Another Volvo Move Toward EVs

It is shifting the structure of its traditional powertrain business to achieve more resources for EVs

By Gary S. Vasilash

Admittedly this is sort of confusing. Volvo Cars is owned by Geely Holding. The two companies have announced that they are creating a joint venture, Aurobay, which will be dedicated to powertrain operations.

Volvo Cars will wrap in the assets from Powertrain Engineering Sweden, which includes an engine plant in Skövde, Sweden, another engine plant in China, a R&D team, and other powertrain items.

The purpose of the creation of Aurobay is said to be to allow Volvo Cars to focus on developing electric vehicles. Volvo has announced it plans for 50% of its global vehicle sales to be full EVs by 2025, with the remaining half hybrids. And by 2030, all of its vehicles are to be fully powered by electricity.

The slightly confusing part about all this is if Geely owns Volvo, presumably that means it owns Volvo’s assets.

So this creation of the joint venture seems as though it is something that could have been executed by a memo from HQ.

One more thing about Aurobay: there is the potential to serve customers that aren’t Volvo or Geely.

Volvo: The Return to Safety

Back to a core value

By Gary S. Vasilash

Volvo cars were once widely known for two characteristics:

  1. Their boxy design
  2. The fact that they were built with safety foremost

The company essentially “owned” safety in the minds of consumers.

But in the mid- to late-90s the company wanted to be more than something that was the Official Car Builder for Tweed-Jacket-With-Suede-Elbow-Patch-Wearing and Pipe-Smoking East Coast Professors.

Style took over from safety.

The design team members were evidently given French curves to supplement the T-squares.

And while the engineers back in Gothenburg were still figuring out the materials and the structures and the systems that would make the Swedish vehicles safe, their laudable efforts were eclipsed by things like Val Kilmer’s character driving a C70 in The Saint.

But safety is back.

In 2022 Volvo will launch a fully electric SUV, the flagship model for the brand.

(Image: Volvo)

It will come standard with a LiDAR system, from Luminar, and an on-board supercomputer system, from NVIDIA.

“Volvo Cars is and always has been a leader in safety. It will now define the next level of car safety,” said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo chief executive.

When it comes to autonomous driving, the thing is that there is little in the way of driving and a whole lot in the way of trusting.

As in trusting that the system is going to work because you are, even though behind the wheel, acting as a passenger.

Safety is huge when it comes to autonomy. Which means a need for plenty of sensors, including LiDAR, and the wherewithal to process that information so that the system will have the appropriate responses (e.g., braking, turning, accelerating).

By coming out and saying that this tech is going to be built in to its new vehicle, it seems as though that Volvo is ready to take that safety mantle back.

(Kilmer? He’ll be back this fall as Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick)

Volvo Focusing on What Matters

And it isn’t whether or not there’s free coffee at the dealership

“The future of Volvo Cars is defined by three pillars: electric, online and growth. We want to offer our customers peace of mind and a care-free way of having a Volvo, by taking away complexity while getting and driving the car. Simplification and convenience are key to everything we do.” That’s Lex Kerssemakers, head of global commercial operations, for Volvo Cars.

Volvo announced it will be all-electric by 2030. And that it is launching a line of electric vehicles that will be available online only.

This doesn’t mean that Volvo dealers are going to be looking for something else to do come 2030.

It does mean, however, that there will be some offerings tailored to the ever-increasing number of people who can’t figure why you need to go to a special place to buy something when they have a perfectly good digital device at hand.

“Online and off-line need to be fully and seamlessly integrated. Wherever the customer is in their journey – online, in a showroom, in a Volvo Studio, or driving the car – the customer experience needs to be top-notch,” Kerssemakers added.

That’s what matters.–gsv

Polestar: The Green Car Company You’ve Probably Not Heard of (Yet)

Polestar is a brand that you may not be familiar with at the moment. But that is likely to change, as it is dedicated to producing electric vehicles (EVs) that combine Swedish style with performance.

Polestar was established in 2017 as an independent brand by Volvo Cars and Geely Holding. (This is a little complicated because Volvo Cars in under the Geely umbrella, so the way to think about it is that it is a company that Volvo developed and that Geely is underwriting.)

The forthcoming Polestar Precept. Stylish. Electric. (Images: Polestar)

There are presently two models, that the company has on offer, the Polestar 1, a hybrid that is exceedingly limited in production, and the Polestar 2, a 2020 model that is a high-volume sedan that offers AWD and 300 kW from the motor. There will then be the Polestar 3, an SUV, and then the Precept, a car that emphasizes three definitional aspects of the brand: sustainability, digital technology and design.

Polestar has a factory in Chengdu, China. It calls it the “Polestar Production Centre.”

Inside the Polestar factory. Yes, factory.

But there’s something interesting about what they’re doing there: operating the plant on 100% renewable electricity. Some 65% of all of the electricity powering the factory comes from hydroelectric with the balance from solar, wind and other renewables.

What’s more, there is no industrial water discharge from the plant and they are establishing a circular approach to waste handling (including carbon fiber) so as to reduce landfill demands.

The factory, designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, has earned Gold status in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the only automobile plant in China to do so.

Said Fredrika Klarén, Head of Sustainability at Polestar, “For Polestar, sustainability is not just about the electric powertrain. It impacts everything we do. We want to promote sustainable manufacturing in China. This objective entails a relentless pursuit of circular and climate-neutral solutions, and also being a responsible employer and presence in the area.”–gsv

Baidu, Geely and a Sensible Approach

Baidu is somewhat like Google, inasmuch as it operates a search engine, by far the leading search engine in China. But there are other services as well, including maps (Google), an encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and cloud storage (AWS).

So it is fair to simply describe it as a significant tech company.

Like other tech companies, it is expanding its operations. And so it should come as no surprise that it is moving into automotive.

But it isn’t like the company just discovered the space. It has been operating Baidu USA since 2011 and has been conducting autonomous driving operations in Silicon Valley for more than five years.

In 2017 Baidu announced Apollo, the autonomous driving platform that it garnered an array of partners to participate with in on the development, partners ranging from Intel to Toyota.

It is running an autonomous taxi service in a few cities in China.

Geely SEA electric vehicle platform: EVs for everyone! (Image: Geely)

Geely Holding–parent company of brands including Volvo Cars, Lynk & Co and LEVC, and lead shareholder in Geely Auto, Proton and Lotus—and Baidu have announced the creation of a partnership for the development of highly automated electric vehicles.

Geely is going to be providing the platform—the Sustainable Experience Architecture, which it announced in September 2020 as an “open source” electric vehicle platform that it would offer to other global OEMs—and Baidu the digital horsepower.

Manufacturing vehicles is a different kind of hard than the challenges associated with developing AI systems.

It makes absolute sense that a digital company would partner with a hardware manufacturer—in this case, the hardware being a vehicle, not a smartphone.

In a market where there are some 21-million passenger vehicles sold per year, where there is a comparatively low penetration rate of vehicle ownership (on the order of 173 vehicles per 1,000 people, compared with 837 in the U.S.), even a small slice of the market is still damned large.

And neither Geely nor Baidu seems to be focused on the small.–gsv

Car Gigs Chuck Palahniuk Didn’t Take

Chuck Palahniuk, earlier this year, published Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different. In some ways, it is a book that writers who hope to be as successful as Palahniuk is can read so as to get some insights into the way Palahniuk went about getting to where he is.

Arguably, Palahniuk’s star went nova with the release of Fight Club in 1999, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and some other guys.

And as everybody—particularly those who have perhaps not (a) read the book or (b) seen the movie knows—the first rule of Fight Club is “You don’t talk about fight club.” (What these people may not realize is that they also know the second rule of Fight Club, which is essentially see Rule 1.)

Anyway, in the world of freelance writing, one could imagine a rule that says, “You don’t tell people about jobs you didn’t get/take.”

However, Palahniuk reveals in Consider This a number of OEMs who wanted to take advantage of his celebrity to do advertising:

  • “First there was Volvo.” He relates that they’d wanted him to write a series of stories “about an obscure hamlet in Sweden where an enormous number of Volvos were being sold.” (Fun fact: the population density of Sweden is 64 people per square mile. The population in Germany is 623 people per square mile. “Obscure hamlet” is relative.) Palahniuk: “They were offering. . .tens of thousands of dollars.” He didn’t take it.
  • “After Volvo came BMW.” The Bavarian builder wanted him to write a series of short stories that would be turned into an audiobook, loaded onto a CD and provided to those who bought Bimmers. Given BMW’s approach toward audio entertainment, such as CarPlay, one imagines had he taken them up on the idea there would have been a line item on the Monroney for the disc. Fortunately for consumers, he didn’t accept the offer.
  • Here is a case of (1) the tentativeness of memory of (2) an indication that some people don’t quite care as much about cars than others. “In the year 2000 or 2001, Chevrolet offered me five thousand dollars for the right to mention Fight Club in a television commercial for the Ram pickup truck.” Ah, right.
  • And an example of artistic purity or insanity: Jaguar Land Rover “offered me a half million dollars to write a story that could be made into a film that would feature a Land Rover in some crucial, high-profile way.” Palahniuk notes, “And maybe I was stupid, but I still said no.” What can be said about that?
The Volvo 70 Series had a run from 1996 to 2016, so possibly this would have been featured in the stories about the obscure Swedish hamlet. (Image: Volvo)