Bought in 2010 by the Chinese automotive group Geely, Volvo began its revolution five years later with the new generation of the XC90. Under the hood of this large SUV, there is no longer a 5-cylinder engine, the pride and identity of the Swedish manufacturer for many years. No V6 either and even less V8. The future of Volvo, specialist in station wagons and SUVs, is now written differently. Other time. Four cylinders for everyone, expecting less. A modest two-liter which is the basis for all engines, whatever the fuel, and which with the help of a turbo (or two) but also an electric motor, can develop up to more than 400 horsepower . It was in this form that the brand's first plug-in hybrid was born.
The value in Nm of the immediate torque of the two combined electric motors of 150 KWatts each.
After the renewal of the XC60 (smaller dimensions) came the XC40. This compact SUV pushes the slider a little further downsizing (displacement reduction) with a small 1.5 liter 3-cylinder engine. Yesterday reserved for small cars, this mechanical architecture constitutes, today, an important part of the sales of family models like, for example, the Peugeot 3008. Or of premium sedans like the BMW 3 Series.
Turnkey, you don't touch anything to start, not even a button. The electric Volvo XC40 recognizes its driver. (Thomas Antoine)
Despite a particular noise and some additional mechanical vibrations, it is true that these small blocks provide a certain driving pleasure – flexibility at low speeds and tone thanks to the supercharging – for a measured consumption. Volvo also relied on this engine to launch a “mild hybrid” version (with a 48-volt battery), and a plug-in hybrid XC40 called T5 Recharge. But that's not all.
Diesel out, electricity in!
Voted Car of the Year in 2018 – a title the Swedish brand has been chasing since 1964 – the XC40 is the first Volvo model to abandon diesel and offer, for the first time, a 100% electric livery. The manufacturer's best-seller on the French market – over 50% of its total French registrations – the XC40 is now available in a Recharge P8 AWD version, the first in a long series of electrified models. Offered at € 59,940, or just below the € 60,000 mark to qualify for the € 3,000 bonus, the XC40 only exists in one finish: R-Design. With its black roof and mirrors, its 19-inch rims, it displays a sporty look that is not superfluous. Key in pocket, you don't touch anything to start. Not even a button. The car recognizes the owner … All you have to do is put the gear lever in D and drive. In silence, of course.
When we got started on the Mortefontaine circuit (Oise), the first lap on a wet track strewn with leaves allowed us to test driving “with one pedal”. With a fairly powerful engine brake when you let go of the foot, it is correct that the slowing down phase does not require the brake to be touched in most driving situations. When the pace picks up, it's different … The 408 horsepower (a 204 hp engine on each running gear) catapult the XC40 forward, and you reach high speed very quickly.
From the first turns, we remember that we are in a battery-powered vehicle: the weight is inevitably felt – here nearly 2.2 tons, including 500 kg of electric cells … acceleration, the ground slips under our wheels: the high torque undermines traction and despite its all-wheel drive, this Volvo behaves more like traction. Obviously, the electronics resolve the situation instantly and on a dry road, the question of switching power to the ground would not arise.
In general, the machine is rather convincing in terms of comfort and driving pleasure. There remains the problem of recharging. Even more for a car that claims a range of 418 km in the combined cycle and 538 km in the city (WLTP cycle). Volvo certainly offers a "fast" terminal to any buyer, which will allow refueling overnight (eight hours), provided that the electrical installation can deliver 11 kW. Because on a normal outlet (10A / 2.3 kW), you will need, on the other hand, more than thirty hours to refuel.
Yves Pasquier-Desvignes: "Opening up to a wider market"
Yves Pasquier-Desvignes, president of Volvo France, explains the choice of electric on the smaller Swedish SUV.
“New technology often comes from above. Why did you choose the smallest of your SUVs to launch your first 100% electric model?
The XC40 was designed from the start on the basis of a platform capable of embedding this technology. This is not the case with the XC60 or XC90, which arrived earlier. They will also become electric, but for their next generation, from the end of 2022. Launching electric on a more affordable model also means opening up to a larger market. The XC40 is our biggest sale; it initiates our entire strategy.
408 horsepower with two electric motors for a car intended for urban or peri-urban journeys, that's a lot. Are you planning more affordable versions?
We can imagine everything: by 2025, Volvo wants to achieve 50% of its sales in all-electric and the rest in plug-in hybrid. So there are important prospects. But we cannot offer cars with less than 400 km of autonomy: this worries the potential buyer because the rapid recharging network is insufficient and the refueling times are long.
Does Volvo plan to invest in or partner with a network of fast charging stations?
We are studying all avenues, including the co-construction of a network of very fast chargers. Not necessarily where the others are installed, but rather on complementary points. This will happen from 2021. We are controlling the cost of charging stations with manufacturers and that of energy, but the business model is not yet 100% clear. In particular concerning the flows and recharging times which will finance the installations. We are making a very long term bet.
Don't you have the impression that you have a range that is a little too tight to compete with German premiums?
We do with what we can afford. If alliances with other brands of the Geely group (Polestar, Lynk & co) allow us to release more models, that will be great. But on its own, Volvo does not have the capacity to launch a small electric car on short notice.
Was stopping diesel mandatory?
It is a decision of the company which anticipates an inevitable situation for the years to come. Continue in diesel and meet future standards (Euro 7 in 2025) was too expensive. We decided to stop and work on something else. On XC40, we will be 50% plug-in hybrid from 2021.