Watching a Swede lose his temper is as rare as seeing tornados made of fire. It happens every hundred years or so.
In order for either to occur a rare set of circumstances must be met. Fire tornados need special fuel, a high-pressure front and wind. I don't really know what sets a Swede off but I feel lucky that I actually saw it happen.
I was in Portland, Ore., with Volvo to sample the new S60. We had been waiting for its official release after seeing a passing glimpse at an auto show some months back.
Like all Volvos, the S60 is a paragon of safety and features the latest in "smart car" technology. The S60 has something like an actual brain and recognizes objects on the road. If you're not paying attention, don't worry. The S60 is. It's able to track multiple objects and plot their trajectories. If a collision appears imminent, the S60 will send both visual and audio signals to the driver. If that doesn't work, it'll stop itself. That it puts out 300 hp in a balanced AWD chassis is simply a bonus.
We spent the day driving along the Colombia river and ended up at an impressive new racetrack smack dab in the middle of nowhere. That Volvo brought us here speaks volumes of their faith in the S60. And yes, it was every bit as good as promised.
That night a typical Q&A session took place with Volvo designers, engineers and management. While a few were interested in Volvo's recent sale to Geely, most wanted to know more about the S60. It was pretty typical stuff: how fast, how heavy, what colors, which mechanics. It was going fine until some guy asked about the Pedestrian Detection (PD) system. He was miffed that the Volvo would not brake for rabbits and squirrels. Volvo reiterated its goals for PD and while the system could be programmed for such tasks, Volvo's primary concern was for human life.
"If Pedestrian Detection saves one person the entire program is justified," said senior safety advisor Tomas Broberg. "There are times when it's simply too dangerous to try and avoid collisions with animals."
This statement really set the journalist off. He grilled Volvo on its "appalling" lack of environmental sensitivity, everything from its recycling policies to its lack of "green initiative." Volvo PR stepped in and neatly defused the situation with the company's impressive green resumé. They didn't even mention the EEV, Volvo's S80-based hybrid from more than a decade ago.
But no, this journo was convinced Volvos were the automotive equivalent of Viking berserkers.
"Well, what about if you're driving through a crowd? Will PD not let you proceed forward? Will the car just stop until everyone's gone?'"
The Volvo designers looked at each other, shrugged and laid it out.
"If you are determined to drive over people, the S60 will not stop you. The system is entirely passive and can be overridden by the driver. Yes, you can run people over in the S60, but we hope our cars are not used in such ways."
"Well what about animals? Can I run over animals without PD intruding?"
I saw a collective snap in the Swedes faces, like someone clawing a chalkboard with long, dirty fingernails.
"Pedestrian Detection is designed to protect humans. This ends now!"
A few of us were about ready to hold this guy down for a good old-fashioned beat-down. Of course, we'd let the Swedes have the first few kicks. They deserved the courtesy.
Five seconds later, the Swedes had entirely collected themselves. I'm sure we're safe for the next hundred years.