Remember When a Car Meant Freedom?

Remember When a Car Meant Freedom?


“If the car was invented today and we said this consumer product will improve mobility and productivity, but … it will kill 33,000 people a year in America, do you think the government would approve it for sale?”

Volvo senior security engineer Thomas Broberg’s measured iconoclasm got here because the automaker defended its resolution to limit the highest pace of all its autos to 112 mph.

I first got here throughout this institutional mindset 30 years in the past, after I interviewed Pehr Gyllenhammar, writer, economist, lawyer, and, on the time, chairman of the board of AB Volvo. “We are not a luxury car producer,” declaimed Gyllenhammar bluntly. The smiles of the Volvo PR flacks turned immediately fastened, brittle. Color drained from their faces. The Volvo chairman was comfortable to elaborate: “We design cars with high specification, but we are not in the luxury class as we define it, that is competing on price levels with the more expensive Mercedes-Benz and BMW models.”

Gyllenhammar did not care in regards to the auto business’s sacred cows. I left the interview making an attempt to think about GM’s Roger B. Smith suggesting personal autos be banned from traffic-choked inner-city streets, or BMW’s Eberhard von Kuenheim questioning out loud how governments might proceed to permit atypical, unskilled residents to regulate as sophisticated piece of apparatus as a automotive.

By distinction, Gyllenhammar was a bristling mass of concepts and power hovering between socialism and despotism: “What some people find disturbing is that I have power without capital. I find that amusing. I am an ordinary, mortal wage earner, and since there is no money behind my power, no one can inherit it, either.”

I’m wondering what Pehr Gyllenhammar would make of Volvo at this time. Volvo Cars is, in fact, now not a part of AB Volvo, having been purchased by Ford in 1999, which then offered it to China’s Geely in 2010. I believe the person who titled his 1973 guide I Believe in Sweden could be disenchanted that it is now not Swedish-owned. But, equally, I believe he’d be happy that Volvo’s core design and engineering features stay in Sweden and that Volvo vehicles and SUVs retain a distinctively Swedish character.

Volvo’s dedication to switching its total lineup to PHEV and BEV powertrains echoes Gyllenhammar’s name 30 years in the past that automakers must be compelled to make use of one of the best out there expertise to cut back emissions. And he’d applaud Volvo’s $60 million funding in a brand new facility dedicated to engineering, testing, and growing battery applied sciences in-house—fairly than counting on third-party battery suppliers.

But I’m unsure how he’d really feel about applied sciences comparable to the brand new Volvo infotainment system powered by Google’s embedded Android Automotive software program.

Of course, linked vehicles are essentially the way forward for the car, and never simply because you possibly can take heed to your favourite tunes or safely textual content your mates whereas motoring. Connected applied sciences will allow next-gen Volvo autos to observe their drivers and autonomously come to a halt ought to the system decide Sven or Annika to be intoxicated. Beyond that, connectivity will equip Volvos—and others—with ever extra subtle ranges of self-driving functionality.

Of all of the senior auto business executives I’ve interviewed over time, it was Pehr Gyllenhammar who finest captured the existential enchantment of the car: “The car is unique; it gives human beings a mandate to go wherever they want, whenever they want.”

This was highly effective stuff. The Berlin Wall had come down simply three months earlier, and smoky little Trabants have been swarming throughout western Germany, as easterners found for themselves the liberty a long time of Communist rule had prevented them from having fun with.

Then he delivered the zinger. “If the car was invented today,” he mentioned, “I doubt whether our governments would allow ordinary people to have such freedom.”

I’m wondering if we’ll look again on the days earlier than our vehicles have been smarter than we have been, monitoring our each transfer behind the wheel, noting each route we take, and sending all the information to a server someplace. Will we recall these days when going out for a drive meant simply selecting up the keys, strolling out the entrance door, and heading off down the highway—and surprise the place our freedom went?



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