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Volvo backs down on 2020 fatality-free pledge

Seven years ago, Swedish car maker Volvo boldly predicted no-one would die in its new cars in the year 2020. Now more than half way towards its goal, it concedes that was an ambitious target.

Swedish car maker Volvo has backed down from its bold claim that no-one would die in one of its new cars in the year 2020.

The company that invented the three-point seatbelt – and saved more lives than any other car brand because it never charged rivals to use its seatbelt patent – has come to the realisation that while its intentions are good, it will be impossible to eliminate fatalities because "freak accidents do happen".

"Not even the Pope is infallible," Volvo safety expert, Trevor Rourke, told media at the launch of the company's new flagship SUV in Europe this week.

Mr Rourke said there are "of course random can't cater for everything".

Volvo made the ambitious "fatality-free by 2020" claim in 2008

Volvo made the ambitious "fatality-free by 2020" claim in 2008, the same year it introduced technology that scanned the road ahead and then automatically slammed on the car's brakes if the driver was distracted and about to run into the car in front.

Similar technology is now used by other brands and works from higher speeds to avoid a crash, but Volvo was so confident it believed it may be able to eliminate crashes altogether.

"By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo," said Volvo's lead safety expert in 2008, Anders Eugensson, who added that there was a "long-term vision to create cars that will not crash".

But this week that mission statement was watered down to "we see our trend as going towards zero (deaths)", said Mr Rourke.

We're trending towards zero

Volvo says it has counted the number of deaths and serious injuries in its cars globally since the 1970s.

But when asked how many people were killed or seriously injured in Volvos globally last year, so that it could track its progress in the lead-up to 2020, Volvo experts were unable to provide any data to the media.

It's a vision...that's what we're aiming towards

"We're trending towards zero," said Mr Rourke. "It's a vision...that's what we're aiming towards."

When asked why Volvo had watered down its initial mission statement about zero deaths, Mr Rourke said: "We're not taking a step back on anything. We've said this is our vision (that)...nobody will be hurt or seriously injured or killed in a brand-new Volvo in 2020. Our vision is to make it next to near impossible (to die in a new Volvo)."