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Volvo creates a dedicated business for autonomous industrial and commercial transport

By Darrell Etherington

Volvo Group has established a new dedicated business group focused on autonomous transportation, with a mandate that covers industry segments like mining, ports and moving goods between logistics hubs of all kinds. The vehicle maker has already been active in putting autonomous technology to work in these industries, with self-driving projects — including at a few quarries and mines, and in the busy port located at Gothenburg, Sweden.

The company sees demand for this kind of autonomous technology use growing, and decided to establish an entire business unit to address it. The newly formed group will be called Volvo Autonomous Solutions, and its official mission is to “accelerate the development, commercialization and sales of autonomous transport solutions,” focused on the kind of transportation “where there is a need to move large volumes of goods and material on pre-defined routes, in receptive flows.”

Their anticipation of the growth of this sector comes in part from direct customer feedback, the automaker notes. It’s seen “significant increase in inquires from customers,” according to a statement from Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group’s president and CEO.

Officially, Volvo Autonomous Solutions won’t be a formal new business area under its parent company until January 2020, but the company is looking for a new head of the unit already, and it’s clear they see a lot of potential in this burgeoning market.

Unlike autonomous driving for consumer automobiles, this kind of self-driving for fixed-route goods transportation is a nice match to the capabilities of technology as they exist today. These industrial applications eliminate a lot of the chaos and complexity of driving in, say, urban environments and with a lot of other human-driven vehicles on the road, and their routes are predictable and repeatable.

Every angle of Volvo’s first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge

By Kirsten Korosec

Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, an all-electric vehicle that CTO Henrik Green described as “a car of firsts and a car of the future.”

The XC40 Recharge is hardly the first electric vehicle on the market. But for Volvo, the XC40 is a “car of firsts.” This is the company’s first all-electric vehicle. It’s also the first Volvo to have an infotainment system powered by Google’s Android operating system as well as have the ability to make over-the-air software updates.

Before we move on to the photos, here are some of the specs.

The XC40 Recharge is equipped with an all-wheel-drive powertrain and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates. The EPA estimates are not yet available, but it’s likely the XC40 Recharge will hit around the 200-mile range.

That would put the range of the Volvo XC40 Recharge below the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.

The vehicle’s electric motor produces the equivalent of 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that allows the vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The battery charges to 80% of its capacity in 40 minutes on a fast-charger system.

The XC40 Recharge is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in late 2020.

Here’s what this car of “many firsts” looks like.

[gallery ids="1898424,1898427,1898434,1898428,1898429,1898431,1898432,1898435,1898436,1898426,1898437"]

Volvo to roll out a new electric vehicle every year through 2025

By Kirsten Korosec

Volvo Cars used the unveiling of the XC40 Recharge, its first electric vehicle, to lay out an ambitious business strategy that includes introducing a new EV every year through 2025 and slashing by 40% the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of every car and SUV it builds.

All of the changes are aimed at Volvo Cars’ target to become a climate-neutral company by 2040.

The goals laid out by Volvo Car Group President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson during a press conference Wednesday to launch the XC40 Recharge will change the structure of the company and affect its supply chain.

“We made safety a part of our brand and part of our company, we should do exactly the same with sustainability,” Samuelsson said Wednesday during the press conference.

Volvo plans to reach its goal by producing and selling electric and plug-in electric vehicles, cutting the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of its vehicles by 40% between 2018 and 2025 and spinning out its combustion engine unit.

Electrifying every model

A critical piece to hitting its target will be making more EVs available. The automaker plans to launch an all-electric car every year over the next five years. By 2025, it wants all-electric vehicles to represent 50% of global sales with the rest composed of hybrids.

As of this year, every new Volvo launched will be electrified, which means it could be a hybrid, plug-in electric (PHEV) or all-electric (BEV) vehicle.

To hit this target, every Volvo model will include a Recharge option. This means a plug-in hybrid or all-electric version will be available, according to the company. To further encourage electric driving, every Volvo Recharge plug-in hybrid model will come with free electricity for a year, provided through a refund for the average electricity cost during that period.

Volvo also plans to triple its manufacturing capacity and is now quickly ramping up its production globally, Björn Annwall, head of global commercial operations at Volvo, said during the press conference. Volvo is aiming for plug-in hybrid cars to make up 20% of total sales in 2020.

Carbon footprint

The company’s bid to reduce the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of its cars 40% between 2018 and 2025 will affect every aspect of how these vehicles are made, as well as its suppliers.

Today, the supply chain makes up one-third of the total carbon footprint throughout the lifecycle of a new vehicle, according to CTO Henrik Green. But switching to electrified vehicles to reduce tailpipe emissions increases the total lifecycle footprint of vehicles by two-thirds, primarily due to battery cell manufacturing.

“This is an industry challenge,” Green said, adding that lawmakers, utilities, automakers and battery cell manufacturers need to collaborate.

Volvo is targeting its supply chain to help it hit its goal as well as moving more toward renewable energy for its power. Reducing waste and standardizing materials to support recycling are also key to making the company more sustainable, according to Green.

Gas-powered spin-out

Volvo isn’t ditching combustion engines completely. But it’s distancing itself from them.

Volvo Cars and its Chinese parent company Geely Holdings will merge their existing combustion engine operations into a standalone business. The move will “clear the way for Volvo Cars to focus on the development of its all-electric range of premium cars,” Samuelsson said.

“So we believe we will bring sustainability into our company, not as something to add on, because it’s good or something that is expected for us,” Samuelsson said. “We bring it into the company because we think it’s really good for our business. It will make our company grow faster, it will make our company stronger, exactly as safety made Volvo stronger.”

Auto supplier Continental shifts gears — and its capital — to an electric future

By Kirsten Korosec

Continental AG, a global auto-parts supplier, will no longer invest in parts used in internal combustion engines, the latest sign that the automotive industry is being forced to respond to increasingly strict emissions laws.

Instead, the company said it will put more focus and capital on the electric powertrain, which it believes is the “future of mobility.”

“Our customers are increasingly and consistently turning to the electrification of combustion engines through hybrid drives as well as to pure battery-powered vehicles,” said Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Powertrain division, which in the future will operate under the name Vitesco Technologies with Wolf as CEO.

This shift toward electrification is being driven by tighter regulations around the world. Cities are clamping down on the use of diesel- and gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs in urban centers and states like California are tightening rules to meet air quality and emissions targets to combat climate change. China has placed restrictions on gas-powered vehicles and provides incentives to electric ones. France wants to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040.

And automakers are following. Volvo, VW and others have announced plans over the past two years to increase sales of electric vehicles and move toward more electrification throughout their portfolios of existing vehicles. Electrification can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric vehicles.

There has been plenty of speculation and attempts to predict exactly when — not so much if — a tectonic shift to electric powertrains would occur. Suppliers have grappled with the “when” part. Putting too much capital too soon toward developing automotive parts can saddle a supplier with inventory and mounting costs.

What’s happening at Continental is starting to play out within the rest of the industry. If companies like Continental want to survive and keep up with the demands of automakers, they have to act. But not wildly. Development costs for powertrains are, after all, no small matter.

Continental is making specific choices on what exactly it pursues. The company, for instance, will not consider producing solid-state battery cells in the future. Apparently the company was open to making an investment in battery cell production. But now the company believes the market no longer offers any attractive economic prospects for battery cell production for Continental, Wolf said.

What Continental is going to do is reduce investment in its hydraulic components business, which includes parts like injectors and pumps for gasoline and diesel engines.

“Investments in research and development and in production capacity for innovations are becoming less profitable,” says Wolf, explaining the reasoning behind this decision.

Continental will fulfill existing orders. New orders will “play an increasingly marginal role.”

This shift within Continental will likely extend over a number of years, as combustion engines essentially serve as the basic drivers for hybrid solutions, Wolf said. The company will also review its business in components for exhaust-gas after treatment and fuel delivery.

All of this translates into big changes within the company, including the technologies it decides to invest in, jobs and even locations of some of its operations. Continental said it will also consider partnerships.

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