This is, in fact, the new flagship from Volvo. Launching in 2024, yes, not next year but the year after, and presumably heralds a new era of Volvo: one that is filled with electric vehicles and racing to create as little impact on the world around it as possible. “This is our most recycled vehicle to date. we have [recycled] around 15 percent plastic, 15 percent steel and 25 percent aluminum,” says Henrick Green, rightly appointed Head of Advanced Technology and Sustainability at Volvo. “In the middle of the decade we aim for 25% steel and plastic and up to 40% aluminum.”
While you’ll find lidar technology on a couple of other cars (the Polestar 3 and Lotus Eletre), where it’s optional or hidden away, here on the EX90 it’s standard and takes pride of place at the top of the windshield. This, says Austin Russell, CEO of lidar supplier Luminar, is due to Volvo’s reputation for safety: “It’s not just about the sexy new feature.” Sexy? In the flesh this lidar lump is actually quite prominent on the EX90 and makes it look a bit like a London cab. Though it’s certainly capable: no matter the conditions, it can see 120 degrees side to side and up to 250 meters ahead with an accuracy of 1 centimeter, preparing the car for most eventualities.
For Robin Page, head of global design at Volvo, the placement of the lidar wasn’t the easiest thing to work with aesthetically, so alternative solutions were sought: “We wanted to try and get it behind the windshield, but like the [lidar] the beams go out, hit that glass surface and launch themselves into the air. Obviously that’s not a good thing. Thankfully, the aerodynamic challenges he brought along weren’t too hard to deny, due to a small “edge” in the unit that encourages cleaner airflow.
The type of customer who might buy this Volvo flagship is probably the one carmakers want to hear, especially as the first available iteration of the EX90 will cost you just over £96,000 in the UK in 2024. range will follow later, which will be priced at around $80,000 in the US and £75,000 in the UK.
The launch model Twin Motor Ultra features 402 brake horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque, a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds and 364 miles of range. Up next, the Twin Motor Performance Ultra gets 510 hp, 671 lb-ft, a 4.9 0-62 mph time and 360 miles on a charge. The most powerful car will cost you more than £100,000. Both cars have a limited top speed of 112 mph. For all that you get a ton of tech, of course; headlights that open theatrically to allow for high beam; a Bowers and Wilkins stereo; every safety advance is possible to put on a passenger car without it collapsing under its own weight; and you also get seven seats.
The EX90 has a problem, though. Not from a rival, but from a brother of the parent company Geely– one who is looking for almost exactly the same client: an affluent buyer who loves safety, Scando design, electric power and superb build quality. You see, the new North Star 3-throw much earlier the EX90: shares the same EV platform. Starting at $83,900 (£79,900), the 483bhp Long Range Dual Motor model will hit 62mph from standstill in 5.0 seconds and manage 379 miles on a charge. Throw in the Polestar $89,900 (£85,500) and you get the Long Range Dual Motor With Performance Pack, which boosts power and torque to 510bhp, shortens the range to 347 miles, but gets you to 62mph in 4.7 seconds . Both cars will hit 130 mph. As one would expect from cars based on exactly the same platform, the Volvo and Polestar are dimensionally similar: the EX90 is over 5.0 meters long, 2.1 meters wide and 1.7 meters high; the Polestar is 4.9 by 2.1 by 1.6 meters.
Both cars are heavy: the Volvo tips the scales at 2.8 tonnes, but the Polestar is a little lighter at just under 2.6. The Polestar appears more agile and dynamic, while the Volvo seems to shiver when pointed at a Nike store. There are some striking similarities, though. The interior shares many hallmarks, for example: the center touchscreen, HVAC vents, and center tweeter are remarkably similar.
The Polestar, at least for now, doesn’t have that lidar system, not stock anyway, and it won’t get the rearmost row of seats: It’s a five-seater. Look at the two on paper, though, and they’re remarkably similar. It’s here, of course, where the design matters: apart from those two extra seats, the main thing that will set these two cars apart, considering they ride on the same shoe, will be how they look both inside and out.
Dale Harrow, director of the Intelligent Mobility Design Center at the Royal College of Art in London, says the challenge of moving from internal combustion engines to electric cars is that brands need to reconfigure. “Much of the history of cars and car ownership has been based on the reliability of cars,” he says. “German brands were the favorites because they were considered very competent in their design. So there was a time when the mechanical side was very important in terms of the overall quality of the vehicle. But with electrics we don’t really have these opportunities to differentiate ourselves in the same way.”
Ian Callum, Design Director at Callum Designs and former Design Director at Jaguar, knows all about working with similar tooling from sister companies (Jaguar and Land Rover are pretty much under the same roof), while trying to keep things different and gets also a border. “There’s an interesting thing with brands, and design departments have a lot to do with that. You think brands would be at the table saying, “Well, you will, we will.” But it doesn’t work like that. You find that they are quite competitive internally.
Working with another brand means there will be some twisting of the corporate arm, Callum says. The challenge is to keep the similarities hidden where possible: “To be fair to the design teams, they will be told to use a lot of similar components, such as touchscreens. But, for example, you should never use the same switches on the outer surface. We argued about this between Jaguar and Land Rover. While the mechanics of the switch might be common below, which is fine, the tactility and feel must be different. These are areas that need to be protected.”
The important thing is how each brand presents its own philosophy. After all, sharing platforms and powertrains is nothing new. A VW Golf R shares a platform and engine with an Audi S3, with their design and ethos being the big differentiators. The market positioning of the former is not quite as premium as the latter, despite the similarities under the skin. Looking a little closer to the mark, a VW iD3 shares its platform and technology (right down to its woeful infotainment system) with the Cupra Born, yet the two marques’ images couldn’t be further apart. One comes across as sensitive, while the other is sporty. To go further, Kia’s EV6Genesis GV60 and Hyundai ionic 5 they all share a platform, approximate dimensions and powertrains, but promise and deliver different experiences.
“Polestar is interesting because it’s a very similar product to Volvo,” says Harrow. “I thought that in the beginning of the brand, they would produce significantly different products. But with economies of scale and the ability to share platforms, the inevitable happens and they start making very similar vehicles.”
“What they’re trying to do is elevate Polestar slightly above Volvo, so it’s closer to a premium brand,” Harrow says. “But the challenge for all these companies is: how do you create a new premium when all products are the same? Materials are becoming less important. Digital enhancements are much more important in a brand now. So we are in a different territory.
Which brings us back to the EX90’s main party piece, its prominent and visible lidar sensor. Considering what Volvo is all about, this comes as no surprise to Callum: “This is the attribute of Volvo. They are clearly not compromising security. If it means putting a funny box on the roof to do it, they will.
Similarities are bound to happen as both Volvo and Polestar vie to be the most sustainable, the cleanest or the greenest. But for Callum this is where things get confused: “The two brands are in the same space. One was created to be an electric version of the other, but now they are Both of them electric. To be honest, I think they will have quite a challenge. Polestar needs to focus on, perhaps, the more joyful and sporty side of life rather than the practical, family-oriented side.
Harrow agrees and cites the recent announcement North Star 6 as a first step in that direction. “Polestar has quite a different idea of what the brand could become,” he says. “And as things progress, he may start to move away from Volvo. But I suspect at the moment, because they have to make it profitable, the inevitability is that they share a lot of products and industries.”
Volvo, therefore, should perhaps stick to its safe lane, and maybe even worry a little less about elegant Scandinavian design. After all, Callum recalls when Volvo buyers, so intoxicated by the marque’s safety record, hardly considered design when buying his cars. But we must also not forget how popular the XC40 was in 2017. At the time, this successful new design direction saw Volvo’s sales skyrocket and long waiting lists resulted. In fact, the company ramped up production from 2018 to 2019 to meet global demand. However, Polestar, as a full electric vehicle brand, didn’t exist then.
Perhaps Volvo can move forward with confidence and premium design as the watchwords for the brand without stepping on Polestar. But surely this would require both companies to cooperate more closely and not pretend their brother doesn’t exist. For example, Volvo not allowing any Polestar questions during the presentation of the EX90 is certainly not the way forward.
For now, despite the design similarities between Volvo’s new flagship and the Polestar version, Volvo is happy to leave the ‘performance’ card with Polestar. At no time during the car launch event did anyone mention, fetishize or rav about speed. Volvo CEO Jim Rowan doubled down on protection, noting that the mix of software, silicon and brain power is this generation of Volvo’s “digital three-point safety belt.”
Where Volvo once innovated physically, it now aims to do so with programming and driver assistance technology. The EX90, according to the company, is the beginning of a new era, not only for propulsion, but also for safety. Hopefully it will save the brand from simply being seen as a safe alternative to Polestar.