'180kmh' Is Volvo's Magic Number. But Why Bother?

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'180kmh' Is Volvo's Magic Number. But Why Bother?

Like it or not, your new Volvo will soon have a speed cap installed. In fact, it applies to all cars made by the Swedish automaker from now on, across all their global markets. You may have heard about this.

At the recent launch of the locally assembled S60 T8 Twin Engine, Volvo Car Malaysia also revealed that this 180km/h speed limit would take effect on their cars some time closer to the end of the year, even putting a leash on cars with their most powerful powertrain package, the T8 Twin Engine PHEV with 407hp.

This is a contentious move and Volvo knows it, even expecting to lose some customers over the matter. On the surface, the speed cap sounds entirely reasonable as 180km/h is already way beyond what’s legally allowed on public roads save for the de-restricted Autobahns. It’s also much faster than anyone ‘needs’ to be going, let’s be honest.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Volvo also has a very strong brand, one that’s strongly tied to safety innovations. It’s also a brand that projects modesty, elegance, and common sense. It’s not a boy racer’s car, basically. You would need to already be attracted to the Volvo ethos before owning one.

Common sense also suggests that Volvo buyers are a little more safety-oriented to begin with.  Common sense also suggests that there’s nothing special about 180km/h. Someone isn’t going die in a road accident at 181km/h while miraculously escaping serious injury if they were traveling at 179km/h.

Speeding is still a persistent problem, and Volvo intends to “send a strong signal about the dangers of speeding, underlining Volvo Cars position as a worldwide leader in safety.” It’s part of a larger promise the company made to eventually reduce fatalities to zero across all Volvo vehicles. Unfortunately, that means taking away some driver freedom.

Again, nobody (I’m guessing) buys a Volvo with the explicit purpose of driving way too fast and very dangerously anyway. It could almost be seen as a little disrespectful that they, of all drivers, need to be ‘saved from themselves’ - that ‘they couldn’t possibly handle anything beyond 180km/h without ruining everything’.

If anything, it’s the ones driving those ‘less safe’ non-Volvo cars that should be speed-capped.

Famously, German automakers have collectively made a gentleman’s agreement to limit their cars to 250km/h, offsetting the non-existent speed limit on the country’s highways. Still, an owner could opt to have that electronic limiter removed even before collecting the vehicle.

Volvo’s new policy doesn’t have room for customer/owner/buyer/driver choice. Top speed is an arbitrary 180km/h, deal with it - in the name of safety, the greater good.

Letting The Tech Catch Up

Their practical rationale, apart from preventing death and all serious injury in any of their cars, is the idea that various autonomous vehicle and active safety systems will soon progress to the point of being able to prevent accidents at those speeds - i.e above the legal speed limit but still within comfortable tolerances for the car.

Features such as Automatic Emergency Braking, which uses a combination of camera and RADAR (sometimes LIDAR) sensors to detect an imminent collision, can already operate at highway speeds and react quicker than a human can to either avoid the accident altogether or reduce the impact force.

Setting the threshold at 180km/h means that, soon, driver error can be compensated for at any speed the car (Volvo) is able to travel. A similar solution for speeds higher than that could eventually be reached, but would take much longer to perfect.

The JDM Way

This speed limit issue may be jarring to us, especially because it’s coming from a European manufacturer, but the Japanese might find this whole issue unoriginal and boring. Since the 1980s, all cars for the Japanese Domestic Market have all had speed limiters at 180kmh.

The advancement of safety technology and vehicle construction has also played a significant role in bringing down the total number of vehicle injuries and deaths since the agreement was reached, but it can’t be argued that Japan has one of the lowest vehicle mortality rates in Asia, next to Singapore. Coincidence?

We'd love to show you a graph of steadily declining numbers here but vehicle mortality and serious injury numbers from Japan circa 30 years ago are a little hard to come by. However, during that same timeframe, it should be noted that the increasing prevalence of standard-fit airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS) had a huge impact on road safety in general, as did the mandatory wearing of seatbelts in many countries. Japan's seatbelt legislation was enacted in 1985, though penalties were only introduced a year later.

While that effort was earlier done in tandem with another gentleman’s agreement that all JDM cars were to not produce more than 280hp (which was officially lifted in 2004), only the 'speed governor' has stood the test of time. Even today, Japanese cars sold there still have (analog) speedometers that do not go past that 180kmh mark despite boasting a high output engine, capped by that in-built limiter.

It’s like they’re all driving Volvos.



Jim Kem

Jim Kem

Content Producer

There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.


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