IAIN ROBERTSON 

Volvo XCe

Volvo XCe

Volvo, a Swedish accented Chinese carmaker, is set to introduce the Recharge P8 version of its compact-ish and very stylish XC40 in early-2021, highlights Iain Robertson, as he also reflects on a broader ‘dumbing-down’ afflicting all of us.

Around 25-30 years ago, a general topic of conversation could have been based on how TV, radio and the wider media were inflicting a ‘dumbing-down’ on the population. While today’s teachers would never admit that state education standards had slipped, it was seldom less than obvious to those people born during the post-WW2 baby boom, when discipline and streaming was practised and, yes, schooling was tougher. Politicians love dumbing-down, as the demand for information also slides.

An inquisitive, questioning population is a potentially dangerous one. Despite centrist ideologies boasting of free enterprise, the ideal political scenario for any party is to channel every member of the population through a solitary door, wearing the same uniform and accepting everything given to it by the state (and being mighty grateful too!). Eric Arthur Blair, perhaps better known as novelist, essayist and critic George Orwell, author of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, which was completed in 1949, a year prior to his death from tuberculosis, wrote most tellingly about the totalitarian state. Politicians love state control and the funnelling of the population, as it becomes easier to control.

Volvo XCe

Volvo XCe

The rare individuals that can rise above state intervention become the thinkers of an age. They may not be right but they put themselves in the firing-line by daring to question. The current, government sponsored move in transportation towards electric vehicles is being led by a blind acceptance that EVs are cleaner and environmentally greener, when, in reality, they are just shifting the blame from fuel pumps to power stations. The dumbing-down and funnelling exercises have led to the ‘only’ answer lying in electrification. It is not the case but you might struggle to disprove it.

The latest Volvo XC40 EV is a case in point. While the core vehicle is most acceptable, possesses a pleasant shape and build quality, there is nothing particularly revolutionary, or even evolutionary about it. In fact, its largely neutral stance is little more than a current EV tick-box exercise, as the following synopsis underscores:

  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (tick)
  • Notional 250 ‘acceptable’ mileage range (tick)
  • Fast-charge, 80% capacity in 40 mins (tick)
  • Road and income tax and running cost savings (tick)
  • 408bhp promised, with 0-60mph in 4.6s (tick)
  • No engine equates to front boot space (tick)
  • Full complement of ADAS and connectivity (tick)
  • Stupidly steep price tag of £53,155 (tick).
Volvo XCe

Volvo XCe

Compared with its rivals, it is virtually the same funnelled package, from a world motor industry that is in the back pocket of respective governments.

Now reflect on Boris Johnson’s pledge that no fossil-fuelled motorcars can be sold in the UK post-2035, a factor that satisfies the political elite worldwide, and you start to appreciate that a mix of brand differentiated models that deliver near-identical and completely character-free performances (see check list above) complies with a political desire for standardisation. Apart from badging, similar levels of electrified silence that will soon be speed and congestion controlled by remote means (you have to remember that autonomous/driverless motoring is also being shoved through the back door) will obviate the need for new car franchise showrooms.

The motor industry is unashamedly frustrated by its dealer networks. Of course, they have to comply with manufacturer stated standards but ensuring that they do so is exceedingly difficult to control. Another division of Geely Holdings, which owns Volvo, is Polestar, which has already deemed that its high street sales presence will be through various city centre ‘spaces’, leaving maintenance (of which there is a lot more than most pro-EV advocates are prepared to state) to a series of service hubs in centralised locations.

Volvo XCe

Volvo XCe

If the Covid-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is that new cars can be viewed virtually, they can be specified and ordered online, and can even be delivered with minimal, or zero human intervention. The ‘glory days’ of the new car dealership, the trials of requesting a test drive, the interminable time it takes to sort out the reams of paperwork, will all be consigned to history. As a nation, we are becoming more familiar with rental, rather than ownership, into which arena the archetypal EV, notionally unaffordable, slips imperceptibly and unperturbed. The transition from traditional ownership of an independent motorcar is made logical by the series of dumbing-down, funnelling and standardisation exercises that have all been politically motivated.

After all of that, is the electric XC40 worth contemplation? Of course it is, alongside the other character-free zones that electrification will promote. No longer ‘burdened’ by an oil, or petrol-fired internal combustion engine, its front-end now offers a 30-litres vestigial boot, into which an extra soft bag, or two, might be thrust, when there is insufficient space in the car’s actual boot. Trust me, it will be used like a larger glove-box!

When pursuing the research-proven daily ‘trippage’ of just 30-miles, potential renters will admire the waste-bin, larger door pockets and connected stereo system, with its Android-powered infotainment, expanding range of apps and access to Google. Of course, connectivity also means that privacy (eventually) gets flung out with the baby’s bathwater. The inevitable range of Volvo active and passive safety features should ensure that the company lives up to its much-vaunted reputation, as one of the safest cars in the world.

Volvo XCe

Volvo XCe

George Orwell presaged the dystopian future in his famous novel (‘1984’) and the new XC40 EV continues the remit that he foresaw some 35 years prior to its arrival. If you want a strangely disturbing but truly fascinating book to read, I can recommend it strongly. There are no caveats but I perceive that it might alter a few opinions, which was always Orwell’s intention.

Conclusion:    The latest all-electric Volvo XC40 is a perfectly respectable compact SUV, which is set to hit our roads early next year. It is no gamechanger but it will meet some potential customers’ demands.