Electric cars are here, and more are on the way—a reality that has ignited a level of competitiveness in the auto industry that hasn’t been seen in decades. Some manufacturers want to maximize total range, while others want to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of their gleaming new electric powertrains. Then there’s Volvo, which has chosen to focus on the general comfort component of driving and is aiming to create an experience that makes you feel like you’re still in your living room when you’re in the car.
The Swedish manufacturer staged a live presentation in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 30 to show off its next engineering marvels. Volvo used the opportunity, dubbed its first-ever “Tech Moment,” to demonstrate how its design principles and safety focus would affect new automobiles.
In the United States, Volvo only has one fully electric vehicle on the road: the XC40 Recharge. It will also soon add the C40 Recharge crossover to its lineup. Meanwhile, Polestar, Volvo’s spin-off brand, provides the Polestar 2, a premium sedan built on the same common Compact Modular Architecture as the XC40. (Hybrids, on the other hand, are a different story.) Volvo has a total of seven plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market, bridging the gap between gasoline and pure electric vehicles.)
Volvo created a vehicle called the “Concept Recharge” to showcase its latest technology in one spot, calling it a “manifesto for the future generation of all-electric Volvos.”
Its sleek and contemporary SUV-sized body is purposefully minimalistic, with big sections of curved metal, intelligently creased corners, and sparse body lines to break up the monotony. For best visibility on the road without sacrificing range, a high seating position with a sloping hood and the contoured roof was chosen.
While observers can spend the entire day admiring the SUV’s elegant design (and those wonderful “Thor’s Hammer” headlights—yes, Volvo calls them that—the true magic begins with the new electric motor.
Volvo’s planned second-generation EV platform rethinks how the company creates electric cars from the ground up, starting with the design of its battery packs. When compared to current battery technology, overall energy density is enhanced by up to 50%, allowing for much more range per charge and practically halving the amount of time spent plugged in.
The revamped pack also allowed engineers to lengthen the vehicle’s wheelbase, reduce overhang past the front and rear wheels, and flatten its floors, implying that the new motor is largely to blame for the Concept Recharge’s ultra-spacious interior’s sheer utility.
Volvo has previously committed to being an all-electric brand prior to the Tech Moment announcement. Thanks to a recent partnership with Swedish battery producer Northvolt, the automaker claims that its whole fleet will be electrified by 2030.
The futuristic Volvo cockpit is described as a “Scandinavian living room.” Minimalistic design features may make it feel like you’re sitting inside an Ikea on wheels, but the ultimate purpose is to embrace a sense of serenity while on the move—as if you’ve never left your house.
The interior’s minimalist appearance is also intended to encourage distraction-free driving. The driver’s attention is drawn to the road by flowing lines and intuitive controls. Even the infotainment system and new digital gauge cluster layouts follow the same intuitive principle, delivering a setting that concentrates on what the driver needs to view at any given moment: navigation, surrounding traffic, recently used functions, and more.
The addition of “unsupervised driving,” as Volvo calls it, will heighten the feeling of being in a living room.
Volvo has always placed a premium on safety. In truth, the three-point seat belt was designed by Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959, and it was such a significant development in vehicle safety that Volvo opened the patent for any carmaker to use in its vehicles. Volvo’s lodestar is still safe, but instead of employing seatbelts and airbags to prevent fatalities, the company’s focus has switched to leveraging technology as a tool in the pursuit of an accident-free future.
Volvo claims that future vehicles will be able to use a roof-mounted Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) unit in conjunction with the vehicle’s suite of data-gathering sensors to provide partial automation that goes beyond the typical lane-centering and other cruise-control-type features found in most modern vehicles today. Engineers at the carmaker claim that, in the future, drivers will be able to take their hands and eyes off the wheel, allowing the car to drive itself—under specific conditions, of course. Volvo claims it will roll out this capability gradually, starting with a small number of highways approved by the team developing the technology.
Other automakers have made similar commitments, it’s worth mentioning. Tesla is likely the most well-known of the lot, with its promise of Full Self-Driving in the future, albeit their approach is controversial in that it relies on vision-based autonomy rather than other sensors like LiDAR. In any case, don’t expect any new car to drive itself down the highway anytime soon.
Volvo intends to progressively roll out some of its new features over the course of the decade, starting with the inclusion of its autonomy hardware suite in the next Volvo XC90 flagship SUV in 2022. It’s anyone’s guess how much of its future vision will make it into production.
For example, the XC90’s LiDAR technology will be standard on all of Volvo’s future vehicles, but that doesn’t guarantee that unsupervised driving will be quick, painless, or even without hiccups. Furthermore, considering Volvo’s devotion to safety, many other design elements of the concept (such as the center-opening coach doors, which have been dubbed “suicide doors” in the past) feel like a fever dream at best.
Nonetheless, Volvo has always been an automaker that pushes the boundaries of design, particularly within the vehicle. The corporation is particularly proud of its long design history, and it has pledged to entirely overhaul the cabin’s user experience.
While each car’s design will most likely be unique and suited to its owners, it’s evident that Volvo wants to make driving as enjoyable as sitting in your favorite recliner and watching a movie—and who knows, maybe you will when unsupervised driving is accessible.