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Volvo unveils its first electric car, the XC40 Recharge

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Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, its first electric car under a new EV-focused brand that kicks off a company-wide shift toward electrification.

“It’s a car of firsts and it’s a car of the future,” CTO Henrik Green said.

The Volvo XC40 Recharge is the first electric vehicle in the automaker’s portfolio. 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.

This is also the first vehicle under Volvo’s new Recharge brand. Recharge, which was announced this week, will be the overarching name for all chargeable Volvos with a fully electric and plug-in hybrid powertrain, according to the company.

The all-electric vehicle is based off Volvo’s popular XC40 small SUV. However, this is not a retrofit of a gas-powered vehicle.

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.

However, Volvo did make a vehicle with impressive horsepower and fast charging capability, which could attract buyers. 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.

Volvo XC40 Recharge 1

Android-powered infotainment

The infotainment system in the all-electric Volvo XC40 will be powered by an automotive version of Android OS, and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store.

This Android-powered infotainment system is the product of a years-long partnership between the automaker and Google. In 2017, Volvo announced plans to incorporate a version of its Android operating system into its car infotainment systems. A year later, the company said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google  Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

The Android-powered infotainment system is fully integrated with Volvo On Call, the company’s digital connected services platform. Plug-in hybrid drivers using the Volvo On Call will be able to track how much time they spend driving on electric power.

Volvo XC40 infotainment system

The infotainment system in the Polestar 2, the new vehicle from Volvo’s standalone performance brand, also is powered by Android OS.

Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Volvo isn’t the only automaker to partner with Google to bring Android OS into its vehicles. GM began shipping vehicles with Google Android Automotive OS in 2017, starting with the Cadillac CTS and expanding to other brands. GM said in September that Google will provide in-vehicle voice, navigation and other apps in its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles starting in 2021.

Over-the-air software updates

The electric XC40 is also the first Volvo that will receive software and operating system updates over the air. Over-the-air, or wireless, software updates were popularized by Tesla, which has used the capability to improve its vehicles over time. Tesla has used the OTAs to fix software bugs, roll out new features in its infotainment system and improve performance.

Volvo intends to use OTAs for the operating system and other software inside the vehicle, Green said. Other automakers, with the exception of Tesla, have slowly inched toward OTAs, but have minimized its use, and limited it to the infotainment system.

“So now the XC40 will stay as fresh as your phone or tablet, and no longer will a car’s best day be the day it leaves the factory,” Green said.

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Polestar unveils its all-electric response to the Tesla Model 3

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Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand Polestar introduced Wednesday its first all-electric vehicle — a five-door fastback that is gunning for the Tesla Model 3.

In the past few years, every time an electric vehicle — concept, prototype or production version — has been unveiled, the term “Tesla killer” has been tossed about regardless of whether that car will ever even come to market.

In the case of Polestar 2, it’s unclear if it will be the “Tesla killer.” It’s possible that an entirely new group of customers will be attracted to the vehicle. What is clear: The Polestar 2 was designed to compete with the Tesla Model 3 in the U.S., Europe and China. 

You can watch the reveal on Polestar’s YouTube channel.

The specs

The Polestar 2 is meant to be a performance electric vehicle. It’s equipped with two electric motors and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has an estimated EPA range of about 275 miles.

The Polestar 2’s all-wheel drive electric powertrain produces 300 kW (an equivalent of 408 horsepower) and 487 lb-ft of torque. This is above the rear-wheel (and currently cheapest) version of the Model 3. It’s just a skosh under the dual-motor performance version of the Model 3, which has an output of 450 horsepower and 471 lb-ft of torque.

The Polestar 2 accelerates from 0 to 100km (about 62 mph) in less than five seconds — again, a stat that puts it right above the mid-range Model 3 and below the performance version.

Polestar 2-Exterior-Front

Android inside

In 2017, Volvo announced plans to incorporate a version of its Android operating system into its car infotainment systems. A year later, the company said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

Polestar has followed Volvo. The Polestar 2’s infotainment system will be powered by Android OS and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store.

This shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

The Polestar 2 will also have so-called “Phone-As-Key technology,” which basically means customers will have the ability to unlock their car remotely using their smartphones. This capability opens the door — literally and figuratively — for owners to rent their vehicle out via car sharing or use a delivery service to drop off items in the vehicle.

The feature also allows Polestar 2 to sense the driver upon approach. 

Polestar 2-Interior

Market plans

The base price of Polestar 2 is €39,900 ($45,389), the company says. However, for the first year of production the pricier “launch edition” will only be available at €59,900, or about $68,000. (The prices are listed before any federal or state incentives might be applied.)

The launch edition is essentially a base car with two packages, its advanced driver assistance system called Pilot Assist and Plus Pack.

Production of the Polestar 2 will begin in early 2020 at its Chengdu, China factory. The company is initially targeting sales in China, the U.S., Canada and a handful of European countries that include Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.

Polestar, like its potential rival Tesla, is also ditching the dealership. Polestar will only sell its vehicles online and will offer customers subscriptions to the vehicle. Subscription pricing will be revealed at a later date, Polestar said.

The automaker is also opening “Polestar Spaces,” a showroom where customers can interact with the product and schedule test drives. These spaces will be standalone facilities and not within existing Volvo retailer showrooms. Polestar is planning to have 60 of these spaces open by 2020, including Oslo, Los Angeles and Shanghai.

Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.

The company’s first vehicle, the Polestar 1, was unveiled in September. The Polestar 1 is not a pure electric vehicle; it’s a plug-in hybrid with two electrical motors powered by three 34 kilowatt-hour battery packs and a turbo and supercharged gas inline 4 up front.

Polestar said Wednesday that its next vehicle, the Polestar 3, will be an all-electric “performance SUV.” The company didn’t provide any additional details about the Polestar 3.

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