When Volvo drew a line in the sand announcing every new Volvo from 2030 would be Electric it was a hugely defining moment for the brand, the company and the automotive industry. This week, EFTM sat down (virtually) with some of Volvo’s key staff as they drove around in the all-new and all-electric Volvo C40.
It’s a very unique idea, interview company executives over a video conference, but not while they sit in a corporate boardroom – no, they’ll be on the other side of the world driving around in the very car that will re-invent the business.
My Chat was with Alexander Petrofski, Volvo Cars’ head of product strategy and Anna Arasa Gaspar, UX design manager, Infotainment.
Volvo Going Carbon Neutral
I started off by asking Alex about this defining moment in Volvo’s history. A company founded in 1927 on the basis of Safety, now re-defining itself as a Carbon Neutral Electric Car company
“Absolutely, this is not just a message we’re pushing through comms, this is going through the entire company. It’s safe to say this is a car showing the Future of Volvo. Electiric only, it’s more than practical, and its online only.”
The term Online only refers to the way we’ll buy a Volvo car in this new era. Taking the Tesla inspired model of buying direct online, one price for all no matter where you are. For Volvo, it’s about simplicity says Anna Arasa Gaspar “Right now when you go to buy a car, it has to be really simple, and provide what the user wants. We will make it really simple, not that many options available, so the experience wont be overwhelming”
But fear not, the dealerships of today will be come the “retailers” of the future – where you can, as Anna tells us “test the car as well, drive it, use it, then buy online”
“from the comfort of your home, and with everything really clear in front of you, you can make your own decisions”
A new car on subscription
But buying online is just the start. The company is launching all new payment options too. While not formally announced for Australia, it seems clear Volvo see this as a global opportunity.
Alexander Petrofski explains “what we try to also offer is the flexible payment methods, which may be an open ended subscription which may be cancelled within 3 months, or it could be a 36 month subscription more comparable to a lease, or it might be an outright purchase.. We’ve spent a lot of effort in trying to simplify the journey“
While the idea of a subscription might seem daunting, Petrofski offers that “people know how much money they have to spend each month, and this caters for that reality. We see a definite increase in subscription, and an interest in markets where we have not yet launched it“
The price gap between Electric and Traditional ICE cars
However, as we’ve said here on these pages many a time, the biggest issue with EV cars today is the gap in price between an EV car and its direct petrol or diesel (ICE) equivalent. Petrofski agreed “Right now, i fully agree there is a price premium to go fully electric. And that price premium is bridged partly by incentives in certain countries”
“One way of explaining to consumers in terms of comparing the price tag, the difference might seem great, but depending on your electricity prices the difference shrinks”
For Volvo though, it seems clear price is front of mind, with Petrofski confirming that “by 2030 we are absolutely confident we can price a fully electric car on par with a corresponding ice model (if there was one) and still make that sale profitable for Volvo – we will be on cost parity by that time frame”
Google Android underpinning everything
It’s not just the going electric that shows how committed Volvo are to this shift in the company’s approach. Out goes their OEM infotainment and software systems, in comes Google Android.
Anna Arasa Gaspar explains this is to create a familiar experience for the user who is “used to having their phone. we wanted our users to have a system that is safer to use while driving, and the would want to use it.
You will be able to get “maps and other media applications from the play store” “and in future releases there will be more applications coming to the play store…enabling more apps to come in the future – not specifically designed for a car brand by for all car brands“
Perhaps critically, I asked a simple question – can I use Apple CarPlay in a car which is powered by Google Android software? Arasa Gaspar says “yes, you will be able to have apple car play.“
“I’m not able to say if that will be available at the release date of the C40, or if it will come in an over the air update, but it will be possible“
The bottom line though – “it doesn’t matter if you an apple user or an android user, its just that you are able to download apps from the Play Store.”
Over the air updates
Another area of the modern car market pioneered by Tesla is the over the air update. Software changes that are downloaded by your car when it’s sitting in your driveway. Anna tells us “our aim is that the car is not the best when it comes out fo the factory, that it becomes better over the years…“
But it’s not just about new maps or apps – “so we will add functionality, update the user experience, upgrade the functionality of batteries, so its not just the interfaces you see, but the functionality of the car..“
Alexander Petrofski explained the difference for Volvo is that “many other brands have provided updates of maps etc, but with the c40 we can reach every single ECU in the car and update the software in those..” “we can add a feature improving the range, we can add an infotainment feature“
You can view my full chat with Alex and Anna below: