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The Future of Self-Driving Cars, According to Volvo

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author photo by Brian Moody October 2016

Volvo recently showed an all-new S90 sedan and V90 wagon to the press. Of course, both cars are beautiful and have that perfect Volvo combination of sensible and sporty, stylish and restrained and fun to drive with an emphasis on safety. With all the talk of self-driving cars, we thought we'd ask Volvo how this new tech fits into the future of a company mainly known for safety and style. In some ways, the Volvo S90 is like a self-driving car, and in many ways, it's not at all.

What really stands out about the 2017 Volvo S90 is that many autonomous-driving or self-driving features are included on the car as standard equipment. For example, Volvo's Pilot Assist is included. Pilot Assist is exactly what it suggests, a driving aid to help the driver stay on course. This is a level two car, meaning it can accelerate, steer and brake by itself, but a driver is still required to sit behind the steering wheel and pay attention with hands on the wheel. This vehicle isn't a self-driving car, but it probably could be at some point.

Long known for safety and unique design elements, we wondered how a self-driving Volvo fits into the image of a modern Volvo and how the company sees the future of passenger cars. We asked Jim Nicholas, Technology and Product Communications Manager what the future holds as far as self-driving cars.

Q: The new Volvo S90 has some semi-autonomous driving aids as standard equipment. Why is it important to have these features as standard?

A: Autonomous Driving (AD) is part of achieving our Vision 2020, which states that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by year 2020. Semi-autonomous technology is a step in this direction. By including it as standard, we can accelerate people's familiarity with these technologies. That will lead to a better probability of marketplace acceptance of full AD technologies when they become available.

Q: There's a lot of talk lately about self-driving cars, where is Volvo in that effort?

A: We are a leader in Autonomous Drive, with our pilot program putting 100 real consumers in fully autonomous vehicles starting in 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Q: Do Volvo buyers want cars that drive themselves?

A: Yes, our customers have indicated that they still wish to drive. In our approach to Autonomous Drive, we want to allow people to drive when they want to and delegate driving to the car when it is monotonous or boring. This choice of when to drive and when to delegate driving is an important part of our approach.

Q: Volvos have a rewarding or sporty driving experience. If we're headed toward self-driving cars, are things like horsepower, steering feel and tight handling still important?

A: Yes, since our strategy is to provide a choice between driving and AD, there is still a desire for an enjoyable driving experience. As a result, handling and power will still be an important factor for luxury car buyers.

The interesting aspect here is that Volvo doesn't primarily see self-driving technology as a convenience item but as an essential part of keeping drivers safe. At the S90 introduction, I asked about the relationship and was told that Volvo's Vision 2020 is, in large part, depending on self-driving and active safety features, like Pilot Assist.

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Used 2017 Volvo S90 T6 Momentum AWD
Used 2017 Volvo S90
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The Future of Self-Driving Cars, According to Volvo - Autotrader