Volvo Wants to Improve Driver Safety with New Google Integration

Volvo, which has always been known for strong, boxy vehicles, is turning to technology to augment its reputation for safety.

byKristin V. Shaw|

When most people think of Volvo, they think safety. Security. Steadfastness. It’s the good-guy brand, the one you bring home to mom because he’s got it all. He may not be the coolest guy on the block but he’s got a steady job and he treats you like royalty.

The Swedish brand is taking a turn off its typical straight-arrow path with the C40 Recharge’s coupe-like styling, and it’s leveraging a new partnership with Google to be the first automaker to directly integrate with Google Assistant-enabled devices. That doesn’t mean Volvo is going wildly out of its comfort zone, but representatives told me in Palm Springs that it’s making big moves in terms of electrification, sustainability, and technology. The brand that has built its reputation on making sturdy, safe, boxy vehicles is expanding beyond physical safety into technological safety.

Inside the cabin, there’s a large, textured volume button that is much preferable to the tiny volume buttons some automakers are moving toward, but the layout is simple in nature. Drivers can set up the screen to place commonly-used features front and center, and the I found the voice commands to be spot on if I wanted to turn on my seat heater, change the temperature in the cabin, and get directions. The only thing it was missing was the ability to change the Sirius channel with my voice, but Volvo says it’s working on that.

Volvo senior product manager Kristina Vasandani said the brand is embracing a minimalist approach overall and the newest cars are designed to be as streamlined as possible.

“The Google digital assistant creates an intuitive experience, but it’s also about safety,” Vasandani told me. “You’re able to really concentrate on driving, hands on the wheel, and you can rely on the voice commands to help you with a lot of the things that could otherwise be distracting.”

In-car technology is trending toward more touchscreens and fewer buttons, and I’m not always on board with that. Some people believe we need more small screens instead of larger ones, and that may also make sense. What I like about the nine-inch infotainment screen in the C40 Recharge is that it’s large enough without being distracting, and the 12-inch driver display adds an important backup element for navigation and provides information in a well-organized way.  

Volvo just announced an innovative partnership with Starbucks to provide the first open, public EV charging network at the Seattle-based chain’s coffee shops. Up to 60 ChargePoint DC fast chargers will be installed about every 100 miles along a 1,350-mile route between Seattle and Denver, which is more than enough to give even skittish EV buyers some peace of mind.

That includes drivers of the C40 Recharge, which has an estimated range of 223 all-electric miles. Volvo’s planning to launch video-enabled YouTube in the C40 Recharge, which is designed to entertain drivers while charging up. As automakers race to come up with the fastest charging solutions, this is a clever stopgap measure, especially considering every C40 Recharge comes with unlimited mobile data.

More than a decade ago, Geely bought Volvo from Ford in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The holding group pumped new life into the Gothenburg, Sweden-based company and invested heavily; Volvo has been showing the results of that support in the last several years. And now, as it shifts toward improving driver safety through its technology to augment its steel-bodied vehicles' physical protection, it has even more room to grow. If Volvo can get more people to keep their eyes off their phones and screens, that would be a major improvement for all of us.

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