Technology

The future is here: Volvo’s 360c concept is more than just a car without a steering wheel

The Volvo 360c likely won’t ever see the inside of a showroom — but that’s OK, because it’s a life-sized idea on wheels

That’s because it’s a conversation starter, a life-sized idea on wheels that demonstrates what could be, not an accurate preview of an upcoming production model. And, in the off-chance that it one day reaches production, you won’t be able to buy one unless you’re interested in running a fleet of them.

The 360c is a fully electric, autonomous, and connected machine envisioned as the central component of future ride-sharing programs. Don’t turn in your driver’s license quite yet; our crystal ball tells us autonomous cars won’t arrive in the immediate future but they’ll likely hit the roads before the end of the next decade. One of the brightest minds inside Volvo argues we’re at a pivotal point in the development and deployment of self-driving shuttles like the 360c.

“We always try to look at the past to understand the future. When we invented the car, everyone thought ‘it’s a horse and a carriage with a faster horse. You don’t need to fill it with oats but you can fill it up with gasoline.’ They could not understand that our cities would be completely redesigned due to the invention of the car,” Mårten Levenstam, Volvo’s chief of product strategy, told Driving.

The same applies to autonomous cars. They’re more than a car without a steering wheel; they’re the next big evolution that will shape every city’s infrastructure. Levenstam pointed out Volvo can’t push the technology forward on its own, however. It wants to work hand-in-hand with rival automakers marching towards the same goal, technology companies with vast software expertise, lawmakers around the world, and — significantly — users to ensure a smooth roll-out that meets every group’s expectations.

“We need to work together in society to make it happen. There are tons of benefits,” he opined. “[Self-driving cars] will never be 100 per cent safe, that’s very naïve, but they have the potential to be much safer than a human driver.”

The SPA2 platform, that Volvo will launch under the skin of the next-generation XC90 in 2021, will be ready for autonomous driving from the get-go. Henrik Green, the vice president of Volvo’s research and development department, explained the automaker is committed to building a fully autonomous car on the SPA2 platform during the first half of the next decade.

It’s too early to say whether it will borrow styling cues from the 360c, and we don’t even know if Volvo will develop it in-house; it could form a partnership with another company to spread development costs. What’s certain is that it will be electric.

Though a car like the 360c could offer travelers an attractive alternative to short-haul flying, Levenstam hinted it might not make sense for Volvo to operate its own ride-sharing program.

“We sell a lot of cars to taxi companies but we have never considered starting our own taxi company,” he told us. Nothing is off the table yet, but Volvo’s smartest move may be to continue doing what it does best — building solid cars — and letting another company (like Uber or Lyft) worry about making money by filling them with passengers.

“Things will change. I think it’s a mistake not to discuss what those changes are and not to steer them,” Levenstam concluded.

by RONAN GLON, DRIVING

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