Volvo electric plans: 'our EVs will be our best cars ever'

Published: 17 November 2020

 Volvo opens new battery factory
 Cell assembly at Ghent plant
 Will provide batteries for XC40

Volvo’s CEO and tech chief say the XC40 P8 is just the start of a wave of electric cars that will be not just different but better than the combustion-engined cars they will ease out of the range.

Committed to a new pure electric car every year for five years, and increased hybridisation across the rest of the range, Volvo’s top brass believe battery-electric vehicles can embody the company’s core values better than ever.

Chief executive Hakan Samuelsson, who had been driving the new XC40 EV for a month before anyone else could get near one, told CAR: ‘If you can charge, I think an absolute majority of our customers will really appreciate the benefits of electric cars. I’m one of them. I can charge here at work, I can charge in my garage at home, and when I do a long trip at the weekend, I now learn where to fast charge and it’s really no problem, takes me 30 minutes. For me an electric car is the perfect solution. I will never go back to anything else.’

Samuelsson has no doubts that Volvo has backed the right horse: ‘I feel quite confident, and definitely more confident than I would feel if we had taken another strategy – for example neglecting electric cars and staying with petrols or hybrids.’

He added: ‘In the last year we came to the conclusion that no, this is not just another powertrain choice for our premium cars – this is the start of a new all-electric premium segment. This is our first car in the world’s premium segment. The premium segment will be all-electric. We have ambitions of course to be a really big player in the electric premium segment, and there’s still a job to do for us in the next 10 years.’

R&D chief Henrik Green shares the CEO’s vision: ‘Our pure electric vehicles will be a better experience than non-pure electric vehicles. We are not trying to stand out as the most lightweight, super-energised, racetrack kind of vehicle. We come from personal safety, sustainability – it’s going to be very comfortable and pleasurable but not race-orientated to drive.

‘The role that the car plays in society is much more interesting and challenging and inspiring work than doing 300kph on the Nürburgring – which is a different challenge, and I respect that fully for those people who work with that. But for me and what we do it’s much more interesting to see how can we make the planet sustainable, how can we keep people safe. I mean, millions die in vehicles. How can we be part of reducing that or eliminating that? We are for people who use their cars in the daily commute. How do you get back and forth to work in a pleasurable experience? Your Spotify list works how it’s meant to work, it plays what you want to hear. It navigates to where you need to charge your car. That’s much more the challenge that we focus on.’

XC40 plug in

The switch of focus within Volvo had been stark and swift. ‘As an organisation and as a team we have really transformed ourselves, aiming now fully into pure electric. We have had a very good process of re-training people from combustion engine development and adjacent development of vehicles based on combustion engine technology into working with pure electric vehicles. It’s not a journey for all, but I’m very happy and pleased with the fact that so many have chosen to take that journey with us.’

Some aspects of his job have changed more than others: ‘If you go into pure electric propulsion systems and you talk about range, you talk about charging speed etc, it’s very traditional automotive attributes. It’s physics, it’s mechanics, it’s electricity, power, efficiency, so it’s very easy to get the same engineers to start chasing new boundaries.

‘It’s been a more difficult transition if we, for instance, talk about Android. We brought Android into the vehicle instead of making our own navigation system and our own speech, and dealing with a partner, that creates psychology-wise an even bigger transformation for us as a team.’ But worth it? ‘I love it.’

Why Volvo is building a battery factory in Europe

Volvo has opened a new battery factory in Belgium to power its first full electric car - the XC40 Recharge P8.

It's an important step for the Swedes, who are about to ramp up their electrification strategy; expect a new electric Volvo to be launched every year between now and 2025. Gothenburg's goal is to have half of all new car sales to be fully electric cars by mid-decade, a pretty punchy target.

Volvo has built cars in Belgium for 55 years, and its smallest car - the XC40 - is built there. Around 6500 staff are employed at the factory, which will be the main source of all Volvos based on the global CMA platform (which will also underpin future Polestar and Lynk & Co products).

The first Volvo electric car: XC40 Recharge

It is collaborating with two battery specialists on its electrification strategy: CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, who provide the technical know-how.

The XC40 Recharge P8 model (above) is the first to premiere the Swedes' new electric car badge. All electric Volvo cars in future will carry the Recharge name.

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet