To Daventry, Nimrod, and don’t spare the DERV.
My Volvo S90 would be the perfect town and commuter car if not for the fact he runs on diesel. Both derrière and back are supported supremely but the engine and that particulate filter prefer the motorway dash to the monotonous urban grind. Having had little opportunity to head out anywhere other than the supermarket and workplace for seemingly an age, the opportunity to stretch the car’s legs a little was duly taken – to Northamptonshire and to blazes with the cost!
The reason for the 200-mile round trip? The open day of Volvo UK’s training centre in Daventry. Settings maxed-out to comfortable, the M1 was taken in cruise control mode allowing for almost perfect music listening conditions. Almost, as some sections of tarmac reverberate as a fast-spinning washing machine, which even in such a quiet cabin, intrude on the aural delights. No matter, a volume tweak here and there and within no time, destination reached without fuss.
Organised in conjunction with Volvo UK and the Volvo Owners Club, the chance to view the inner sanctum of a major manufacturer was too good to miss. On arrival it appeared your author was not alone; some 200 Swedish chariots had beaten me to the prime parking spaces. The mood was friendly and convivial, the weather for late September, perfect. Amazons to XCs were lined up. Some scruffy, many pristine with a handful tuned or painted quite unlike anything Gothenburg ever anticipated.
On arrival I was handed a voting form for Most Admired Volvo then directed to the cafeteria where free cake and drinks aplenty were provided for our consumption. The building’s facilities were, as one might expect, first rate. Large pictures of Swedish forests covered windows. Photos of handsome people depicted looking wistfully at some far-off horizon sat happily with waterfall shots. Light and airy spaces, tan sofas, Orla Kiely coasters and scale models. Very Swedish and most relaxed in nature.
Designed to resemble the dealership with workshop, Monday through Friday sees the unit as a busy training and development centre for budding technicians and salespeople alike. Whilst test drives were unavailable, current models were lined up in the workshop area for the many interested parties to sit in, prod and poke. One had to sample an XC90 for purely selfish reasons; can a dodgy kneed duffer easily get in and out? Of course, child’s play for a semicentallian. Go on then, I’ll take the commanding driving position as well. Did I say that out loud?
Another corner revealed the Heritage Collection: a yellow 1800 ES alongside the saintly P1800 but these eyes lusted over the 262C. Cosseted in living room luxury upfront, the rear seats really were for those more supple; ungainly, perhaps disastrous dismounts would occur. The heady aroma of Italian leather lightened the austere interior. This car has 60,000 miles covered and even stationary feels like it could handle ten times more. Where’s the keys, any chance of a spin?
Heading outside, the car park has become an extended story of marque’s outpourings. Bonnets up draw enthusiasts ever closer. Overheard talk is of finding ever more elusive parts or of what horsepower this particular tune is in. Volvo has its own bad boy or rude dude following; one S40 example’s exhaust scraped the ground, so low the thing sat. Next door, a 740 whose engine bay was a cornucopia of coloured items which one can only assume enhanced results. Hardly the middle-class conservative estate this badge is oft painted with.
Returning inside, the gathered throng were then subjected to a demonstration regarding the current trend of electrified vehicles, both hybrid and battery by a northern sounding but eminently astute chap. Dealing with the former firstly, the thick orange cables and various connected metal boxes. Alternating currents along with acronyms power this SPA Chassis which the technician can repair should the worst happen. Inside Vader’s Helmet lay sixteen modular batteries which in direct current mode provide the turning effort. The engine can be run should the battery die but certainly not indefinitely. Prepare for an expensive replacement.
Moving over to the entirely battery powered CMA Chassis, the stakes raise higher. The floorpan is the battery, all 500Kgs of liquid cooled lithium iron, most sought after by many an industry other than motoring. Tested to destruction (this is Volvo) these vehicles come with a seven year, hundred-thousand-mile warranty. We’re told that as would a mobile device, over time the cells degrade. After seven years the car won’t cease to function, just take more time to top up.
Contrary to popular belief, the batteries sweet spot lies between twenty and eighty percent with charging levels controlled via the car or associated apps. Those fast timed charges the press love to bandy about appear to do more harm to those important cells than good; too fast a charge too often generates heat which can cause problems. Keeping things simple would appear quite difficult.
The atmosphere within the workshop area then changed for the worse. Should those all-important cells require replacement, be that accidental damage or the passing of time, currently the cost could be anywhere from sixteen to thirty-six thousand pounds. Gasps spent, under breath comments circling, along the lines of, ‘why bother when dinosaur fuel works just fine?’ Alongside, those ever-present concerns regarding range and will the solitary off-route charging point be available?
When asked, few present had even sampled an electric car; old Volvo’s rarely die… but this and related charges would affect any battery car manufacturer. Volvo the manufacturer is firmly attached to electrical car propulsion, but the service fellow couldn’t rule out hydrogen, LPG or solid-state batteries as technological advances continue unabated.
Not wishing to end on a sour note, the tour and day was exemplary. A glimpse into the world of servicing and sales along with seeing a host of Gothenburg (Ghent or China’s) cherished steeds for the price of a few litres of diesel was well worth it. The journey home, a preciously relaxed affair. While I’m tempted by the cleanliness of electricity, I’ll remain with internal combustion for the foreseeable. And breathe…
 My own, surely? Including Nimrod, just one R-Design line S90 with a couple of estates of for good measure.
 If the rear of the 262C was difficult to manage, the ES was a nightmare. Your correspondent may be carrying a little more timber than necessary, but the huge steering wheel and extra low seating had me flailing like a beached whale. Others were witnessed in the same throes.