Volvo Cars App Tells Plug-In Drivers More About Their Driving

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Volvo Cars has been heavily focused on plug-in hybrids up till now, but it plans to have 50% of its sales coming from fully electric vehicles by 2025. No traditional automaker beats that plan. One step at a time, Volvo Cars has been developing its electric side and improving the experiences of its plug-in vehicle drivers.

Photo by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

While there is an enormous amount of room for debate on this matter, and I can’t say I personally subscribe to the following concept, it can be argued that Volvo Cars has handled the EV transition better than any established automaker. It is the only automaker that offers a plug-in version of every model in its lineup and it now has 25% of its European sales coming from plug-in hybrids. As battery technology has improved and production has increased, it has set the aforementioned target of 50% full EV sales by 2025, a very aggressive target by industry standards. It will launch its first fully electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge P8, later this year after it goes into production in Ghent, Belgium.

Photo by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica
Volvo XC40 Recharge.
Photo by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica
Photo by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

With a heavy focus on plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), though, I assume Volvo has noticed a problem Daryl Elliott of CleanTechnica recently highlighted in an article about why the PHEV era needs to end. Many PHEV drivers don’t plug in their cars, or seldom plug them in. One of Daryl’s core arguments was that if PHEV drivers seldom drive on electricity, they’re not helping in the expected way and policymakers should stop incentivizing them while automakers should stop developing them.

Volvo’s latest press release implies that it did notice this. Its “Volvo on Call” smartphone app now includes new features for Recharge (plug-in vehicle) drivers. The core aim of the new features is to get owners driving on electricity more.

The app will now show how many kilometers/miles Recharge drivers have driven in full-electric mode. It will also show their electricity and fossil fuel consumption.

“Just like a step counter helps people exercise more, I believe that by giving people better insight into their driving patterns, it will help them to drive in a more sustainable way,” said Björn Annwall, head of EMEA at Volvo Cars. “We see plug-in hybrids as ‘part time electric cars’ that encourage changes in people’s behaviour and help pave the way for a transition towards fully electric cars.”

The app will improve again later this year when drivers can also see estimated financial savings from driving on electricity instead of fossil fuels (that should be a helpful eye opener!) and their driving impact on CO2 emissions.

“We want the Volvo On Call app to make life easier for you as a user and create a more personal experience,” added Ödgärd Andersson, chief digital officer. “As the car becomes ever more connected, the potential of the app increases and we intend over time for the app to be as much a part of the Volvo as the car itself.”

Image courtesy Volvo Cars

The Volvo on Call app is operational in 47 countries. In China, Volvo Cars drivers instead use WeChat, which will get similar functionality at some point — timing is not specified.

While I think it is a common process to take in customer feedback and roll out new products or features, there is sometimes an assumption that no automaker really does this other than Tesla because CEO Elon Musk spends quite a bit of time on Twitter taking feedback from customers and changing things accordingly. So, I respect Volvo Cars for highlighting that the improvements were spurred by customer feedback.

“The updates to Volvo on Call announced today were informed by customer feedback and Volvo Cars will continue to develop the platform going forward, designing the service around customers.”

See — Volvo Cars listens, too! Even if you don’t have a clue who the company’s CEO is or whether she or he is on Twitter on a regular basis.

Image courtesy Volvo Cars

Other recent news out of Volvo Cars is that it has partnered with Plugsurfing to provide Volvo Cars drivers access to over 200,000 charging points across Europe, and it has partnered with Waymo for better driver-assist systems. The latter follows Volvo Cars spinning out Zenuity’s autonomous driving work into a standalone business, still named Zenuity and still a subsidiary of Volvo Cars, while passing along its driver-assist functions and development to Veoneer.

Image courtesy Volvo Cars

On the backroom-business side of things, last year Volvo Cats made the forecast that profit margins on electric cars would be comparable to profit margins on fossil fuel vehicles by 2025, and the company also signed a 10-year battery deal with two of the three largest EV battery producers on the planet, CATL and LG Chem. It is also using blockchain to ensure it is building “ethical EVs” that do not use batteries that use “conflict minerals.”

Aside from cleaning up emissions from the cars themselves, Volvo Cars has also been working to clean up its electricity supply. We just reported in the past couple of weeks that the Volvo Cars factory in Chengdu, China, is now running on 100% renewable electricity — a mixture of hydroelectricity and solar energy.

Image courtesy Volvo Cars

I had not previously given much time or thought to Volvo Cars because it hasn’t had a fully electric model on the market and I’m not that into plug-in hybrids. However, it looks like the company has been working consistently behind the scenes to come into the 2020s with a whole-ecosystem approach to its evolution in a time of rapid change.

It is sourcing batteries with ethics in mind and for solid long-term plans (10 years). It is producing cars using renewable electricity. It is encouraging its plug-in hybrid drivers to use the dang plug. It is partnering with what is presumed to be a world leader in autonomous driving, Waymo, while still incubating its own self-driving company, Zenuity. 25% of its sales are already vehicles with plugs and it aims to have 50% of its sales coming from 100% electric cars by 2025. My friend Jo Borrás got very excited about Volvo several years ago. He works in the industry and thought Volvo Cars would arise a leader in electrification and sustainability. I was, admittedly, skeptical. I’m happy to see he was right and the company is becoming a more and more common topic of coverage here on CleanTechnica.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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