If this is the electric Volvo of 2026, the future might not be all bad

When Volvo replaces its XC90 SUV next year, it will do so using a new platform called SPA2 that includes the option of a battery-electric version. As a smaller automaker, Volvo has to use its resources wisely, which has meant designing vehicles with that kind of flexibility in mind. But not for much longer. Just as SPA2 ushers in a new range of larger battery EVs for the Swedish company, it will show out the internal combustion engine around the middle of the decade.

Volvo is already at work on what comes next, and on Wednesday it gave us a glimpse into that future with the Concept Recharge. Think of it as the next-but-one XC90, Volvo’s idea for what a large, luxurious EV should be in 2025 or 2026.

The bulky part of an electric powertrain is the battery pack, so there’s a long wheelbase with short front and rear overhangs. The pack is entirely structural, with cells sandwiched between two sheets of metal. The battery pack, then, is the floor of the monocoque chassis, reducing the EV’s overall weight and therefore improving range efficiency. By 2030 Volvo and its partner Northvolt plan to produce 70 GWh of batteries annually, and Volvo says by then it hopes to have increased energy density past 1 kWh/L.

Not having to package an engine allows for a lower hood, and there’s no more grille. But the familiar “Thor’s Hammer” headlights are still present and correct at the front. (I can see some similarity with Polestar’s Precept concept in there, too.) At the rear there’s an elegant LED taillight signature that’s recognizably Volvo. Just don’t expect it to still be called the XC90; Volvo says it’s going to start using real names for its vehicles by then instead of the alphanumeric codes we know today.

Volvo says it’s using next-generation EV architecture as an excuse to clear out some cruft. Over the last few decades, the addition of new safety and convenience features to our cars has been an additive process. A supplier will develop a new ABS module or seat controller, and the OEM then integrates it, adding a new black box and some extra wiring—plus a whole lot of code it didn’t write—into the vehicle architecture. But over time those black boxes have proliferated, and now there are more than a hundred of them in a large car like an XC90.

Which is why Volvo is moving to a centralized approach instead. It’s going to replace as many of those distributed modules as it can with a core computing system, both to simplify and to separate hardware from software, moving the latter in-house to become less reliant on suppliers.

A trio of core computers (powered by Nvidia GPUs) will work together—one interpreting inputs from the EV’s various lidar, camera, and other sensors, one managing general computing, and the third handling the infotainment needs. Like VW, Volvo is writing its own car OS, but it will still work with Google and use Android Automotive for infotainment.

Finally, Volvo isn’t abandoning the idea of a car that drives itself—at least some of the time. At the event it explained the way it thinks about the topic, ditching the cumbersome (and, frankly, never intended for the public) SAE levels for a much simpler concept: drive, cruise, and ride. A modern Volvo can already do the first two; drive is when a human is doing all the work, and cruise is the electronic safety net that (when engaged) maintains your speed on the highway and keeps you in your lane without taking full control. When Volvo starts adding ride to its cars, it will only operate under tightly controlled circumstances (also called an operational design domain), most likely on restricted highways.

Listing image by Volvo

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