Ask car buyers what they would list as Volvo’s distinguishing selling points and it’s odds-on that safety will still be at the top. But the company is rapidly moving towards a wider, holistic application of advanced technologies—automated and autonomous driving, chassis sophistication, and electrification—aimed at expanding the brand's attributes and reputation.
Volvo's electrification program is extensive. Håkan Samuelsson, the company's President and CEO, says: “We are confident that by 2020, 10% of Volvo’s global sales will be electrified cars.” He also asserts that it is time EV technology moved from a niche to a mainstream position in the global marketplace.
Volvo’s chosen route is via plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) solutions for the best combination of efficiency, range and convenience. The technology will be introduced across the model range. And the company is to develop what it terms an “entirely new range of electrified smaller cars,” plus a battery EV that is expected to be on sale in 2019. The new EV's range target on a single charge is believed to be 500 km (311 mi), taking it into the area of practical, everyday use without the burden of serious range anxiety.
Dr. Peter Mertens, the Senior VP for R&D, takes this investment focus further: “We have come to a point where the cost-versus-benefit calculation for electrification is now almost positive.”
A PHEV version of the latest generation XC90, part of the original development program, is now on sale in some markets as the T8 Twin Engine (gasoline and electric). The new S90 sedan will also be available as a PHEV, as will the 60 series using Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), created specifically for larger cars.
Volvo plans a new range of smaller 40 series models with front-drive and also offering PHEV, using the company’s latest Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). These will be introduced in 2017. Platform sharing between Volvo and Geely is part of the cost:benefit ratio of the latest chassis development.
New active-safety control strategies
To support its chassis development, Volvo has installed a VI-grade simulator. The motion platform, named DiM (Driver-in-Motion) was designed by VI-grade (a global engineering-simulation specialist) and engineered and manufactured by Saginomiya. The new dynamic platform for the driving simulator has been installed as a turn-key solution at Volvo’s Torslanda, Sweden facility where it will be used for testing and optimizing the handling and ride behavior of new vehicles as well as testing new control algorithms for active safety.
The nine degrees-of-freedom DiM platform has been designed to take advantage of VI-MotionCueing together with other software technology developed by VI-grade and its partners.
The DiM concept enables the extension of the motion envelope and the separation of low and high frequency contributions, which makes this type of motion platform "unique and suitable for both vehicle dynamics and ride studies,” according to VI-grade.
The simulator work will support early development of high speed stability, balance and individual drive mode settings. The system brings more scope to innovate at the design- concept stage and shorten development time, an important aspect of the company’s forward plans. Mertens states: “Our aim is to deliver full control, ease and dexterity at the wheel. We will improve drivability across the entire Volvo Cars’ range.”
But while this work progresses, Volvo is certainly not easing up on its enduring campaign to continually enhance already very high levels of safety in its cars, including achieving zero deaths or serious injuries of occupants. Volvo quotes independent statistics showing that more than 90% of all fatal accidents are believed to be caused by human error, typically due to inattention.
Autonomous driving (AD) is expected to be a strong element in supporting this aim. Particularly important in assuring this, is what Volvo terms the achievement of “a safe and seamless handover” of control between driver and car. Human machine interface (HMI) is a cornerstone of any new trustworthy AD technology, stresses the company.
Pushing IntelliSafe towards production
To achieve this, Volvo has devised a system called IntelliSafe Auto Pilot. Design criteria included simple and intuitive operation, so autonomous mode is activated and deactivated via steering wheel-mounted paddles, similar but haptically and optically different from gearshift paddles. A Volvo with IntelliSafe Auto Pilot would automatically recognize a road designated for AD, send an affirmative message to the driver and flash lights on the paddles.
The driver then activates AD by pulling on the paddles simultaneously, illuminating confirmatory green lights. Towards the end of the AD section, a 60-s countdown alert is displayed to the driver. If no driver action is taken the car will automatically come to a halt.
AD systems for active safety are designed to detect and warn and/or prevent car accidents by using different sensor technologies such as radar and vision systems, states Volvo. IntelliSafe Auto Pilot will initially be fitted to 100 PHEV T8 Twin XC90s participating in the AD “Drive Me” project in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. Drive Me was started in 2013.
Drive Me will make the self-driving Volvos available to families and commuters around the city for use in everyday driving conditions but with the facility for the cars to be driven autonomously on some 50 km (31 mi) of specified and equipped roads.
When development is complete and an AD environment established, IntelliSafe Auto Pilot will be introduced for general availability in suitably equipped cars. “We have designed a user interface that is safe and seamless to use so that drivers can confidently transfer and regain control of the car," explained Thomas Ingenlath, Senior Vice President Design.
Other partners involved in the Drive Me project include Autoliv, Swedish Transport Administration, Swedish Transport Agency, Chalmers University, Lindholmen Science Park, and the City of Gothenburg.
New LifePaint reflective spray
Volvo is also looking to another rather less technology intensive area inspired by IntelliSafe to bring added safety. Called LifePaint, it is a reflective illuminating spray reacting to vehicle headlights, applied particularly to increase the visibility of cyclists using regular roads. The spray is transparent and when necessary easily washed from surfaces. It can be applied to clothes, shoes and helmets together with other surfaces such as children’s backpacks, and dog leads and collars. It is made by the Swedish company, Albedo 100.
All this is a long way from Volvo’s 3-point seatbelt, first fitted as standard to the 120 series Amazon in 1959, that marked the company’s entrée into the world of automotive safety systems.