The designers of the Volvo EX90 say both appear in the electric car’s manufacturing process.
After careers devoted to reinterpreting vehicles with conventional powertrains, designers are busy developing electric models, which presents a new set of opportunities and challenges. The upcoming all-electric three-row SUV Volvo EX90 2023 is no exception. The seven-seat flagship model, due to debut this month, will replace the current Volvo XC90 as Volvo’s flagship model and will be assembled on the same production line as the XC90. As Volvo continues to roll out the EX90 ahead of its November 9 world premiere in Stockholm, we chat with T. Jon Mayer, Head of External Design, about some of the details of designing an electric car.
Eliminating the engine bay, transmission tunnel and front grille opens up many possibilities, Mayer told MotorTrend. It is a curse and a joy at the same time. The goal is to make the EX90 look like an electric car: it borrows heavily from the Volvo Concept Charge, a manifesto for electrification from a design perspective.
Nail ratios for electric cars
Mayer said they worked hard to maintain the golden ratio of wheelbase to overall height to get the ratio they wanted. He thinks they’ve done it, which sounds easy, but Mercedes fought hard to create an aerodynamic and sleek look for its first few EQ sedans. The following Mercedes EQ SUV looks even better.
Mayer said the project started with three words from the team: confidence, maturity and seamlessness (a new policy to improve aerodynamics and increase the range of electric vehicles).
Volvo designers sought to make a proud but understated reliance on a softer front end. It is said to resemble a mammalian face, with more powerful Quake lights high up, a grille-less nose section, and a lower mouth gap for cooling. We wanted a more human look, rather than something callous, Mayer said.
The side lines are few, but the lines are longer, concise and generous. Volvo cars have a history of boxy shapes, but the need for aerodynamics required a more rounded front end, which resulted in a drag coefficient of 0.29. It also resulted in flush door handles – which swing out as you approach the car – and seamless sides with flush glass so there are no protruding covers around the B- and C-pillar windows.
Ode to the Swedish Sunshine
The design is also influenced by life in Sweden, where there is a lot of light: long summers and winters without light. “It affects us as designers,” he said. To let plenty of light into the cabin, the EX90 has a large glass roof and large side windows for a high glass-to-metal ratio. The advantage of a glass roof is that the roofline can be lowered without sacrificing headroom, as no additional layers of steel are provided for the structure. The glass is tinted to block sunlight to reduce the extra energy needed to cool a sun-drenched vehicle.
As a Volvo, Mayer had to stick to a minimalist Scandinavian design, but he also had to meet the engineers’ demands for aerodynamics and integrate the technology with all of its sensors, radar, lidar and cameras to achieve Advanced driver assistance systems.
LiDAR Roof System Challenges
Integrating standard lidar into the roofline is a challenge. Luminar’s device is fairly large: about 18 inches wide but less than 2 inches tall. It requires a glass cover for protection, a teardrop shape for aerodynamics, and an elevated stand for optimal visibility. The final unit is slightly flatter than the one shown in the Recharge concept.
“We’re very proud of lidar on the roof right now. We see it as a 21st century automotive safety icon, just like the three-point seat belts of the last century,” Mayer said.
Connor Mason is a passionate automotive journalist and the author behind the popular website motonews.info. With years of experience in the automotive industry, Connor is well-versed in all things related to cars and motorcycles.