Reinvention of flagship Volvo is set to define the maker’s future ethos.
Volvo’s third electric car will be the unconventionally shaped successor to the hugely popular XC90 SUV – and it will set the tone for a whole family of new EVs from the Swedish manufacturer.
Following Volvo’s earlier confirmation that the new arrival will take a name, rather than an alphanumeric designation into production, a new trademark filing suggests it will be called the Embla.
The manufacturer filed a trademark application for the name with the European Union Intellectual Property Office late last year. A Volvo spokesperson refused to confirm the brand’s intentions for the nameplate, but with the model’s reveal date approaching and given that outgoing Volvo boss Håkan Samuelsson has already confirmed its name will start with a vowel, it seems a likely outcome.
Embla was the name of the first woman in Norse mythology, which could signal a naming strategy for future models centred around Volvo’s Scandinavian heritage.
Due in 2022 as a production-ready version of the bold Concept Recharge shown earlier this year, the new arrival will provide Volvo with a long-awaited entry into the increasingly important full-sized electric SUV segment, into which most premium-oriented manufacturers have launched their debut EVs in recent years. Volvo’s existing pure EVs, the XC40 Recharge and coupé-backed C40 Recharge, sit a segment lower and use the same CMA platform as the conventionally fuelled XC40.
Meanwhile, the XC90 successor will use Volvo’s new SPA2 platform. This evolved version of the current car’s architecture will accommodate a choice of combustion and pure-electric powertrains. It will be the first production car to use the new underpinnings before they are rolled out to other Volvo models and sibling brands owned by parent company Geely Auto. As part of a new platform-sharing agreement, Geely will in turn offer Volvo access to its latest SEA architecture.
The Concept Recharge heavily hinted at how Volvo will ensure its new flagship EV retains the XC90’s core characteristics while ushering in a totally new approach to exterior and cabin design, as well as a host of advanced new technologies. The Swedish brand’s biggest model remains a consistently strong seller, even as the current, second-generation car enters its seventh and final year on sale. In the first 10 months of 2021 alone, the XC90 accounted for around 6.5 per cent of Volvo’s global sales, putting it third only to its XC60 and XC40 SUV siblings.
So although the XC90 successor will adopt a radically different design, it will continue to major on space and practicality. The ‘less is more’ approach exhibited by the concept points to an enhanced focus on minimalistic design in Volvo’s new electric era, as well as a drive to minimise the well-to-wheel environmental impact of each vehicle it produces.
Unlike the vast majority of mixed-powertrain platforms currently on the market, the SPA2 will be offered in two distinct forms. This will allow the electric XC90 successor to benefit from a completely flat floor, shortened overhangs and a more overtly cabforward stance, whereas the combustion-engined versions will have slightly more familiar interior proportions, given the need to accommodate an engine, transmission and exhaust system.
Some of the concept’s more outlandish and futuristic cues will be toned down for production – the four free-standing seats, for example. However, the skateboard-style architecture will offer new levels of interior space and flexibility, which concept designer Robin Page likened to a “Scandinavian living room feeling”. To that end, the production car will ditch physical controls for a cleaner and simpler driver environment. Most of the functions will be controlled through a large-format central touchscreen using operating software developed by Google – as first adopted by the XC40 Recharge and Polestar 2.
However, Volvo’s next SUV will not be so easily categorised as an SUV because, although it sits high off the ground and emphasises all-round visibility like the current car, it has a straighter-edged two-box silhouette reminiscent of estate cars such as the 240, 940 and V70, which once ranked among the Swedish marque’s most important and best-selling models. Company boss Håkan Samuelsson recently told us that Volvo will gradually downsize its conventional estate offering – currently comprising various forms of the V60 and V90 – in recognition of the simple fact that “people really are fond of high seating positions”.
The XC90 successor will therefore straddle the boundary between two segments to capitalise on the popularity of SUVs while differentiating itself from rivals and avoiding alienating buyers of lower-slung models. Page called it “a new type of vehicle”, which “displays new and modern proportions that go hand in hand with increased versatility” – hinting at the potential for other Volvo models to follow suit in blending design cues from different segments.