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How Volvo Saved The Planet (Kinda)

In the 1970’s, transportation was a dirty industry. Cars constantly blowing unburnt leaded fuel out the back, planes that left dirty grey streaks behind and trucks that consistently puffed black soot out of the exhaust. Making air pollution a rampant problem in a lot of the world’s major cities (including Los Angles pictured below).

With so much pollution in the air, how did Volvo (kind of) create the national standard for the EPA (Environmental Protections Agency)?

Back in the early 70’s Volvo introduced the 200 series cars. You might not know it by name but, if you picture 3 boxes slapped together with wheels underneath, you're more than familiar with them.

The 200 series and the 240’s in particular (200 series, 4 cylinder) were actually great family cars for the time. Besides being drearily slow and basically square, they were large inside, sat 5 or 7 people, had great safety features and were well equipped for the money.

However, being drearily slow is one of the main areas we want to focus on today as the “slow” motor used in the 240’s helped change emissions standards worldwide and remove smog from city skylines.

For almost 40 years, Volvo used a pretty simple 4 cylinder engine called the red-block which came with anything from a 2.0-2.3ish litre capacity. They were well known for being super reliable and (with a typical engineering sense) were named after the red paint that was used on them.

However, when first fitted to the 200 series, Volvo made a raft of updates to the red-block. Updates such as mechanical (and later electrical) fuel injection, the first ever catalytic convertor and the first ever use of a Lambda sensor (what we call an O2 sensor).

This Lamb-da sensor used a genius bit of science to measure how much fuel had been burnt in the engine compared to the amount of air and let a computer adjust the fuelling for efficiency. By doing so, Volvo's 240 was able to achieve a fuel economy of 11L/100km when compared to an equivalent Ford’s 20L/100km.

Volvo's use of a catalytic convertor (something we'll go into in depth one day) also meant that any emissions that exited the exhaust were far less toxic than any other equivalent car too. Putting together a package that saved fuel and made what was left less harmful.

Through the 1970's, many manufacturers were put to panic stations due to new standards from the Californian government which forced them to find a way to make their cars pollute less. Which led the way for some of the most underwhelming, beige toned, wobbly suspension-ed cars in history.

However, while many American manufacturers (and by extension some Australian cars) failed to impress throughout the 70’s, Volvo's ingenius use of technology managed to meet and exceed the requirements to a point where the EPA bought a fleet to help set the next standard.


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