Volvo has a reputation for building the safest cars on the road. Now it will also be known to produce the least possible pollution.
16. In October, the China-owned / Sweden-based car manufacturer unveiled its first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge. Everything about the reveal event was underestimated: the scene was small, the SUV was compact, and the backdrop was a pink so soft that you could almost call it that step. Sure, it was a bit dry and a little EDM when the car was unveiled, but Volvo was less concerned with mise-en-scene and more concerned with the message.
But it was still a car to consider. The XC40 Recharge will not blow away people or hide excited headlines in the same way as the Tesla Model 3 or Porsche Taycan. The least you can say about it is that it looks almost like the petrol-powered XC40, just without a front grille and a tube.
Of course, the real differences are just below the surface. The battery pack, which is tucked into the floor of the car, is encased in a neon orange aluminum case that Volvo calls "a safety cage." Built into the center of the car's body, the safety cage creates a built-in curl zone around the battery. Left it to Volvo to put as much thought into keeping the passengers safe as it does the powertrain.
Interestingly, the battery almost ended up being much weaker, with fewer cells and less capacity, than was eventually determined. According to Henrik Green, Volvo's technology manager, the company's engineers were halfway into the XC40 Recharge's development cycle when something big happened in the EV space that threw them after a loop: the unveiling of the Model 3.
When Volvo learned that the Model 3 would have a range of over 300 miles, and the company's engineers would work to do what they could to increase their own range by upgrading the car's battery. "We decided to go bigger than we originally thought," Green said.
It meant contacting the car manufacturer's battery suppliers, South Korea's LG Chem and CTAL in China, to add modules to the battery to improve performance. If customers wanted electric cars with larger batteries and longer reach, Volvo would have to deliver, he said. "It was not a fun decision," Green added, "to be firm in quality and everything about producing vehicles, making it very late in the program was super-critical."
Here's where things ended: the car's driveline offers a range of over 400 kilometers on a single charge based on Europe's WLTP standard, or 200 plus miles in the United States, although the car manufacturer has not yet received an official EPA rating. It will have a performance of 408 horsepower (or 402 hp in the US), and the battery charges 80 percent of the 40-minute capacity on a fast charger system.
Another crucial decision was to work glove with Google to put the tech giant's Android Automotive software into the car. That meant replacing Volvo's own operating system with Google – something most other car companies have been hesitant to do. Green said one of the motivating factors was making a car with one of the best voice assistants on the market today. "Honestly, function in cars usually sucks today," he said. "It's really not a great experience."
Green predicts that other OEMs will follow suit when they realize the voice assistants they are trying to develop are coming cards from the standard set by Google, Amazon and others working in this room.
"I just came to the conclusion that there is no chance on earth that a car company, with the volume we have, with the power we have, should compete in probably one of the biggest fights in tech today, " he said. "Why should the car industry be up against Amazon and Google and Apple about who is going to build the best assistant in the world? It's crazy."
It wasn't an obvious choice: Volvo is a luxury brand, and Android is close Still, Green calls the collaboration between the two companies "the perfect match."
It may not be an obvious choice, but it certainly has obvious benefits. The original Android Auto infotainment system means the XC40 Recharge can receive software updates So while the car's driver assistance system is not as advanced as Tesla's Autopilot or GM's Super Cruise, it can be better when Volvo develops the right software, and it can simply squeeze out an update to the entire fleet.
The XC40 is not the first vehicle in the Volvo range to get the Android Auto built-in operating system, it will be the Polestar 2 from the car manufacturer's performance sub-brand. similar to Polestar 2. Both cars are slated to be sold in 2020, but the XC40 Recharge is cheaper and higher in volume than Polestar, so it will obviously reach more customers.
The XC40 is just the first in what will eventually be a whole series of electric cars. And Volvo takes a more holistic view by promising to reduce its own carbon footprint by 40 percent by 2025. The company has big goals, and it all starts with this compact SUV. It is a modest start to a very transformative effort.
Photography by Andrew J. Hawkins / The Verge