Volvo’s C40 Recharge is an electric car that’s weirdly stuck in the past
Volvo has a new, pure electric car – the C40 Recharge. This we applaud. The time of the internal combustion engine is nearing its end, thankfully, and now all the major manufacturers, along with the majority of minor ones, are investing heavily to bring multiple EVs to market as quickly as is prudent. The question for Volvo then is why make this one?
Although well designed, attractive even, as all modern Volvos are, the new C40 Recharge is basically the successful XC40 Recharge but with a different rear end. Built on the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) EV platform it shares with Geely sister brands Lynk & Co and Polestar, Volvo says the C40 Recharge “has all the benefits of an SUV but with a lower and sleeker design”. This is precisely because it is the company’s mini SUV with a lower, sleeker roof line.
While nearly all the rest of the car remains an electric XC40, the rear of the C40 Recharge has been sculpted to go with the lower roof line, while the only other significant alteration is an adapted new front face for electric Volvos that includes headlights with pixel-technology that can dynamically block out oncoming vehicles while maintaining full beam.
When we reviewed the XC40 Recharge we noted that it had the same battery, same motors and thus same specs as the Polestar 2 because they were built on exactly the same architecture. And it’s the same here, too – so it’s practically guaranteed that the specs will be as near as possible to the XC40 Recharge’s 300kW max output motor both front and rear, 400km (WLTP) range, 408hp and standstill to 60mph in a nippy 4.7 seconds. If you can find a fast-charger system, you can refill the 78kWh battery to 80 per cent in 40 minutes – otherwise it’s eight hours on 11kW AC.
Again, like with the XC40 Recharge, the C40 Recharge has the Android-based infotainment system Volvo jointly developed with Google. So you get Google Assistant, Google Maps and all the rest of it built-in.
The difference this time is that the XC40 Recharge and Polestar 2 felt and looked like different cars, despite sharing the same architecture. There was a reason to choose between the two. Here the differences between the XC40 Recharge and C40 Recharge and basically an altered profile, and less headroom in the back. With so much choice already in the market, let alone what will be launching this year, it is unclear at who exactly this new EV is aimed.
With VW alone planning 70 new fully electric models by 2028, how long will such tinkering be embraced by consumers? Yes, an EV architecture lends itself particularly well to being shared across multiple models and brands, which is exactly why more efforts can be diverted into interior and exterior innovations, such as the moving furniture in Hyundai’s IONIQ 5.
Volvo’s interior innovations here extend only to “a range of colour and deco options” and the fact that this is the first Volvo to be “completely leather-free”. Not quite as exciting as Tetris-like central consoles.
Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer, says the C40 Recharge is a “more individualistic alternative. The design makes you stand out compared to, well, a traditional or boring SUV.” Indeed, Green says Volvo had to look beyond its strong SUV base. “If people are abandoning sedans and estates, what kind of car body styles do they want? We know for a fact that high seating position is appreciated along with easy ingress and egress, so when you start to cook around that you can come to a number of alternatives. We came up with a C40.”
As for interior innovation, Green concedes more needs to be done at Volvo, but they are working on solutions. “Really true EV architecture will allow a lot more freedom,” he says. “We need to let go of our traditional heritage and how things should be. The CMA architecture is a standardised architecture that we developed into an EV architecture two to three years ago. We’re now working on a new architecture which will hold the next generation of the XC90. The floor is built completely around a flat battery, the skateboard look where you can do whatever you want with the interior. That allows freedom, and from that point you need to get beyond your prejudice and start to innovate.”
“It’s not always easy though because we have many iterations where you open it up, but that very easily becomes empty and, to some extent, unpractical,” Green concedes. “Within the industry you have the practical guys who want to put everything in boxes or drawers. Then you have the ‘roominess’ crowd who want the space to be open and create that kind of living-room atmosphere rather than a car atmosphere, one of the themes that I personally adhere to. And then you have the premium people who say that unless you have a lot exquisite design details and materials you will not be appreciated as premium – but in a completely open environment it’s difficult to get that.”
“So, it’s a very exciting area going forward. You will see innovation [from Volvo] in these areas. Will it come as fast as I would like it to? No, but it’s coming,” Green says.
Volvo has also announced that it will only sell electric vehicles by 2030, phasing out all models with internal combustion engines by then, including hybrids. It also says it plans to invest in digital sales so customers will be able to order cars online.
None of this is remotely surprising. This is exactly what most car manufactures are working towards already in some form or another, it’s just that Volvo knows the value of a touch of grandstanding. Back in 2017 it boldly announced that by 2019 every one of its models would have an electric motor.
What Volvo did not highlight at the time was that year the Euro 6D regulations came into effect to reduce pollutants from vehicle exhausts. That meant the vast majority of manufacturers producing cars of saloon size and up would likely have to introduce some form of electrification to hit these new targets. In short, Volvo was only announcing what it would have been required to do anyway, but crucially before the other car companies could make any ecological hay from it.
Considering Geely now has three EV brands in its automotive portfolio, all effectively sharing the same tech, it would have been much more shocking had Volvo announced it was going to continue to make hybrids beyond 2030.
And as for buying online, again this is where the industry model is inevitably heading. E-commerce is booming in the UK. Without online groceries, UK e-commerce at the start of 2020 was 30 per cent of total commerce. After rising to a high of 60 per cent it has now levelled off at around 40 per cent. This is three to five years of growth in just two quarters.
Some 13 years ago, the average car shopper made five visits to dealerships before making a purchase. Now that number is well below two. These days, people have made up their minds what car they want before they even get to the forecourt. This is why the forecourt experience is generally so dismal as such knowledge breeds lazy salespeople. And this is why Tesla has been able to sell its cars online for years now.
Jeremy White is WIRED’s executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired
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