This article was originally published Wednesday, January 11, 2017 on SHEIMagazine.com.
For the auto industry, Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize couldn’t have come at a more symbolic time: slowly but surely, the world’s largest carmakers have pivoted decades of strategy to solve entirely new problems. At this year’s 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, an apprehensive excitement pulsed the show floor. Volvo’s DriveMe pilot; Chevy’s Bolt EV; everywhere one turned, the awesome wonder of an autonomous, electric-drive future seemed inevitable.
While V12 revs still blared over loudspeakers, their throaty howls seemed as compensatory as they were triumphant. Maximized touring cars had had their day; now, it was the turn of a new breed.
Bob Dylan said it best: "the times, they are a-changin’." This is the future of mobility.
In a world full of hype and headlines, tangible progress isn’t just an exception – it’s a paradigm shift. After less than one year on the market, Chevy’s Bolt EV (GM’s first mass-production Electric Vehicle, unveiled at last January’s show) is shaping up to be just that leap.
The Bolt is a compact, all-electric hatchback with room for 5, priced starting right around $35,000 after tax credits. It also boasts a 200 mile range, and a respectable 6.5 second sprint to 60mph.
Most significantly of all, it’s actually in production.
While dreams of tomorrow are all well and good, a sustainable, EV-only future society can only be achieved one way: through making electric cars. Here, Bolt truly shines. Unlike other headline-grabbing EV’s in its segment, the Chevy Bolt – a reasonably-priced, sensible electric hatchback with room for groceries and the dog - is available for purchase at dealerships nationwide.
If it weren’t for the Bolt’s sky-high trophy count (2017 North American Car of the Year, CNET RoadShow’s Vehicle of the Year, Car and Driver 10Best Winner), that fact alone would be worthy of praise. Instead, celebrate this: there are finally consumer-friendly electric vehicles available to the public at large. Even without a manual, the Chevy Bolt EV is a paradigm shift for mobility.
Nearly a year and a half after Dieselgate, Volkswagen appears to have doubled down on its renewed commitment to sustainability. Case in point: the I.D. BUZZ concept, a self-driving electric Microbus unveiled Monday during VW’s press conference.
Touted as the world’s first “electric multi-purpose vehicle equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode,” the I.D. BUZZ features a roomy hardwood-and-plastic cabin with space for 8 passengers and their luggage. The interior is playful, intuitive, and surprisingly plush. For example, the two big leather bucket seats typically reserved for driver and copilot can be rotated so passengers face each other when autonomous driving is engaged.
Considering VW’s promotional reel showing bearded and flannelled urbanites using the I.D. BUZZ to facilitate “city limits” getaways, details like the modular cabin go a long way towards selling the concept.
While engaging in purpose and not shy for looks, it remains to be seen whether Volkswagen’s I.D. BUZZ will ever make it to production. Given the sparse nature of the concept (and VW’s storied history of whipping out refreshed Microbus concepts to liven up a slow news day), there’s a good chance the I.D. BUZZ remains buzz.
Audi’s groundbreaker: an SUV the size of the continent. Oh yeah – and it’s a hybrid, too.
Unveiled Monday morning, the Audi Q8 is a full-size luxury SUV that will first reach the market in 2018. Even with a swept, sporty roofline, the Q8 is formidable: it’s columnade grill, frameless doors, and Robocop taillights are as angular as they are aggressive.
Better yet, since the Q8 is built on Audi’s new lightweight Q7 platform, this full-size is no slouch for speed. Under the hood, a 333hp engine is mated to a 100kW lithium ion battery, sending the Q8 to 60 in a mere 5.4 seconds (or, if you choose to engage the hybrid drive responsibly, to a combined range of 621.4 miles at full stocks.)
Did we mention that it’s a hybrid?
The true significance of the Audi Q8 comes from its target segment. It’s no secret that Americans buy full-size luxury SUV’s – the success of the Range Rover Sport, Cadillac Escalade, and others are all testament to this love. However, what’s just as apparent is the pollution these same SUV’s cause: many get less than 20mpg combined in their standard trim. Given the runaway sales of its smaller SUV’s like the Q5, Audi’s new Q8 could be the competitive pressure needed to clean up one of the industry’s least-sustainable sectors.
For a company that made its name on straight-six performance engines, BMW appears an unlikely candidate for the role of “EV innovator.” Yet, in the five years since BMW i (the brand’s plug-in electric-only branch) was launched, the Munich-based luxury brand has staked its claim as the segment leader in EV development. With a stable of plug-in vehicles that includes the i3 compact car, i8 supercar, and countless “iPerformance” variants of mainline models like the X5, it’s safe to say that BMW’s electric credentials are more than secure.
As this year’s press conference headline was the all-new 5-Series sedan, BMW wasted no time in utilizing the platform to its fullest. Moments after the big reveal, the brand revealed the first-ever electrified 5-Series: the 530e iPerformance sedan, a plug-in hybrid built on the brand-new sedan platform.
Compared to the old 5-Series, this new platform is eons sportier while retaining its dignified business-like interior. For those seeking both the feel of a BMW sedan and the warm fuzzies that come with saving the planet, the 530e iPerformance appears a perfect compromise.
To understand Volvo’s world-changing DriveMe XC90, first see the world through selfless eyes. “There’s a wider aspect to the driver-car relationship than simply the person in the driver seat,” said Dr. Robert Broström, Volvo’s Senior Technical Leader, User Experience.
The Swedish luxury brand has built its name worldwide through an uncompromising focus on safety – not just for its customers, but for the world at large. Volvo famously introduced the first three-point seatbelt in 1959, only to release the patent to the public that same year. Then-Volvo managing director Alan Dessell is quoted as saying: “The decision to release the three-point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety.”
So, when it came time to pilot technology that could potentially end auto accidents as a whole, Volvo appears predestined to succeed. Simply put, security is luxury: no matter how plush the leather, time spent worrying about the other aspects of that driver-car relationship (especially the ones you love in the backseat) could never be luxurious.
Starting January 9, 2017, Volvo will undertake the largest-ever real world test of self-driving technology. Around the Swedish city of Gothenburg, 100 families will receive Volvo XC90 SUV’s equipped with the “Volvo Autonomous Brain,” a hidden sensor package that allows for – when the conditions are right – true autonomy.
Not “Lane Assist”; not “Autopilot”; bonafide, Level 4 autonomous driving.
According to Broström, the DriveMe test represents the “logical next step” towards Volvo’s “Vision 2020” pledge, an initiative that aims to reduce the number of people that die or are seriously injured in accidents involving Volvo cars to zero over the next three years. Authentic self-driving would remove both error and stress from the driving equation, aligning perfectly with Volvo’s mission of providing safety, serenity, and luxury through its vehicles.
Ambitious? Certainly. Yet, coming off one of the strongest 2016’s in the industry (S90 unveiled, Uber partnership announced, XC90 wins North American Truck of the Year), Volvo appears poised to - and laser-guided towards - shaping the future of mobility.