In 1924, a Swedish economist, Assar Gabrielsson, and his engineer counterpart, Gustaf Larson, first discussed setting up a company to build cars. No domestic automaker existed at the time, and of the 15,000 cars that had found buyers in Sweden that year, just one in twenty were sourced from outside North America.
It made sense to design and build a car that was not only better suited to Sweden's poorly surfaced roads, but was more durable as well.
The first ever Volvo, the ÖV4, was not quite that.
From its very introduction, things did not bode well. On April 13th, 1927, the first car was driven off the line - backwards. The differential gear in the rear axle had been fitted incorrectly. This mistake delayed the launch by one day.
Volvo's marketing department today cites the company's birthdate as April 14th, ninety years ago.
As with the Model T, just one color combination was available: dark blue with black fenders. This proved less surprising to buyers than the fact that, despite Sweden's harsh climate, the first domestic car was a convertible. ÖV4 stood for the Swedish "Öppen Vagn 4 cylindrar," which translates to "Open Carriage, four cylinders."
The ÖV4 sold 205 copies in its lifetime, which was modest even in those days.
Swedish ball-bearing maker SKF - whose industry inspired Volvo's name (Latin for "I roll") - must have been wondering how it had ever let Gabrielsson talk it into investing in a spin-off car business.
The following year, Volvo added a roof. The resulting PV4, introduced at the end of 1928, added 791 copies to the sales total.
With almost 1,000 cars sold in its first two years, Volvo was on its way.
But there were lessons to be learned. The ÖV4's lightweight wooden frame of ash tree and beech was not up to the job of supporting the body of the hard-topped PV4, the extra weight of which caused the chassis to flex, leading to cracks in the body shell. A stiffer, timber-framed body therefore had to be designed and built in a hurry. Profits were a long way off.
Gustaf Larson laid down the strategy that Volvo would follow in the future: a high level of quality would always be more important than a low selling price. Volvo would strive to build cars which their owners could rely on.
The PV4 was strengthened. With a nod to Larson's basic premise, Gabrielsson would go on to, in 1936, pen what would become the brand's guiding principle:
"An automobile conveys and is driven by people. The fundamental principle of all design work is, and must be, safety. Each individual supporting part and component in the car must be dimensioned in such a way that it will withstand all forms of stresses and strains which it can be expected to be subjected to, apart from collisions and similar types of impact. This applies chiefly to all supporting and driving parts."
Last year, Volvo sold more than half a million vehicles across one hundred countries.