Volvo Concept Recharge
Sustainability and creating a social environment are fundamental themes that will feature in Volvo’s electric vehicle interiors, as shown by the Concept Recharge
A few honourable promises have been made of late by Volvo. The company has set its sights on making its interiors as eco-friendly as possible, with the near-term goal of ensuring 25% of materials in its new cars will consist of recycled and bio-based content by 2025. But the big one is that, by 2030, it will only make electric cars, all of which will be leather-free.
Described by Volvo as representative of “a new paradigm in car design”, the Concept Recharge is an electric SUV that gives a clear indication as to the design developments currently taking place at the Swedish carmaker and highlights its commitment to sustainability and electrification. Its exterior looks familiar and relatively unarresting, but inside there are several key elements that make the model an important concept.
“Initial ideas for the interior focused around accommodating the needs of all passengers in the car, and how we could provide a special experience to create family memories on a road trip during a time when travel restrictions have increased awareness of the need to enjoy our surroundings,” says Lisa Reeves, head of interior design at Volvo. “We defined the interior space by creating a flat floor, made possible with the battery platform, and extending the wheelbase, which allowed us to reposition the seats and provide more room.”
The idea was to create an extension of a living room, where family members can get together and spend quality time with one another while simultaneously travelling to their destination. This isn’t a new idea, but Reeves thinks that the Concept Recharge achieves it in a way that is both practical and exciting.
“The seats rotate for easy ingress and egress as well as to allow for more engaging social interaction,” she says. “We also recognised the fact that passengers will want to bring personal belongings into the car, so we accommodated safe storage with a personal space for each passenger on the door, including a bag hook, a small table, a pocket for a phone or small items and a drinks holder.”
"The luggage space transforms into a luxurious space for the family dog with a pop-up origami dog bed and a gyro water bowl to avoid spillage"
At the heart of the car is what Reeves describes as “the social space”. There are two relatively narrow consoles, but between them is an open area that allows for a circle to be formed by the occupants, each of whom has uninterrupted views of the other. There is also a digital ‘Google lamp’ that can be used for communicative purposes and entertainment.
“Practical needs are met with storage for wet wipes, a trash bin and floor trays for wet or muddy shoes,” Reeves continues. “In the back of the car the luggage space transforms into a luxurious space for the family dog, a pop-up origami dog bed with a gyro water bowl to avoid spillage. It even includes a tennis ball launcher to allow play with the dog for the whole family during rest breaks on long road trips.”
At the front, a horizontal IP sits high above the passengers’ and drivers’ legs, adding to that sense of space. It is kept clean and minimal – the air vents are hidden inside a gap between the top and middle layer, while a large 15-inch centre touchscreen and a small digital driver cluster screen are the only real visible ornaments.
Reeves uses the term “simplified complexity” to describe the IP and the technologies used inside the Concept Recharge. While there is a clear need for advanced driver assistance systems, not just in terms of safety but also to make driving easier and less stressful, it is also vital to ensure the driver is not overloaded with information. Therefore, Volvo’s next generation connected infotainment system has been designed to “show the right information at the right time.”
Reeves hints to the use of artificial intelligence, saying that the system is “smart enough to know the key information that is needed” at a given point in time. There is also a voice assistant, and projected images on the window surfaces provide information and games for passengers when safe.
The key theme throughout development of the interior, Reeves says, was sustainability. Responsibly sourced Swedish wool brings warmth and softness to the seat backrests and top of the IP, as well as the floor and lower doors. Seat cushions and parts of the door panels are cladded in a fabric that uses Tencel fibres which originate from cellulose, while the seat backs and headrests are made from a new material created by Volvo from bio-based and recycled ingredients found in forests across Sweden and Finland. This material has a CO2 footprint 74% lower than the leather that is often used on these parts of the interior. Furthermore, a flax material that uses fibres from linseed plants is used on the lower storage areas. It is easy to wipe clean and is durable while also having a natural aesthetic.
“The art of sculpting sophisticated forms suited to natural material properties, harmonising textures and tones in the cabin, is what brings Scandinavian design a premium timeless elegance,” says Reeves. She also highlights the wooden surfaces all around the cabin. These are illuminated by ambient lighting to provide “a beautiful rich ambience”.
"Connected systems and different human-machine interfaces (HMIs) can offer much more than just driving controls"
But her favourite part of the Concept Recharge is the rear seats. “They are able to recognise the passenger and adapt to provide ultimate safety. For children, the cushion rises and shortens to fit little legs with a footrest for the feet. The child experiences a first-class elevated view from the cabin and can enjoy the same eye level as the other passengers for more engaging social interaction. A measuring tape is included in the design of the back rest for the child to monitor their growth like on a height chart. As a mother of two, I can appreciate the enjoyment this can bring to a child as well as for the parents, with peace of mind through optimum safety and improved social family experience.”
With Volvo’s plans to minimise the footprint of its interiors and phase-out its combustion engine models, the Concept Recharge will likely start life as a production vehicle in the near future. It could also inform the design choices used in a number of other new models.
“I think the industry is heading in a few directions,” says Reeves. “Use of interior space in new electric platforms is changing, and autonomous driving is opening up possibilities. At the same time, connected systems and different human-machine interfaces (HMIs) can offer much more than just driving controls. There is also pressure on the industry to move towards sustainability. I find it extremely exciting and meaningful to work with Volvo, where sustainability and customer experience are core values of the brand.”
Model: Concept Recharge
Head of design: Robin Page
Head of interior design: Lisa Reeves
Interior design manager: Juan Pablo Bernal
Lead interior designer: Daniel Forsgren
Senior interior designer: Benjamin Perot
Head of UX: Thomas Stovicek
Lead UX designer: Jorge Furuya
Lead UI graphics: Gorm Taube
Colour and material design manager: Sara Erichsen Susnjar
Lead colour and material designer: Ann Louise Landelius
Head of exterior design: T. Jon. Mayer
Exterior design manager: Jurgen Jose
Lead exterior designer: Murray Westwater
Lamp design: Berk Keskin
Wheel design: Ole-Kristian Bjerke
Project manager: Fredrik Wallmander
CAD Modelling: Johan Wendesten, Joel Jern, Cristoffer Ahlm Brenander, Stefan Nilsson, Anders Magnusson
Studio engineering: Per Ekeroth, Pierre Ahrnberg, Mattias Wikström
Project started/completed: Early 2020/June 2021
Text: Michael Nash