18 Dec 18

10 strategic questions to Volvo on EV, AV and connected car

Last week, Fleet Europe went to Gothenburg armed with 10 questions about electrification, autonomous driving and connectivity. This is what we came back with: a set of politically correct, official answers and a few of our own thoughts based on what we gathered outside the HQ’s gates. 

Q1: Today, there are only PHEVs in your line-up. How far is Volvo Cars in achieving its goal of total electrification, including mild hybrids and full electric cars?
Official answer: “Volvo does not share information on the powertrain split. The first mild hybrid will be launched in 2019, after which the technology will be rolled out across the range. The first fully electric Volvo will be the XC40.”
What we think: Like any other OEM, Volvo will have to step up its game to dive below the mandatory 95 g/km limit by 2021. The first mild hybrid will probably be the XC40 next year because the technically related Geely Bo Rui already features this technology in China. It will also come with a 1.5 three-cylinder mated to a pluggable battery next year, followed by an all-electric version.

Q2: Will Volvo be joining the Ionity DC fast charger network to offer a ‘Tesla-worthy’ solution?
Official answer: “No comment.”
What we think: In April 2018, media reported that Ionity was negotiating with new OEMs, such as Volvo, PSA, JLR and even Tesla to join the project. It would make perfect sense for Volvo to do so when the all-electric Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 launch next year.

Q3: Will Volvo go as far as Tesla and Nissan in terms of bi-directional charging, domestic batteries, solar panels, …?
Official answer: “Our focus is on the roll-out of electrified cars. We do not go into further detail at this time.”
What we think: Mass electrification goes hand in hand with the set-up of an ecosystem in which EVs are connected to a smart grid, domestic batteries and preferrably solar panels. Today, Nissan and Tesla are the only OEMs that are ready for this next step, leveraging years of experience. Volvo isn’t there yet.

Q4: Volvo has announced it will be working with Ericsson for the Connected Vehicle Cloud. What does this entail?
Official answer: “The deal with Ericsson is for the continuation of the development and supply of one of the existing base platforms (infrastructure) used for some of Volvo’s cloud services.”
What we think: The cloud will enable Volvo to provide customers with automation, fleet management, telematics, navigation and infotainment. As long as the 5G network isn’t there, the possibilities of the connected car are limited. Volvo is currently hiring telematics specialists.

Q5. What is Volvo’s opinion on open data sharing? Are you prepared to cooperate with other OEMs and telematics companies?
Official answer: “Volvo Cars believes that the more vehicles we have sharing safety data in real time, the safer our roads become, therefore we call for the governments and car makers to join hands in sharing traffic data in order to improve global traffic safety.”
What we think:  Volvo – logically – focuses on traffic data to the benefit of safety. Data is much more than safety. OEMs should work together with specialist telematics companies and each other to decrease the number of miles driven, the amount of resources wasted and the quantity of time lost. The latter is one of Volvo’s mottos, incidentally: it wants to give back time to people.

Q6: Google Android: Volvo will be integrating Maps, Assistant and Play Store in the next-gen Sensus. When can we expect this?
Official answer: “The first model in the Volvo Car Group with an infotainment system based on Android will be the Polestar 2, to be launched next year and later followed by other cars on our CMA platform.”
What we think: The current Sensus generation is ok, but does not really compare to the latest systems deployed by BMW and Audi in terms of user-friendliness, map graphics and speed. Time to step up your game, Volvo.

Q7: Your CEO stated that “making money off driver data is the wrong approach.” Will Volvo not share personal driver data with Google or Amazon?
Official answer: “Volvo Cars believes that it should focus on making the cars attractive to its consumers through new ownership models, new services and autonomy. Any customer data-sharing will be opt-in.”
What we think: This opt-in will probably also apply to other OEMs, by law – at least in Europe. Nonetheless, we applaud Mr Samuelsson’s ethical and customer-oriented approach.  

Q8: Talking about the use of apps in the car: what does Volvo do to make it safe?
Official answer: “Designing interactive apps for cars is fundamentally different than designing for handheld devices. App content and interactions should complement the driving experience while minimizing driver distraction.”
What we think: Safety-focused OEMS like Volvo could do more to minimise distraction – for instance by integrating Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Natural language voice control, as featured by the latest Mercedes and Audi models, should entirely do away with the need or desire to move your hands to the touch screen and your eyes off the road.   

Q9: What are the major challenges in Europe for autonomous driving? When will you be ready?
Official answer: “Overall, the challenges are the same across the globe – the need for development of technology, the need for changed legislation and the need for public acceptance. Volvo Cars intends to introduce a car capable of unsupervised autonomous driving in the early 2020s.”
What we think: This autonomous car will probably be launched in China or the USA first and only be able to drive itself in relatively controlled areas, such as motorways. In other words, it will be level 3. The step towards level 4 and 5 will be a difficult one.

Q10: In China, Volvo wants to enter the robo-taxi market. Will Europe be next?
Official answer: “One of our aims is to be the supplier of choice for ride-hailing companies. We have deals with Uber and Baidu today. Others may come in future.”
What we think: Good old conservative Europe will make things very complicated for robo-taxis. The EU member states will have endless discussions on robo-taxi legislation and accountability, whereas the public – including employers – will be difficult to convince of the fail-proofness of it all.

Of course, chances are we will look back on this article 5 years from now and be amazed at the naivity of our assumptions.


Authored by: Dieter Quartier