Why next-gen electric vehicles are changing the way cars are made
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JOHANNESBURG - The automotive industry is on the cusp of a fundamental paradigm shift as the charge towards electrification gains momentum. You see, the move from conventional internal combustion engine cars to pure-electric vehicles represents more than a mere powertrain substitution. In fact, the capacity for change is perhaps far wider reaching than many might suspect. As automakers step away from the current crop of multi-fuel, modular platforms and begin rolling out electric-only architecture, numerous possibilities for reinvention – from levels of basic practicality right through to the shape of the vehicle itself – will begin to emerge.
The recently revealed Volvo Concept Recharge, for example, perfectly illustrates how removing the complexity of the internal combustion engine allows designers to completely alter the vehicle’s exterior proportions, maximising interior space while also lowering air resistance (and thus boosting cruising range).
The Swedish firm’s first-generation electric cars – introduced by the Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge – all share a floor with conventionally powered vehicles, which means the platform must be capable of accommodating either a large battery pack or an internal combustion engine. But since Volvo has committed to going fully electric by 2030, its next-generation platforms will feature an electric-only technology base, complete with a flat floor under which the battery pack will reside.
That means the wheelbase can be longer and the overhangs shorter, bringing about significantly more interior space for passengers (who will furthermore benefit from improved seating positions) and cargo. There will be more versatile interior storage solutions, the dashboard can be reinterpreted and the conventional radiator grille will no longer be needed.
Freed of traditional platform limitations and intent on maximising aerodynamic efficiency, the exterior designers of the Concept Recharge tweaked the roof profile, moved the A-pillars and lowered the bonnet while still retaining the lofty driving position so appreciated by drivers of traditional SUVs.
As a result, the concept – which Volvo describes as a “manifesto for the next generation of all-electric” vehicles – doesn’t slot neatly into any traditional body style category. It’s not quite an SUV as we’ve come to know it, nor is it a conventional MPV or even a station wagon. As Volvo says, it’s a “new type of vehicle”. That’s exactly the sort of shake-up we can expect to see in the coming years as the automotive industry begins what will surely be one of its most significant transformations yet. And it’s all down to the underpinnings.