Volvo’s vision of vehicle safety remains something of a lonely voice in the industry. The company is the only car maker pledging as a goal that “no one is killed or injured in a Volvo by 2020.”
That lonely voice cried out at the L.A. Auto Show this week as the company restated its claim to industry leadership in vehicle safety. The good news for Volvo is that there’s never been a better time to pitch safety to U.S. consumers with record vehicle recalls and a flattening rate of decline in annual U.S. highway fatalities.
Safety sells cars, according to multiple Strategy Analytics consumer surveys of car buyers around the world. Safety is consistently a higher purchasing priority than a wide range of other factors, including infotainment and performance.
Volvo expects to sell about 60,000 cars in the U.S. market this year, down from 100,000 units in 2007, its best year. China has become a more important market to the company, volume-wise, but the goal is to return to the 100,000-unit level. The company clearly expects safety to define and differentiate the brand as well as restore the company to six-figure sales volumes here.
What’s new for Volvo is industry leadership in connected safety – bringing together the enhanced sensing technologies intended to avoid vehicle and pedestrian collisions with inter-vehicle communications to enable autonomous operation. Volvo isn’t waiting for standards-setting activities or mandates, it is forging ahead with its vision of vehicle connectivity with a focus on safety.
The company can already point to impressive progress. The company announced at the L.A. Auto show that, since 2000, it has reduced the risk of being injured in a Volvo by 50%, according to the company’s analysis of its own accident database. The company has maintained its own Traffic Accident Research team for more than 40 years.
In fact, Volvo’s model of analyzing accident results in the interest of finding life-saving and injury-preventing solutions may well serve as a model for the industry. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has refused to release brand-specific accident data. But some of the most significant advances in safety, such as BMW's cooperation with OnStar to define accident severity protocols for emergency response, have resulted from the analysis of accident outcomes and causes.
Perhaps the most significant developments at Volvo are the company’s efforts to bring together vehicle connectivity and safety. Typically, the work of the safety department of the typical car company takes place in isolation from the team working on what is considered telematics – involving the integration of a telecommunications control unit.
The telematics teams are generally regarding as adding cost to the vehicle (the TCU and related hardware and software) in the hopes of generating subscription revenue. Of course, the TCU is also capable of summoning assistance OnStar-like in the event of an airbag-triggering accident.
Until recently, safety development activities have been focused on tapping camera-, Lidar- and radar-based sensors for collision avoidance applications and assisting driving. Connectivity for safety engineers has been almost exclusively focused on 802.11p dedicated short range communication (DSRC) technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
Volvo is breaking down the wall between the safety and telematics development teams by exploring inter-vehicle communications using the existing embedded wireless device. The Volvo vision, still only in proof of concept phase, will enable Volvo vehicles to transmit safety messages to other Volvo drivers over the wireless network.
Similarly, Volvo is testing 100 cars driving autonomously in the Gothenburg, Sweden, area and using embedded wireless telecommunications connections to share updated roadway condition and map data. For most car companies, the developments taking place in the telematics department and the developments happening in safety have remained segregated. Volvo’s effort to merge these efforts is a ground-breaking development for the industry.
It is also important to note that Volvo has stayed true to the integration of automatic crash notification with the embedded telematics system. At a time when a growing number of auto makers, such as Audi, Chrysler and Tesla, have opted not to include ACN technology, Volvo has brought this capability to 20 world markets.
But Volvo is pushing the safety envelope in other ways existing vehicles on the road today. In fact, in Europe, Volvo vehicles are earning insurance discounts for their safety credentials, an outcome which has yet to cross the Atlantic to U.S. drivers in a significant way.
Volvo’s auto-braking, collision avoidance leadership has been reflected in:
- Earlier this year, the benefits of the City Safety (low-speed, automatic braking, collision avoidance) technology were documented in an IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) report, which stated a collision frequency reduction of up to 22%.
- A similar study by the Swedish insurance company Volvia shows that Volvos equipped with automatic braking are involved in 22% fewer rear end accidents compared to cars without auto brake.
- The final report from the EuroFOT research projects concludes that a car with adaptive cruise control and collision warning cuts the risk of colliding with the vehicle in front on a motorway by up to 42%.
- In the latest report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Volvo S60 earns the best rating in a new small offset frontal crash test in 40 mph (64 km/h).
- Last year, no less than five Volvo models - the C30, S60, S80, XC60 and XC90 - earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Volvo’s ongoing work is focused on:
- Autonomous Driving Support uses data from a camera and radar sensors to make sure that the car automatically follows the vehicle in front in a slow-moving queue.
- Intersection Support alerts and automatically brakes for crossing traffic when necessary.
- Animal Detection is designed to detect and automatically brake for large animals, such as elks and large stags.
The all-new Volvo V40 features pedestrian detection with full auto brake - as well as the improved City Safety, which now operates at speeds up to 50 km/h. Among the new features are world-first Pedestrian Airbag Technology, Lane Keeping Aid with haptic auto steering, Active High Beam and a Cross Traffic Alert radar system at the rear.
Some have questioned whether Volvo can continue to lead with so many other car companies adopted lane keeping, blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control technologies. It is clear that, indeed, Volvo has and is preserving its leadership and extending it into pedestrian protection and connected safety to enable automated driving.
Maybe the industry will hear Volvo’s voice crying out in the L.A. desert and join in the vision zero effort – especially during the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety. We all want to reduce highway fatalities – which already exceed 1M annually. And let’s not forget that safety sells.