Volvo 40 concepts 6

Electrification is set to be a big part of Volvo’s future. During the reveal of the 40.1 and 40.2 concepts at the Volvo Design Studio in Gothenburg, Sweden, was invited to be part of a roundtable discussion with Dr. Peter Mertens, senior vice president, Research and Development at Volvo to hear his thoughts on the matter.

Considering the upcoming 40 Series cars will be aimed at the more youthful customer, Mertens was asked if this target market would understand electrification, or if Volvo is merely “checking the box” when it comes to preparing its new platforms including the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) and Scalable Product Architecture (SPA).

“No, I don’t think it is a check in the box. They are very much interested in sustainability, in taking care, and not being the generation that destroys everything. So the awareness is pretty much there and they are very much technology-familiar. So, they love technology and with electrification, it is a technology statement, it is a sustainable statement.

“One of the answers to that question is obviously, and since Mr Musk (CEO of Tesla) sold 350,000 Model 3s in 24 hours, things are changing and have changed. That is proof also that electrification is something that becomes more of a normal offering. I don’t want to say commodity, but something which people consider much, much more than they did five years ago,” he remarked.

However, Mertens believes that there are more important topics in relation to electrification beyond just range. A big area of concern is whether the infrastructure will be ready in time for electric vehicles.

“In many European countries, the answer is yes. In North America, the answer is yes. In developing markets like China, India, Brazil, South America and Asia, it’s not always available and it’s very difficult. Living in an (apartment) block, a house with 20 stories or something like that, you can’t roll a cable out of the window to plug in your car. So that is one of the key things that must be fixed in a couple of years to have that globally roll out,” explained Mertens.

Speaking more about its cars, a plug-in hybrid version of the upcoming XC40 is to be expected as well. When asked on the possibility of such a model, Mertens replied, “you know us, don’t you? You know that we start with something, and do a bit more, and etc.”

The topic then shifted to whether Volvo will experience difficulty in selling a hybrid or electric vehicle that is based on a regular vehicle. It was pointed out that some customers might take offence to an electric vehicle that is also capable of accommodating a traditional combustion engine. Could a dedicated model like Nissan’s Leaf be a more viable option with Volvo’s battery electric vehicle (BEV)?

“I think it’s the opposite, frankly speaking. And I always ask myself the question, “why the hell do electric vehicles have to be ugly? I don’t see any reason in that and we said from the beginning, it doesn’t matter if you have a combustion engine, plug-in hybrid or battery electric, you’ll have a beautiful Volvo with all the safety features, with all the comfort, and all the ingredients that Volvo have to offer and not somebody yelling at you, “I’m different, I’m different, I’m electric.”

“Who likes that? Give me one car that is successful and makes money. It’s the Tesla because it is a beautiful looking, good-looking car and all the others aren’t,” he added. He went on to say that they (Volvo) “believe that we shouldn’t make electric vehicles look odd,” and that they wouldn’t make “electric vehicles so specific that you can’t afford them at the end.”

“We don’t have to build a new plant, or something fancy around it, it’s just a powertrain you order and I believe that’s what people will really want to and at the end. If they only order electric, we can throw away our combustion engines, but that will probably take some years,” Mertens explained.

Finally, the discussion centered on what to expect from Volvo’s electric vehicles. During the reveal of both its concepts, Volvo displayed a battery electric concept of its CMA platform along with its T5 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid. A vehicle based on the EV platform is said to have a range of 300 km. Meanwhile, a larger SPA EV is claimed to have a range of 500 km or more, with a large 100 kWh battery pack possibly fitted.

GALLERY: Volvo 40.1 and 40.2 concepts