When Volvo announced its newest all-electric car, the $35,000 EX30, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. An affordable, high-quality EV – huzzah! The Swedish automaker dipped its toe in the EV market with the launch of the XC40 Recharge a few years ago and has capitalized on the momentum, achieving impressive sales and headed for an all-electric future.
The EX30, however, was designed with big ambitions in mind: to have the smallest CO2 footprint than any Volvo car ever built. The company took a microscope to its production and lifestyle process and achieved a 25 percent reduction compared to its C40 and XC40 models. That’s short of its 40 percent reduction goal by 2025, but it’s a strong start. And those tweaks helped contribute to the EX30’s bargain-bin price tag. (Even when fully loaded, the EX30 never exceeds $50,000.)
Volvo took a virtual hammer and smashed some of its traditional approaches to make the EX30 both affordable and sustainable. Some changes feel huge, especially as they relate to the interior controls, and others are subtle but smart. Here’s how they stack up.
Reducing Parts: Smart
Clearly, a smaller EV requires fewer materials to build it. That means less steel and aluminum, and what is used contains more recycled content. Volvo says about 25 percent of all aluminum used to build the car is recycled, as is roughly 17 percent of the steel used to produce it.
Volvo’s relationship with high-strength steel is a key factor in its safety message. Steel isn’t light, but it’s certainly lighter and stronger than when your parents bought a car. The X30 weighs about 4,000 pounds, on par with a Tesla Model 3. It comes with two powertrain options (single or dual motor) with a maximum range of 275 miles.
Keeping the EX30’s weight down was important in the process of reducing CO2. That which leads us to the next point, which is the myriad ways the interior designers fused as many functions as possible into one central command area in its 12.3-inch screen. Fewer parts, less CO2.
One big benefit to omitting speakers in favor of a sound bar was that the speaker deletion makes more room in the door pockets. I could fit a reusable water bottle or tumbler in there, which makes a lot more sense with a sustainability message than one that only fits single-use plastic water or soft drink bottles.
Digital Consolidation: A Major Departure
Lotta Jakobsson is the senior technical specialist for injury prevention at Volvo. As a 30-year-plus veteran with the automaker, she has focused on engineering and safety her entire career. She’s an award-winning biomechanics expert and asset for Volvo, which prides itself on its safety-conscious reputation. Jakobsson was calm and resolute even as I peppered her with questions, and her answers inspired trust.
And I asked a lot of questions about the interior controls – or lack thereof.
With one large center screen that acts as the control center, that element of the EX30 seems to ooze “Tesla influence.” Volvo says the most sustainable component is “the one that does not exist” and that seems to mostly refer to the absent driver information display in favor of a single focal point.
Driving the EX30 in Barcelona, Spain last week, I struggled to adjust to glancing at the speedometer at the top of the screen in the center stack instead of in front of me. I understand that most people buy a car and stick with it for several years, plenty of time to get used to the layout. And several Volvo representatives I spoke with referred to the statistic that one can build a habit in 1,000 repetitions.
In other words, 1,000 glances at the speedo location and it will supposedly feel natural. Granted, I only had a few hours with the EX30, so I probably got to a few hundred (trust me, I wasn’t counting as I drove). By the end of the day, it still felt weird.
I asked the head of the global UX team Thomas Stovicek, does it have to be that different? Do you know that it’s actually better that way?
“Well, it’s not that it’s better or worse, it’s just different,” he said. “For some people, it takes time to get used to. We know that, but we’ve had people that have gotten used to it in 10 minutes, five minutes or next day was no problem for them.”
From a safety perspective, Jakobsson agreed with Stovicek. The distance the eyes must move from the road to the screen is the same, she says, it’s a matter of switching your mindset.
The China Conundrum
Volvo’s parent company, Geely, is Chinese, so it makes sense that the EX30 will be built at the Zhangjiakou factory alongside the Geely-owned Zeekr X and Smart 1. The factory uses 100 percent climate-neutral electricity, and in 2025, production will expand to its Ghent, Belgium, factory. Volvo also builds its large all-electric trucks in the Ghent facility, which was touted as the world’s first CO2-free vehicle plant when it opened in 2007.
China-based manufacturing (and Belgium, for that matter) means that the EX30 doesn’t qualify for federal tax credits. The lower price will offset that loss, and analysts expect Americans to buy the heck out of these things. Those who are biased against China-made products will turn up their nose, but there’s a balance in progress. As Lawrence Ulrich points out in his article for IEEE Spectrum, “the U.S. wants to boost EVs but block China. It will be hard to do both.” Since it appears to be a screaming deal, the EX30 feels like it could be the biggest test yet for our appetite for China-built EVs.
Regardless, Volvo is poised to do quite well with the EX30. And maybe I can get used to the center screen after 1,000 times or so.