Monday 5 December 2016

Now arriving on Platform CMA: Volvo's fast track to the future with the XC40 and V40

First look in Gothenburg: Volvo 40.1, 40.2 concepts

Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30

Volvo concepts
Volvo concepts
Volvo concept

The future is always bright at car launches. They evoke a world of picture-postcard suburbia, happy families and cars that look so, so 'different'.

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Thankfully Volvo just stuck to the 'different' at the unveiling of their two concept cars which, by the time they arrive here will be called the V40 and XC40.

Expect the XC40 sometime in 2018 and the hatchback - which is surprisingly good to look at - will be after that. There will be other variants of course.

The two concepts we were shown in Gothenburg are the first built on the company's new CMA platform which is smaller than the one (SPA) that underpins the XC90, S90, V90 etc. The SPA will also be the basis for the new 60 range from next year.

Essentially CMA will be the bedrock for the 40 series and anything smaller - or larger - up to 60 series size.

The two new concepts will survive with relatively few changes in the ultimate production model, I think. Certainly the 'wing mirrors' won't survive. But, Peter Mertens, the company's senior VP research and development, told us that as it goes on sale next year (probably 2018 here) they haven't the time to do much overhauling. "We're going to launch it quite close to what the production cars will look like."

The SUV looks typically crossover, tall-ish, sleek and smart. While we didn't really get a look inside, it appeared roomy and we were promised lots of connectivity and infotainment as well as tranches of trickle-down stuff from the XC90 for the new '40' series.

The elements will include semi-autonomous driving Pilot Assist, adaptive cruise control, cyclist detection, City Safety, pedestrian detection, etc, as standard.

Funny enough I thought the hatchback was the more eye-catching of the two. It's hard to make a hatch look different; this does and I hope they keep the rear especially.

How they will bring a lot of new technology - from safety, infotainment and drive-train - to the compact premium sector, as it is called, is central.

The plan is to have petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and electric power sources all on tap from this one platform. For example, there will be a new 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol engine in addition to the current 2-litre petrols and diesels.

Watch out for that 1.5-litre; it's going to cover a lot of ground from the 180bhp mark downwards and will be in the next XC60 too.

It will also be central to the new twin-engine plug-in hybrid '40' with the powerplant and 7spd automatic box all on the front axle. It's a compact set-up and fascinating in that the system will be also able to drive the electric element in second, fourth and sixth gears.

The combined output will crank up 250bhp, with emissions lower than diesels. And the full-electric will have a 350km range.

They predict that by 2025 they will have sold one million electric cars as they push to have a higher percentage of such sale than any competitors.

Yes, this was all about the future alright - near and far. Hard to believe that in four years' time the XC90, only here last year, will be the oldest car they have.

Will they go below the '40 series' in size? Not straight-away but yes, Dr Mertens, gave every indication there will be a smaller Volvo.

There is a longer-term future too. The one of alternative fuels (hydrogen) and more widespread use of electric cars.

He and other senior executives see their platforms and power sources taking the company through the transition from diesel/petrol to cars with different power sources. He sees electric car use increasing gradually; the infrastructure isn't there in many countries and range anxiety is a factor. But in five years or so it could still "take off" even though he doesn't expect a revolution on battery technology for longer than that. "It's not going to give us 1,000km range."

Mr Mertens took a serious side-swipe at rivals too, claiming they have "thousands" of people "keeping old engines alive" to meet ever-tightening regulations.

I listened closely to the way words were used. There has been a real shift in perspective. On connectivity for example: "The car is no longer about transportation". Now, they say: "It's a life-support system".

And Millennials are the new kings of the road. These are a core target group, undoubtedly.

Their needs and demands are much different than previous generations, we were told. They are the "new trend-setters". They are different than their parents; they don't want the same thing as mum and dad.

They are demanding; they want performance and power but not high emissions; they want connectivity but not technology for the sake of it. And they don't want cheaper version of their parents' car.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see how they, especially, react and respond to the new Volvos.

But the rest of us get to have a big say too. Let's not forget that.

Indo Motoring

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