Volvo is looking ahead. Not only is the Swedish luxury brand aiming to deliver zero fatalities in its vehicles by 2020, it has also made a global commitment to produce cleaner, safer, more sustainable cars by 2025. What’s more, the company wants at least a third of its new cars to be autonomous by the same year. It’s a bold vision, but one the marque is confident it can achieve. Here’s how Volvo plans to change the motoring world...
As you’d expect of the manufacturer that invented the three-point seatbelt, back in 1959, Volvo has always made safety its number one priority, but this mission statement by company president and CEO Hakan Samuelsson sounds almost too good to be true. To achieve it, Volvo has identified the three main causes of accidents, speeding, intoxication and distraction – and outlined how it intends to combat them.
Firstly, from next year the top speed in a Volvo will be electronically limited to 112mph. It’s a policy that critics suggest is akin to Volvo playing “Big Brother”, but, for the Swedes, reducing velocity is the obvious solution for saving lives: if speed kills, kill the speed. “Looking into the data, we’ve done a lot with passive and active safety, but to get to zero you have to tackle the human issues,” says Samuelsson. “Now we’re coming into a situation in which we have a technical capability to do something about this. We can let the car intervene if the driver is behaving badly. For example, driving outside a school: is it really a matter of individual freedom to drive past it at 155mph? Do we have the right to intervene or do we have an obligation? We want to enter into a dialogue. We don’t have an answer and we don’t want to be Big Brother, but Volvo is happy to lead the discussion.”
Secondly, the company is developing a monitoring system that uses in-cabin cameras to observe a driver’s responses and assess their competence behind the wheel. If a driver shows signs of being distracted, a safety protocol will kick in. Initially, it will warn the driver to pay attention, but then take control of the vehicle and could even bring it to a complete stop in an emergency situation.
And thirdly, Volvo has launched the Equal Vehicles For All (EVA) Initiative. By sharing almost 50 years of collision data with other manufacturers, Volvo hopes to help advance safety protocols among all car producers. In 2020, it will be 50 years since Volvo’s Accident Research Team began analysing crashes, developing safety systems and, most significantly, modifying crash test simulations using dummies that represent men and women of different shapes and sizes.
It’s possible that all these measures combined will not bring about an era of zero road deaths, but it is a significant step in the right direction and no one can criticise Volvo’s ambition. If reducing a few personal driving freedoms results in the saving of lives on the road, it will be a cost worth paying.
Volvo’s ambition to bring fully autonomous vehicles to public roads around the world has been based around its “Drive Me” initiative. Using a system of cameras, 360-degree radars, ultrasonic sensors and multiple-beam laser scanners to track everything from traffic and pedestrians, through to identifying hazards and analysing driving conditions, Volvo is confident that it has the technology required to build an autonomous drive (AD) vehicle. But that, says Martin Kristensson, Volvo’s senior director of AD and connectivity strategy, is not the real issue.
To take AD development further, Volvo has been working with ride-hailing tech company Uber since 2016 to develop its self-driving systems even further. By providing Uber with cars that have redundant brakes, redundant power and redundant steering, plus software that can interconnect with the American company’s own data processors, Volvo can then advance autonomous software in order to create self-drive vehicles. Results so far have been very promising.
Currently, all Volvos are available as plug-in hybrids, and two other technological choices will also be offered: mild hybrid and pure electric. Plug-in hybrids combine pure electric battery power with a petrol engine and can be charged from an external power source. Volvo’s Twin Engine plug-in hybrids have large battery capacities, meaning they can be driven on electric power only. The mild hybrid combines an electric motor, a 48-volt lithium-ion battery and a converter with an internal combustion engine. As well as helping to reduce CO2 emissions, the electric motor assists the engine, acts as a generator and allows energy to be regained through braking, storing it in the battery. Pure electric cars are exactly that. They are quiet, offer improved performance, thanks to the instantaneous delivery of power, and produce zero emissions.
Volvo’s commitment to sustainability is, like its aim to reduce road traffic accidents and develop autonomous vehicles, motivated by saving lives. If global warming continues at the current rate, the long-term damage to humanity will become clear, hence the company’s decision that by 2025 at least 25 per cent of the plastics it uses in its newly launched cars will come from recycled material. To demonstrate that the claim was realistic, last year Volvo unveiled an XC60 featuring a host of recycled plastic components.
The car included a central console made from renewable fibres and plastics from discarded fishing nets and maritime ropes, and carpet containing fibres made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and recycled material from clothing manufacturers’ offcuts. The seats also use recycled PET fibres, while car seats from old Volvos were used to form the sound-absorbing material under the bonnet.