It doesn’t matter how good recent Volvo Cars are because few will pay Mercedes-Benz/BMW money for a Volvo, which until recently, sits just slightly above a Volkswagen.
But within just one week, the Volvo brand is now on every chat group and every publication around the world debated Volvo Car’s 180 km/h speed limit.
It got everyone talking about Volvo and the best thing was that Volvo didn’t spend a single cent on it and neither did they had to do any real work on their cars (engine management software came pre-loaded).
The whole thing was a ruse because which buyer decides to buy one car over another because it doesn’t go over 180 km/h?
The ones who raise their hands are too few to matter because in every major car market (but not Malaysia, which is too small to matter anyway), driving at 180 km/h will get your license revoked. Realistically speaking, Volvo's recent announcement has zero meaning to majority of car buyers.
But here is the most brilliant part – Polestar’s electric Volvos aren’t limited to 180 km/h.
So what happened to the message of “…sending a strong signal about the dangers of speeding, underlining Volvo Cars position as a worldwide leader in safety”?
The message is as good as Pablo Escobar coming clean but passed the reins of the drug cartel over to his son, now rebranded for 2020’s bad boys.
Overnight, Volvo designated the all-electric Polestar 1 as its bad boy car. Meanwhile sensible buyers now think more about Volvo. Either way, the Volvo Car Group wins.
Depending on who you ask, speed may or may not be the cause of road fatalities. The Internet is a treasure trove to find credible sounding research to support whatever position you would like to take, however ridiculous it might sound.
This is why I am a firm believer that not everyone’s opinion matter and the problem with comments on appropriate driving speed is that they often come from people who don’t understand the relation between F=ma and KE=(1/2)mv^2, as well as the cognitive science behind how their brain works.
Before you brand me as a legalistic puritan of a driver, let’s make it clear that I believe some drivers should be given the right to determine what speed they like to drive, whether you belong to that group or not is a different topic altogether.
I also believe that if we are going to be strict about maximum speed limits, then we need minimum speed limits as well. Fair?
In my world, people who complain about expensive tyres and servicing cost, and those who don’t understand a pedestrian’s right of way, don’t have a right to an opinion on appropriate driving speeds. The Magna Carta is nobel but it's not always right, because not everyone uses their liberty to make correct decisions.
In a fantasy world where I role play a Benevolent Dictator, there’s no such thing as equality for everyone, at least not in decision making. You don’t get to decide if you are good enough. The State segregates drivers according to a hierarchy of intellect and skills.
Sitting right at the top are Super License drivers who have passed a high speed, mental calculations only (no calculators allowed) math test to determine the braking distance of their vehicle.
They also have to judge speed and distance with only their eyes, because the best drivers can do this without looking at the speedometer, and they also have to pass a high speed obstacle avoidance test, which will most likely be fatal if they fail.
Good if they pass, good if they don’t, either way the nation’s gene pool will be constantly purified from fools who overestimate themselves.
Pass all of that and you will be given a Super License which allows you to drive at any speed you want on approved stretches of the Highway of Enlightenment.
Jokes aside, the topic of road safety is a very complex one. Speeding is not the only factor to be blamed, but also quality of road construction and design, as well as adherence to basic rules of driving discipline, spatial awareness, and law enforcement.
But to argue that speed does not kill is to ignore the complexity of the topic and that just sets you apart as a motoring equivalent of an anti-vaxxer, one who cherry picks data sets and refuses to look at the subject in totality.
Critics of speed limits like to point to speed limit-free German autobahns as being very safe, which is far from the truth because deregulated stretches there are often punctuated by speed limits, which can vary depending on traffic conditions or weather conditions.
Which brings us to the infamous case of Mercedes-Benz test driver Rolf Fischer. His colleagues at Daimler nicknamed him Turbo Rolf because of the way he drives.
In 2003, Turbo Rolf was driving a Mercedes-Benz CL 600 at 230 km/h when he tailgated a Kia, driven at 150 km/h by a 21-year old woman travelling with her 2-year old daughter.
Turbo Rolf came up too fast and got too close to the Kia, which then jinked to the left and to the right before crashing, killing all occupants.
Rolf tried to evade the authorities by giving false testimonies but it wasn’t very hard to track down a CL 600. Eventually he was caught and was jailed (just) 18 months. He was fired from Daimler and after that no car company wanted to hire him.
In 2010, another Mercedes-Benz test driver in a prototype M-Class was involved in a fatal collision when he was driving at night at 170 km/h.
A Mazda had crashed further ahead and two other drivers had already stop their cars to help the victim. They had put on emergency flashers and wore reflective vests – as required by German laws - before proceeding to assist the driver of the Mazda.
The Mercedes-Benz test driver was driving too fast to notice situation ahead and crashed into the Mazda, killing the driver. The other two drivers who had stopped to help narrowly survived by jumping over the guard rail.
The German police say the Mercedes-Benz driver had visibility of the accident at least 500 metres away, more than sufficient to respond if he was driving slower. He was given a suspended sentence and his driving license was revoked, which also means that he lost his job as a test driver.
It should be noted that even on deregulated stretches of the autobahn, the recommended driving speed on deregulated stretches is 130 km/h. Drivers are allowed to go above that but should an accident occur, even if it's clearly the other party's fault, they will be held liable, at least partially. That last part is often left out by proponents of the German approach.
Volvo says there’s no reason for anyone to drive over 180 km/h on public roads, and they are right but to Western ideals, this ‘telling me what to do’ is a negative.
Personally, I am not confident of doing 180 km/h on our highways. I don't trust myself at 180 km/h, not when I am surrounded by idiots but if you do, hats off to you.
Among the cars I’ve driven are the 500 PS Porsche 911 GT3 in Sepang and the 585 PS Mercedes-AMG GT R in Bilster Berg circuit in Germany, the latter was done under the tutelage of ex-DTM driver Bernd Schneider.
I have been trained by BMW instructors to handle various high powered M cars, and by Porsche instructors to handle mid-engine, rear-engine and front-engine cars.
However all the instructors told me in very polite words that essentially mean “You suck so bad, please don't ever play race car driver but with what we’ve thought you so far, hopefully you will suck a little less.”
So I listened and watch my speed. I don't always follow the speed limit but neither do I go anywhere near 180 km/h.
Speed alone is not the problem. Overestimating one’s ability is just as dangerous. Many drivers don’t even understand the basics of correct sitting position and visual distance vs speed but these are the same people asking for higher speed limits.
I genuinely believe some of my more talented peers should be given greater freedom to drive faster. I feel safer with them at 120 km/h than other slow pokes at 60 km/h. The problem is who is judging and by whose standards? Remember Turbo Rolf’s case?
Which brings the debate back to a full circle, hence why strict regulations are necessary. Volvo’s announcement means absolutely nothing to the market place, but it is triggering discussions like this, which is exactly what their objective is. Well done Volvo Car Group.