We have two hard core corporate values: Safety and Quality. Used to be we called out Durability as a separate core value, but in reality it should have always been part of Quality. So to make life simpler for me (ok, a whole bunch of me’s) we added it to Quality.
What does durability mean? From a mechanical engineering perspective, it means the length of time an object or assembly will provide its intended function over an anticipated range of operating conditions.
An interesting point about our Swedish culture: value for money spent. Take IKEA – is it the best furniture made? No. BUT their promise is value, styling, and durability. We know buying something from IKEA will not go out of style; it’ll last longer than other kinds of ‘kit’ furniture and has a higher value to money ratio, at least that’s the opinion in my family. We love just walking through an IKEA. Coffee is great and good place to get our Swedish food/lunch fix.
Our Volvos are built for the tough Swedish environment, especially the long winters. But we sell cars all over the world so we build them for harsh summers in the desert countries of Western Sahara and Arizona. Driving through some places in Arizona is like being in another country – it’s so hot, dry and barren – tough places for cars with durability in their heritage. Our cars are built for global buyers who want value for money spent, even if it’s not in Kroners.
So, some months ago, I get a call from Irv Gordon, “A guy wants to write about my car and needs your permission to use a file photo.” Sure, no problem. Done and forgotten, until couple of weeks ago. Mr. Prasad Boradkar just wrote: Designing Things: A Critical Introduction to the Culture of Objects. Below, with Mr. Boradkar’s permission is an excerpt about Volvo and Irv Gordon. Irv is very close to 2.8 million miles on his 1966 P1800.
Will all Volvo’s go 3 million miles? Don’t know, but it’s very common to find ones sporting 100,000 and 200,000 High Mileage badges. Enjoy this excerpt.
Here is Mr. Boradkar’s home page: http://designingthings.org/
And no I didn’t get a book free, just placed my order on Amazon.
Good week to you all,
A Critical Introduction to the Culture of Objects
Oxford • New York
1 9 4 d e s i g n i n g t h i n g s
The anti-obsolescence literature, produced by such scholars as Vance Packard (1960), John
Kenneth Galbraith (1998, original in 1958) and others did have its effect, especially on the
automotive industry in the 1960s. One of the first car companies to promote the culture of
durability through its smartly minimal anti-obsolescence advertisements was Volkswagen.
The advertising copy critiqued planned obsolescence and poked fun at American cars. In
a direct mockery of the annual model change, one of the ads for the Beetle shows a single
image of the car with the caption “The ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59, ’60, ’61
Volkswagen.” In the advertising copy, Volkswagen reassures readers by saying, “We don’t
make changes lightly. And never to make the Volkswagen look differently, only to make
it better.” Several of these highly successful and quirky adverts, designed by Doyle Dane
Bernbach, used the notion of obsolescence for the contrary effect. Other companies, such
as Volvo, ridiculed consumers who succumbed to the practice of the annual model change.
In a 1967 advertisement, Volvo sarcastically suggests that a paper car is the next step in the
evolution of the stylistic obsolescence of cars. The text reads:
at a time when people trade in their cars every two or three years, it’s reasonable to assume that the next step might be paper cars. After all, we’re living in a “throw-away society.” So why not jump in with both feet? Why not have a car you can trade every month? Why not have a dandy polka-dot one for weekends and a swinging striped one for going out on the town and, of course, a plain black one for when you want to be serious?
Further along, the ad promotes durability because Volvo knows that “to make a car that
lasts, you begin with nice, thick steel.”
Figure 7.2. Volvo Ridicules the American Practice of Planned Obsolescence. Image courtesy of Dan Johnston, Volvo.
Volvo owners are known to keep their cars for a long time, and some are proud members
of the Volvo High Mileage Club, affiliation to which is available only to those how have
clocked more than 150,000 miles (241,406 kilometers) on their cars. According to this club
(and the Guinness Book of World Records), Irv Gordon of East Patchogue, NY holds the
leading spot on the list with a stunning 2.7 million miles clocked on one vehicle. The car,
miraculously surviving with the original engine, radio, axles and transmission is certainly
one in a million, and has become an icon of durability. “I’ll keep on driving,” Gordon
said, “but whether I drive three million miles is more up to me than it is the car. The car’s
parts may be able to take it, but I’m not so sure about my own.”5 This car is eternally his.
In a phone conversation, Gordon said, “I bought it on June 30th, 1966 from the Volvo
showroom for $4,150 . . . when it had one-tenth of a mile on it.” As of July 2009, the
odometer read 2,715,000 miles.
Gordon recognizes the impact that this vehicle has had in his life. In a conversation, Gordon (2009) said: “You never know how these decisions could affect the rest of your life. If it wasn’t for the car, everything that I do these days would be totally different. I’ve had opportunities to go places and meet people that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t own this the
car.” And, as he suggests, if he is outlived by his car, he will have achieved the status that
Ford desired for all his consumers when he said, “we want the man who buys one of our
products never to have to buy another” (Henry 1922: 149). In such scenarios the culture of
durability is embraced and encouraged.
Figure 7.3. Irv Gordon with his 2.7 Million-mile Volvo. Image courtesy of Irv Gordon and Volvo.
Ray and Charles Eames designed their classic lounge chair and ottoman for Herman
Miller in 1956. Joe Schwartz, then Marketing Director for Herman Miller recalls, “I think
it sold for about 900 U.S. dollars at that time. And not a lot of people liked its aesthetic then
. . . it was an unfamiliar visual object. Eames made it to give it as a gift for his friend Billy
Wilder. It was not originally designed to as a Herman Miller product” (Schwartz, personal
interview 2008). Over 50 years since their introduction, the lounge chair and ottoman are
still being manufactured with minor modifications and they continue to sell. Durability,
endurance and timelessness are not easy to capture in the design of products.
Figure 7.4. The Eames Lounge Chair. Image courtesy of Herman Miller, Inc.