birds with one stone

How soon will other OEMs follow Volvo’s lead on this? “That remains to be seen, but we believe that the introduction of EVs will help the adoption of this speed cap, because they won't be able to go much faster anyway," Volvo’s Customer Experience Leader, Bjorn Annwall said. Driving at high speed drains the batteries very fast, so if you want to get anywhere quickly, the best strategy is to pace yourself and avoid an extra charging session.

Mr Annwall is not worried that the speed cap will cost Volvo some customers. "We don't believe many Volvo drivers or prospects will look elsewhere if their car won't go as fast as the competition. If high-speed driving is what you find important, there are other premium brands out there for you." 

The choice for 180 kph is not scientifically substantiated, incidentally. "We don't have a graph that indicates that below 180 you're fine and above you're done for. What's important is that 180 is a speed below what most cars can reach today on the one hand, and higher than the speed limit that is legally enforced on the other. We wanted to build in a certain margin and not be too restrictive," Mikael Ljung Aust, Driver Behaviour Specialist at Volvo Cars told Fleet Europe. "It also allows us to make our vehicles lighter because you don't need components to be as massive, so we're basically killing two birds with one stone."  

Picture and video copyright: Dieter Quartier, Nexus Communication, 2019, unless otherwise stated.


Authored by: Dieter Quartier