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Volvo North America CEO: Having No Fatalities in Volvos by 2020 Will Require Autonomous Tech

Volvo has set a goal of having zero fatalities in its vehicles by 2020, but it'll take semi and fully autonomous technology to achieve that.


Volvo has made quite a few ambitious safety pledges in the past year. In addition to accepting full liability in the case of accidents that involve autonomous vehicles, Volvo has also set a goal to have no deaths in the company’s vehicles by 2020. As Volvo’s CEO of North America Lex Kerssemakers would have it, autonomous technology will be a major factor in achieving that goal.

“If we want to reach our target of nobody being killed, then passive safety systems and active safety systems are not enough,” Kerssemakers told Re/code. “So we need autonomous driving within Volvo. We need that to reach our target.”

It’s why the company is pushing forward in the development of its autonomous technology. In 2017, the company is giving 100 drivers a fully autonomous XC90 vehicle to test on the streets of Sweden so the company can learn more about driver behavior and so the Swedish Transport Administration can in turn learn more about the impact autonomous vehicles will have on infrastructure.

But until then, Kerssemakers says Volvo will be rolling out semi-autonomous features incrementally as it has with its newest line of XC90s that has features like Pilot Assist for which vehicles can brake, steer and accelerate for the driver up to 80 miles an hour and City Safety which detects other cars and pedestrians in the vicinity.

“We take it step by step,” he said. “It’s not just about the dialogue around safety. We need this approach because the technology is evolving and everybody is learning. We don’t use the consumer to learn but we need to learn first. It started with cruise control, then adaptive cruise control and now semi-autonomous features. Completely autonomous cars will not come until after 2020.”

“But we still believe we can achieve our goal by 2020,” he continued. “There are already cars in our portfolio that have [no fatalities].”

With the rollout of the XC90, Volvo will begin its foray into the luxury market — an approach the company will continue to take when it begins producing autonomous vehicles.

“It’s about time: Time is a luxury good,” he said. “We know in the U.S., average transport time is 26 minutes. [With autonomous vehicles] you can [better] use the time you have in the car on your way to work. We see it as a luxury feature, but first as a tool to get to our vision of no deaths in Volvo vehicles.”

According to Kerssemakers, the company’s primary competition are the premium automakers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes. As the development of autonomous technology progresses, the company has conducted surveys and tests of their consumers’ sentiment around driverless technology and has seen that not only are they open to the technology but they’re willing to spend money on it.

In pursuit of both preserving its “heritage of safety” and developing this driverless capability, Kerssemakers says Volvo is actively looking for partners in addition to working in-house on proprietary technology. On the regulatory front, Volvo is working alongside the rest of the auto industry in having an open dialogue with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still be bullish on their core business.

“Autonomous driving has a lot of positive side effects,” he said. “It can reduce congestion; there will be higher fuel efficiency. So overall we are a strong believer in autonomous driving. But we’re a car manufacturer we believe in driving cars we don’t believe in a polarized system. Our autonomous vehicle will be driven by a person, you can switch the autonomous feature on and switch it off. It’s a choice.”

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