Volvo is one of many automakers that has now outlined plans to go entirely electric — and the new Volvo Concept Recharge gives us a strong hint of what its next-generation battery cars will look like.
The Swedish marque’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge, went on sale earlier this year, looking much in line with the rest of the broader Volvo family. The next BEV, an all-electric version of the flagship XC90, isn’t expected to stray much further. But the Concept Recharge suggests, longer term, Volvo will take better advantage of the flexibility designers will have using a skateboard-like platform where the entire powertrain has been moved below the load floor.
“Our Concept Recharge represents a manifesto for the all-electric future of Volvo Cars, as well as a new type of vehicle,” said Robin Page, head of Design at Volvo Cars. “It displays new and modern proportions that go hand in hand with increased versatility and shows what technology can enable in terms of design.”
The new Volvo Concept falls somewhere between a conventional wagon and SUV, with a more coupe-like roofline than current Volvos. It does pick up on some familiar styling cues, notably the Thor’s Hammer headlights and vertical tail lamps. But a closer look reveals some dramatic changes in the BEV’s design and proportions.
Even the familiar details get updated
For one thing, there’s no conventional grille. With far less need for air when using electric motors, Volvo stylists opted for a relatively flat and sealed front fascia boasting a backlit version of the familiar Volvo “iron mark” logo. Even the headlights add a new, higher-tech dimension, the handle portion opening, much like eyelids, to reveal additional LED elements at night. The taillights, meanwhile, are designed to extend at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics.
With batteries and motors mounted below the load floor, there’s no need for a conventional engine compartment — though some power electronics are still mounted up front. This allowed Volvo designers to stretch the wheelbase and move the larger wheels closer to the concept’s corners.
Since Volvo envisioned the Concept Recharge as a BEV from the start, there are clear benefits for passengers.
The prototype features a shorter front end, the cabin recapturing some space that previously would have been used for an internal combustion engine. And Volvo confirms the cabin will boast flat floors, no surprise since there’s no need for a driveshaft. While it’s highly likely an all-wheel-drive version of a production model would be offered, front and rear axles would feature independent electric motors.
“Less but better”
“Continuing the theme of ‘less but better,’” Volvo said in a statement, “all unnecessary elements have been removed and what remains is treated with a high-precision, flush execution.”
The cabin is framed in by more glass than a typical Volvo wagon or SUV, and the windshield curves into the flowing roof.
The seats have an almost retro-futuristic look, like a Swedish take on the classic Eames chair. The center console floats between the two front seats, with a large storage area beneath. There are virtually no traditional controls, knobs and buttons replaced by a 15-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen.
“Inside the Concept Recharge, we create a truly Scandinavian living room feeling,” Page said. “The interior integrates our latest user experience technology with beautiful, sustainable and natural materials. Each part of the interior is like a piece of art and could stand alone as individual furniture in a room. We use the latest technologies but not for their own sake. We always focus on the benefits that technologies can bring.”
With the exception of the rear “suicide” doors and the extending taillights, most of what Volvo is showing with Concept Recharge could readily be put into production and, based on the company’s statement that may be precisely what it has in mind.
During what Volvo called a “Tech Day” presentation, the automaker also discussed some of the technology that would be used inside a production version of the Concept Recharge. For one thing, the automaker is working up a new operating system, or OS, to replace the existing one. Dubbed VolvoCars OS, it will act as an “umbrella system” to link the various technologies onboard. The new OS will manage two distinctive computer cores, one overseeing vehicle operations, the other focusing on safety systems and ride management.
That includes a more advanced driver assistance system that will let motorists operate hands-free on designated roadways. The system could go beyond what Tesla’s Autopilot and General Motors’ Super Cruise can manage today, no longer requiring motorists to constantly be at the ready to take control.
To make that possible, future products will use LIDAR, as well as other camera- and radar-based sensors. The automaker late last month said it is preparing to make LIDAR a standard feature on future products.
Volvo also has formed a partnership with Northvolt to bring to market a new form of lithium-ion batteries that could deliver as much as 625 miles per charge while also slashing charge times. They’re expected to reach production sometime after mid-decade.