The New Volvo Recharge Concept Is An Echo From A Past We Ignored

The New Volvo Recharge Concept Is An Echo From A Past We Ignored

You’ve likely seen statistics like, “a majority of daily commuters in the U.S. only drive less than 60 or 161 km a day,” a lot in the debate over the benefits of electric vehicles over gasoline. The stats are used to counter the common misconception of long charge-times for modern EVs, but what if I told you we’ve been having this same debate for over a decade and wasted all that time?

Volvo revealed its new Recharge Concept this week, which is a hot boxy sled-architecture battery-electric vehicle with design elements meant to preview the upcoming lineup of all-electric cars the automaker claims are planned to arrive by 2030.

Image: Volvo

However, Volvo has already shown the world a “ReCharge” concept in 2007. It was a series hybrid, which means it used a small diesel engine as a functional generator to power the electrical powertrain of the car, including a battery and one electric motor at each of the four wheels. It had a similar purpose and mission as a technological example and indication of the future. Which now translates to just how much progress we’ve skipped over the years for no good reason.

Image: Volvo

The same rhetoric used today to convince buyers that electric cars can be normal and not an inconvenience was being used 14 years ago to try to warm buyers up to hybrid technology. From Volvo’s press release for the 2007 Recharge, emphasis added:

“This is a ground-breaking innovation for sustainable transportation. A person driving less than 100 kilometres a day will rarely need to visit a filling station. In the USA, this may apply to almost 80 per cent of drivers,” says [Senior Vice President Research and Development] Magnus Jonsson.

Thanks to the excellent electrical range from a fuel consumption angle, the Volvo ReCharge Concept is exceptionally kind to the car owner’s wallet.

When driving on electric power only, operating costs are expected to be about 80 per cent lower than that of a comparable petrol-powered car. When driving beyond the 100 km battery range, fuel consumption may vary from 0 to 5.5 litres per 100 km depending on the distance driven using the engine.

“This plug-in hybrid car, when used as intended, should have about 66 per cent lower emissions of carbon dioxide compared with the best hybrid cars available on the market today. Emissions may be even lower if most of the electricity in intended markets comes from CO2-friendly sources such as biogas, hydropower and nuclear power,” says Magnus Jonsson.

Image: Volvo

Unlike the 2007 ReCharge concept, the 2021 Recharge concept that debuted today is less of a technology suite an more of a design preview, and the press release goes into some detail on how the new battery platform and architecture let designers increase interior space and storage while slimming traditional exterior proportions.

But last week, Volvo did sort-of go into some of the future tech development it has planned which will undoubtedly find its way in the same cars wearing this Recharge concept’s look. On June 21, Volvo (and Polestar) announced an intention to create a joint venture with Northvolt, a Swedish battery developer.

These promises from last week’s Volvo announcement with Northvolt remind me of the themes of innovation, efficiency and short charge times from the old concept, emphasis added:

“Volvo Cars and Polestar are industry leaders in the transition to electrification and perfect partners on the journey ahead as we aim to develop and produce the world’s most sustainable battery cells,” said Peter Carlsson, Co-Founder and CEO of Northvolt. “We are proud to become their exclusive battery cell production partner in Europe.”

[…]

“Developing the next generation of battery cell technology in-house, together with Northvolt, will allow us to design batteries specifically for Volvo and Polestar drivers,” added Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars. “With cells developed in-house for our electric cars we can focus on giving Volvo and Polestar customers what they want, such as range and short charging times.”

“Collaborating with Northvolt is an important step for our industrial network as we move towards all-out electrification by 2030,” said Javier Varela, head of industrial operations and quality. “Batteries are one of the most important parts in a fully electric car, and by partnering with Northvolt we ensure an efficient and cost-effective supply chain of high-quality and sustainable batteries in Europe.”

Volvo Cars will reveal more details on its future technology roadmap at the Volvo Cars Tech Moment, to be held on June 30.

Image: Volvo

I’m highlighting these two Volvo press releases because they coincidentally capture the trap we’ve all been stuck in for the last 20 years. The science and facts and even the engineers have proven that most people do not need gasoline for decades.

I’m trying to give credit to automakers like Volvo here, which has managed to ultimately incorporate most of its original ReCharge ideas into its current lineup of plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles. Credit to Toyota, Honda and GM, too, for throwing some real investment at the problem over the years and getting some results with the Prius, Clarity, Honda E and Bolt.

I’m not arguing that nobody has been selling hybrids or working on more efficient cars over the years. The market, as a whole, has generally gained in efficiency and of course there are more hybrid and electric models available now than was ever possible back in 2007. That’s some progress.

Image: Volvo

What I truly want to point out is my alarm at just how little the rhetoric has changed. If you’re still making the same arguments to win people over, how far have you truly progressed?

The statistics have changed very little in this span of time — most of my lifetime — and it’s alarming that most companies, save for a few, have not innovated or progressed nearly at all in the last 20 years, and are still at square one. We saw FCA clamoring for its recent partnership with PSA Group under Stellantis, in part to dramatically cut down on the monumental development costs for electrified vehicles going forward. I wonder how many companies in a similar situation haven’t been as public about it?

At least Volvo is ahead of the pack and moving fast in a practical but innovative direction with a design that still wipes the floor of most competition.