- Written by webmin
In a recent discussion with Bob Austin, the former head of PR for Volvo Cars, I learned the history behind the unique and very special Volvo Saved My Life Club. I, and some of my family members, have been protected from serious injury because of the safety that was engineered into the Volvos that we were driving, so I felt this was a tale worth sharing.
We’ll let Bob tell the story of its founding in his own words:
Today, I am Vice President Corporate Communications for Volvo Financial Services, which is owned by AB Volvo…the original parent company of Volvo Cars.
I joined Volvo on August 10, 1970 as a customer relations representative. Our job was to answer incoming letters and phone calls from customers. Among the very first stack of letters I was handed was a letter from a mother who stated that her son had been in a terrible accident. The policeman at the scene told the woman that he believe that, had her son been driving any other car, he would have been killed. The policeman said he was sure the Volvo had saved his life. I felt this letter was so moving and such an affirmation of our values, that we should do more than just send this woman back a nice letter saying thank you for sharing. It took me years to figure out what the right answer was. These letters appeared at Volvo at a rate of about one per week.
In January of 1990, I was head of Public Relations at Volvo. In a conversation with some folks in our consumer affairs department, I asked if they were still getting letters from people stating that they believed a Volvo had saved their life. They told me that the were still getting them at a rate of about one per week. They also
mentioned that they had received one from Robert Merrill, an opera singer from the NY Metropolitan Opera company. That set my mind to thinking about how we should be handling those wonderful letters. I came up with the idea of a club…..since there were many people who “qualified” to be in this club….and they shared a common belief…that a car had saved their life. Why shouldn’t there be a club called the ‘Volvo Saved My Life Club?’
The idea would be that our Consumer Affairs Department would submit letters they had received from customers telling of their incident. A review committee, including someone from our Safety Department, our Legal Department, and our PR Department, would review the cases (if necessary gather more information) to see which cases were truly life threatening, and then, where appropriate, induct these people into the club. Club members would be contacted by their dealer, and invited to an induction ceremony at the dealership. The member would be awarded a document which was diploma-like, and thanked for sharing their story with Volvo and reinforcing the fact that the work we do at Volvo genuinely saves lives.
The very first person inducted into the Volvo Saved My Life Club was Robert Merrill. The introduction of the club and the first induction ceremony was conducted at the press days of the New York Auto Show in late March or early April of the 1990 show…..almost exactly 20 years ago! The certificate was presented to Mr. Merrill by Joseph L. Nicolato, President of Volvo Cars of North America.
The Club operated for years to come and had hundreds of additional members. In 1994, almost 4 years after the start of the club, I was named one of the AD AGE Marketing 100, a recognition of the top marketers of the year from all categories. I was recognized for the creation of The Volvo Save My Life Club as being the a perfect expression of the Volvo brand.
At about this same time, Volvo’s advertising agency (MVBMS) Euro RSCG suggested we make a TV commercial featuring some of the people from the club. The ad was known as “Survivors,” and was a huge success. It featured several families simply enjoying their lives. It showed no cars. The voice-over (by Donald Sutherland) simply stated, “These people are united by a single thought. The belief that a car saved their life.” The screen fades to black and the name Volvo appears. Very powerful stuff.
Bob noted that the concept of saving current and older photos and documents, which lead to the creation of this Club all those years ago, is an unusual one in his line of work. The reason, while common sense, is still rather surprising to a lay-person:
A funny thing about the car business is the fact that it is hard to have a sense of history while you are at work. This stems from the fact that you are: working on designing 2014 cars, while planning for a 2013 launch, while working on promotional materials for 2012 cars, while selling 2011 cars, all during 2010. So to people in the business, current cars are old cars….and we are always focusing on what is new. Go figure.
Bob’s contribution to Volvo Cars, and to those lucky Volvo drivers and occupants, should be a lasting one. Kudos to you, Bob.
As I mentioned above, I too was kept safe by a Volvo.
My mother’s 1988 240 DL, a 67,000-mile five-speed beauty and her pride and joy, met a sudden and violent end in 1995 when I was T-boned at speed by a Ford F-150 with an inattentive driver behind the wheel. The impact was such that two tow trucks where needed to separate the vehicles, but I walked away with just a lightly sprained wrist. I also heard, from the New York State Police at the accident scene, that the reason I was not seriously injured was because of the car that I had been driving.
We were, at that time, a two-Volvo family, and my father’s 1988 240 DL was the trusty workhorse that he generously allowed me and my friends to take on the 1996 cross-country trip during which the car’s odometer turned through 170,000 miles.
This car was given to my sister when she got her driver’s license, and a couple of years later, it too saved her from harm in an accident that totaled it at 188,000 miles.
If these cars had not been wrecked, I sincerely believe that they would still be on the road today, continuing to serve without complaint. Vive la 240! But I am grateful that they did exactly what they were designed to do in a worst case scenario.
I know many other people – including my paternal grandparents, who were run off the road by a semi truck in their 1989 240 DL – who have similar stories of walking away from, or at least surviving without major injury, horrific accidents in Volvo vehicles. It will be a great day when there are no more collisions on American roads, but until then, we’ll continue to welcome members into the Volvo Saved My Life Club.