Volvo is planning to plug into battery-electric technology in a big way, the automaker on Wednesday revealing its first-ever all-electric vehicle, a version of its XC40 crossover, while also announcing it will become part of a new brand-within-a-brand dubbed Recharge.
All told, the XC40 Recharge and the various Volvo plug-in hybrid models are expected to generate about 20% of the brand’s global sales and grow from there, officials said during a news conference. But that will be just part of a broader target on addressing climate change that, the company said, aims to reduce its fleet tailpipe emissions 50% by 2025 and make the company “carbon neutral” by 2040.
“We have changed the very structure of our company” to address the challenges of sustainability, Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson declared, adding, “We will make sustainability part of our company purpose,” as much as safety has been until now.
The XC40 Recharge looks much like the existing version of the crossover – which currently is offered with a mix of powertrain options including the brand’s plug-in hybrid “twin engine.” But instead of a fuel filler door, the first giveaway is a charging port.
Specifics are sparse, for now, including details on the two motors, on each axle, driving the XC40 Recharge. But they combine to produce 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque, enough to launch the compact CUV from 0 to 100 kmh (102 mph) in 4.9 seconds. To put that into perspective, that’s about 0.8 seconds slower than the Jaguar I-Pace making 394 hp and 512 lb-ft of torque.
The motors draw energy from a 78 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. That is expected to deliver about 400 kilometers of range, or 250 miles, according to Volvo. But that reflects the European test process and will likely be less in the U.S. using the more strict EPA test.
Most of the drivetrain, including motors, batteries and some electronics, is mounted below the floor. The XC40 Recharge shares the same platform as the standard version of the crossover which was intentionally designed to use a wide range of different powertrains.
The 400-volt pack can tap into the latest generation of Level 3 quick chargers, Volvo officials noted, going from a 5% state-of-charge – the equivalent of a gas tank running on fumes – to 80% in about 40 minutes.
The electric driveline, however, is just one of the areas that Volvo has updated the Recharge version of the XC40, said Chief Technology Officer Henrik Green, pointing to a new infotainment system that he claimed “will deliver an experience as good as your smartphone.”
The system will continue to use the large, vertically oriented touchscreen found in the current XC40, but Volvo has worked with Google to develop a much more capable system that integrates the same Google Assistant voice technology found in Android phones. A motorist can speak plain-language commands to operate the crossover’s climate control and navigation systems, for example, and to do things like accessing the Internet or send texts.
The system will make use of over-the-air updates, much like today’s smartphones – and Tesla vehicles, said Green, which “allows us to add new features and functions” in the future. Those features will also better integrate the XC40’s infotainment system with a motorist’s home, he said.
The launch of the Recharge brand, which coincides with the debut of the all-electric XC40 will see Volvo provide customers who order any PHEV or BEV model from today forward a full year of free charging.
Samuelsson and other officials acknowledged that demand for battery-based vehicles is modest right now, but forecast demand will rise sharply over the coming decade. While some experts see plug-in hybrids as nothing more than a bridge technology, Green said it is helping get motorists comfortable with the idea of driving on electricity. He noted that company data finds Volvo owners with twin-engine models clock 70% of their time on the road – and about 41% of the miles they drive – operating in the “Pure” battery mode.
Volvo is forecasting that by 2025, a full 50% of its sales will be made up by all-electric models like the XC40 Recharge and others to follow. Adding in PHEV models, that would mean a sizable majority of its sales will be made up of plug-based vehicles.
Along with its plans for the XC40 and other battery-cars, Volvo announced Wednesday a broad climate change plan that will see it migrate more and more to renewable energy sources for its plants. It will also consider a supplier’s commitment to sustainability when buying parts and services, Samuelsson said. One of the company’s battery suppliers has already begun using cobalt derived from recycled consumer batteries, Volvo announced.
Noting the growing concern about the role of transportation – automobiles in particular – to climate change, the company CEO cautioned that, “We should be very careful in restricting the freedom of people to move – but it should be sustainable.”
While there has been some pushback on the issue of global warming, especially in the U.S. where President Donald Trump is perhaps the most prominent climate change denier, Samuelsson told his audience that, “Climate change is … a real threat to our future,” but while he added that government help is needed, especially in setting up charging networks, “We believe the answer must really be action from the business community that can make a difference.”