Assar Gabrielsson

Assar Thorvald Nathanael Gabrielsson (August 13, 1891 – May 28, 1962) was a Swedish industrialist and co-founder of Volvo.

He married Anna Theresia (“Tessan”) Andreasson (1890–1964) in 1916. They had four children; Lars, Barbro, Jan and Bo.

Assar Gabrielsson held a bachelor’s degree in economics and worked as a sales manager with bearing manufacturer SKF inGöteborg in the early 1900s. He was employed in 1916 by Björn Prytz at the sales department and was appointed sales manager for the entire SKF company group on June 20, 1922. He held that position until the new automobile company AB Volvo was founded as a subsidiary company within the SKF company group.

In June 1924 when Assar Gabrielsson met his old friend Gustaf Larson in Stockholm, he unveiled his plans to try to establish the manufacturing of a new Swedish automobile. Gustaf Larson had worked for SKF between 1917-1919 but now worked for the company AB Galco in Stockholm. They made an agreement in August 1924 at the Sturehofrestaurant in Stockholm, signed in a written contract more than one year later, December 16, 1925. In this contract Gustav was supposed to carry out the engineering work for a new car, as well as an investment plan for a complete new manufacturing plant, but would only be rewarded for that work in case the project would turn out well, after at least 100 produced cars and in the case this was achieved before January 1, 1928. This famous contract shows that Assar Gabrielsson “owned” the project and that it was a high-risk project without any guarantees. Assar took the economic risks himself and Gustav, in the worst case, would have worked on the project without being rewarded, but still would have had his salary from AB Galco in Stockholm. Most of the capital that Assar intended to use for the project initially was actually extra sales commissions that he had saved from the time he was the managing director for the SKF subsidiary in Paris in 1921-22.

Back to 1922-23

The original idea, presented by Assar to SKF, was to start an automobile manufacturing business within SKF in order to get advantages over competitors when developing new bearings for the automobile industry, increased sales of bearings, but more important, the positive effects it would have on Swedish industry as a whole. He developed these ideas during the time he worked as managing director for the SKF subsidiary company in Paris 1921-22 when he discovered that competitor bearing companies in Europe had started to invest a lot in automobile companies in order to secure their sales to key customers. However, Gabrielsson failed to convince the board of SKF about his ideas, and the SKF company core business was bearings with no room for an automobile company. Assar then decided to build a test series of ten vehicles with his own financing and later present the car and an entire investment plan to SKF. The idea to build a pre-series of ten vehicles was most certainly related to the fact that no company would have given them an offer for the components (engines, gearboxes, chassis components etc.) with a less quantity and Assar were at that time certain that SKF would approve his plans in due time. Engineering, documentation and investment planning was carried out exactly in the same way as if it had been carried out by SKF in order to prepare for the set up of a new automobile company. Assar most certainly had the full support from the managing director of SKF, Mr. Björn Prytz, at that time, as long as his ‘private’ project did not interfere with his work as sales manager for SKF.

The first ten pre-series vehicles, model ÖV 4, were designed and assembled in Stockholm at AB Galco under the supervision of Gustav Larson, at that time still having his other work at AB Galco to attend to. A “design-office”, often called “Volvo’s first design-office”, was established in one room of Gustav Larson’s private apartment at Rådmansgatan 59. The design work started in the autumn of 1924 and a number of engineers were involved, among them engineer Jan G. Smith, that had returned from America in 1924, and later engineer Henry Westerberg. All the invoices related to the project was sent to Assar’s private address at Kungsportsavenyn 32 in Göteborg. In a lot of orders that Gustav Larsson made himself, he referred to Assar Gabrielsson as a “guarantee” that the deliveries would be paid by him personally. These details shows that the Volvo automobile project in the beginning was a true private project, not sponsored by SKF from an economic point of view.

The first prototype car was ready in June 1926. Assar and Gustav took that first car and drove themselves, on bumpy roads, down to SKF in Göteborg to show the SKF-board and now present the final investment plan.

The automobile company AB Volvo is founded

At a board meeting held in Hofors, Sweden on August 10, 1926, SKF decided to use the old subsidiary company Volvo AB, for the automobile project. AB Volvo, that was first registered in 1915 on the initiative of Björn Prytz, was originally set up to be used for a special series of ball bearings for the American market but it was never really used for this purpose. A small series of ball bearings stamped with Volvo was manufactured but it was never introduced on a larger scale. A contract was signed August 12, 1926 between SKF and Assar, stipulating that all ten prototype cars, engineering drawings, calculations etc. should be handed over to Volvo AB and Assar in return would be refunded most of his private investments for the prototype cars. In other words, Assar Gabrielsson sold his project to AB Volvo. The contract was signed by Björn Prytz, managing director of SKF and Assar Gabrielsson. In the original contract from December 16, 1925 Assar stated that he might sell the automobile project to any company that would be interested, but of course hoped that SKF would be the company to stand first in line. Larsson also finally got paid for the initial engineering work with the ÖV4 according to the ‘private’ contract he and Assar had signed the December 16, 1925.

Assar Gabrielsson left his position as sales manager for SKF and was appointed president and managing director for the ‘new’ Volvo AB the January 1, 1927. Gustav Larson was at the same time appointed vice president and technical manager and left his employment at AB Galco in Stockholm.

Read more at Wikipedia