Volvo is finally ready to introduce its first series-produced electric car after spending years testing and developing the technology. The EV will be based on the existing XC40, so it won’t be a stand-alone model. It’s scheduled to make its debut in October 2019, and the company released preliminary specifications to give us an idea of what to expect from it. We know it will be the company’s first car equipped with an Android-powered infotainment system developed jointly with Google.
Starting with an existing platform has pros and cons. The regular, gasoline-powered XC40 is already one of the safest cars in its category thanks in part to its internal combustion engine. It’s mounted right in front of the car, so it absorbs energy during a front-end crash. The battery-powered model evidently doesn’t have a four-cylinder crumple zone, so Volvo completely redesigned the front structure to achieve the high level of safety its customers expect.
Adding a huge, lithium-ion battery pack under the passenger compartment presents a challenge from a safety perspective, too. Like a fuel tank, the pack needs to be protected from impacts because it’s flammable. Volvo explained it welded an aluminum safety cage around the battery to absorb energy during a crash, and to ensure the battery pack doesn’t get punctured or otherwise damaged. As a bonus, stuffing the battery pack — which is one of the heaviest parts of the car — under the passenger compartment lowers the center of gravity, and reduces the likelihood of a rollover.
Welding more metal around key components isn’t enough to make a car safe. Protecting the occupants also requires a huge amount of hardware and software, so the electric XC40 will inaugurate an advanced driver assistance systems platform developed jointly by Volvo and Zenuity. It relies on an armada of radars, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors to scope out the road ahead, warn the driver if it detects a dangerous situation, and do its best to avoid it if possible. The platform is scalable, according to Volvo, and it will be upgraded with more features as technology progresses.
Volvo affectionately described the gasoline-powered XC40 as a tough little robot. Sketches confirm the electric model stands out with a body-colored insert in the space normally occupied by the grille, and a redesigned rear bumper without holes for the exhaust tips. The Swedish company also designed 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels specifically for the electric XC40.
Inside, drivers face an electric-specific version of the XC40’s digital instrument cluster. It displays key information, like the drivetrain’s status. Carpets made with recycled materials reflect Volvo’s commitment to reducing the amount of plastic floating around the planet’s oceans. The Android-powered infotainment system — an industry first for a production car — features Google Assistant, Google Maps, and Google Play Store. Volvo explained it has spent the past few years developing the software jointly with the California-based tech giant. The XC40 will be able to receive over-the-air software updates, and it will obey to commands spoken through smartphone devices.
Volvo pledged to release additional information about the battery-powered XC40 in the coming weeks, so we’ll soon find out what kind of technology it’s packed with. The car is scheduled to make its debut on October 16, and it will go on sale shortly after. Pricing information and American availability will be announced in the weeks leading up to its on-sale date.
Updated on October 9, 2019: Added information about the infotainment system.