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Established in 1926 at Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo released its first production car in 1927. Assar Gabrielsson, the company's head of business, had worked for Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF), a ball-bearing maker. SKF gave some financial backing to the new firm, with guarantees of credit. Volvo, in Latin, means "I roll" (as in ball bearings).
Out of the initial run of one thousand cars, half had open bodies. When early sales were tallied, the open OV4 models hadn't sold so well in frigid Sweden. So, Volvo concentrated on the 28-horsepower P4, which was fully enclosed: 1000 cars (half open).
A six-cylinder PV650 followed in 1929. Early Volvos looked similar to various American cars. In 1934, Volvo issued its first all-metal car, the Streamlined PV36 Carioca sedan, which bore a striking resemblance to Chrysler's controversial Airflow in the U.S.
Just as World War II broke out, Volvo had a new PV60 sedan ready. Because Sweden maintained neutrality in the conflict, production continued. A five-passenger model with a 90-horsepower engine, the PV60 went into serious production right after the war, and was made until 1950.
During the war, Volvo management had decided to focus on smaller cars. Thus, the PV444; a unibodied five-seat sedan, went on sale in 1947. Some PV444s began to reach the U.S. in 1956; bearing a close resemblance to 1946-48 Ford two-door sedans-though scaled-down. Also in 1956, Volvo marketed several dozen fiberglass-bodied P1900 sports cars, styled in U.S. by Glaspar (a fiberglass company).
Volvo's PV444 evolved into the PV544, expanding sales further yet, especially after a four-speed gearbox was added in 1959. Also issued was a 122 four-door sedan with a entirely different profile. By 1966, the 122 was the third best-selling imported sedan in U.S.
Meanwhile, in 1961, Volvo's P1800 coupe-designed by Ghia and Frua in Italy-displayed more successful styling than the earlier P1900. Early P1800 bodies actually were assembled from kits by Jensen in England. The kits were made by the Pressed Steel Company. During 1964, P1800 production returned to Sweden and lasted another decade, including an 1800ES estate wagon.
A new 140-series sedan appeared in 1968, with a larger engine than the 122S and a new body emphasizing safety. A 145S station wagon replaced the 122S wagon, too. Before long, Volvo began to establish a reputation for safe vehicles, which became its principal image. Early modifications included a reinforced passenger compartment and a telescopic steering column.
Four-cylinder engines grew in 1969, to 2 liters, and a six-cylinder 164 companion became available. Fuel injection was standard by 1972 on all models. A new 240 sedan arrived by 1975, and six-cylinder models adopted a V-6, abandoning the old inline configuration. A diesel-engine option also became available, in the late 1970s.
Volvos became "yuppie" favorites in the 1980s, partly due to their safety orientation. Turbochargers have been offered since the early 1980s. Volvo also added a 780 coupe with Bertone styling in 1985.
New for 1993 was an 850 sedan, Volvo's first model with front-wheel drive and a five-cylinder engine. An 850 wagon soon followed. During the 1990s, Volvo offered 940 and 960 sedans with the traditional upright profile. Twin two-door models appeared for 1998, as the C70 coupe and convertible. Two years after the first-generation C70 disappeared, that model designation reemerged to identify the 2006 C70, with a retractable hardtop rather than fabric top.
Volvo's largest sedan, the S80, first came to life for the 1999 model year. A midsize S60 sedan debuted for 2001, soon after the introduction of the compact S40 sedan and V40 wagon. Volvo turned to the sporty subcompact end of the market for 2008 with the C30 hatchback, a while after that model earned favor in Europe.
Wagons and SUVs have been an integral component of Volvo's 21st-century lineup. V70 wagons first appeared as 1998 models, joined in 2003 by the XC70-a wagon with SUV-like styling overtones. Also in 2003, a full-fledged sport-utility vehicle called the XC90 began to reach Volvo dealerships, with a V-8 engine option added later. Most recently, Volvo added its first compact SUV, the XC60-derived from the V70 and XC70 wagons-for the 2010 model year.
Late in 2009, Ford severed its relationship with Volvo, which had begun in 1999. Though still headquartered in Sweden, Volvo is currently owned by a Chinese holding group called Zhejiang Geely.