How often do you think about the origins of car brand names and badges? Probably not very often: why would you? Normally you can bet the name belonged to someone who founded the company, like Ferdinand Porsche or Karl Benz. Today I learned the curious origins of the name and badge still used by Volvo - with my quest for knowledge partly inspired by this week’s news that Polestar’s incoming performance EVs will do without the Swedish firm’s branding entirely.
Swedish car parts maker Svenska Kullagerfabriken (mmm, catchy), otherwise known as SKF, created a subsidiary in 1915 that was to manufacture bearings for use in cars and the tools that built them. It’s not remembered which clever bean inside SKF thought of Volvo, but it was perfect for the task. It was simple, easy to pronounce and spell, and, being derived from the Latin ‘volvere’, meaning to roll, it was fundamentally suited to being the name of a bearing maker.
Volvo never actually did any business as a bearing maker, apparently, but in 1926 SKF decided to use it as the marque to grace its first cars. The company was floated on the stock market, investment rolled in and Volvo as we knew it until 1999 was born. Ford bought it at that point, made a hash of it and then sold it to Geely in 2010.
The badge, meanwhile, arrived in 1926 for the brand’s rebirth as a car maker. When you look closely at it you probably recognise it as the modern symbol for blokes, i.e. the male gender, but there’s a lot more to it. Volvoclub.org.uk describes it as one of the oldest and most common ideograms in Western culture. It’s the ancient symbol for iron, for one thing, and stood for Mars, the Roman god of war.
In turn, the connection between Mars and the metal that weapons were made from became an ideal of strength and durability. The symbol for iron was perfect for SKF’s new baby. This year marks 90 years since the first Volvo, and the badge has barely changed. Remember: every day’s a school day…