Volvo shows off concept to take on airline industry

Autonomous electric vehicle provides alternative to short-haul air travel

Published: September 16, 2018, 9:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 2:59 PM

Volvo 360c concept - positioned by Volvo as an alternative to short-haul air travel.

Volvo has a history of producing safe but uninspiring, boxy cars, and although it has left that reputation behind with its latest string of models, it still was quite a shock to see its latest autonomous vision, the 360c concept.

The theory behind the 360c is that autonomous driving will also make it easier to travel long distances without having to ring up an expensive airport limousine to take you to an airport hours in advance to pass increasingly-stringent security scrutiny, before packing yourself into a sealed tube with scores of other travellers, some of whom have enough germs to infest a small town.

With 360c, Volvo asks “What if you could have your own first-class cabin that picks you up at home and drops you off at your destination address?”

The 360c is a fully-electric, fully autonomous vehicle that capitalizes on the absence of steering controls and bulky powertrains to maximize the space for passengers in various space configurations — a sleeping cabin, a mobile office, a living/family room, and entertainment space.

“The business will change in the coming years and Volvo should lead that change of our industry,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “Autonomous drive will allow us to take the big next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do.”

It opens up a potentially lucrative option to short-haul air travel, whose only main competitor right now is rail, which may also be viewed as inconvenient by some travellers. Volvo defines short-haul as trips of about 300 km (Toronto to Ottawa, for example, or Calgary to Edmonton) — those trips where travel to the airport and from the airport to the destination office or home, security clearance, boarding and disembarking, and the flight itself (never even factoring in flight delays) can be as, or more, time-consuming than driving point to point.

“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t. The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry,” said Mårten Levenstam, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars. “The sleeping cabin allows you to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night and wake up refreshed at your destination. It could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.”

Volvo says the 360c is not just about transportation and how people travel, but also about how people interact and engage with others on the move, and allows people to recapture time with each other outside of concentrating on the task of driving.

“Autonomous vehicle concepts have a tendency to become a technology showcase instead of a vision of how people use them,” said Robin Page, senior vice president of design at Volvo Cars. “But Volvo is a human-centric brand. We focus on the daily lives of our customers and how we can make them better.”

“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” added Levenstam. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”