DETROIT -- Volvo Cars has begun delivering self-driving technology to select customers.
At the Detroit auto show on Monday, the automaker officially launched its Drive Me research program, providing autonomous XC90 SUVs to 100 customers in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company said it will expand the program to China and the U.K.
Volvo’s approach to autonomy has centered around delivering tangible benefits to consumers. The automaker has said there will be zero deaths in its vehicles by 2020 and hopes to save customers one week a year in time from the integration of autonomous technology.
“This is rather a significant change in the entire automotive industry but also in society,” said Lex Kerssemakers, CEO of Volvo Car USA. “It is going to happen. It has to happen.”
To accelerate the development of autonomous technology, Volvo has partnered with Uber to collaborate on sensor hardware and has formed Zenuity, an autonomous software venture, with Autoliv. Despite Uber’s public dispute with California regulators, Kerssemakers said Volvo plans to maintain a “long-term partnership” with the company.
“I never expected this to go without any bumps,” he said, adding that he considers it Uber’s responsibility to work with regulators on the tech company’s own self-driving tests.
Kerssemakers said Volvo will not bring Drive Me to the U.S. However, Volvo engineers in Palo Alto, Calif. will perform public road tests in the state. The automaker plans to release a Level 4 autonomous vehicle -- which does not require human intervention in specified conditions -- after 2020.
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Kerssemakers said.
Coming in 2017
Construction continues on Volvo's Charleston, S.C., assembly plant, which will produce the next-generation S60 and is slated to go online in late 2018. Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in an interview with Automotive News that it will export half of the vehicles manufactured at the plant.
The automaker is also expecting continued sales growth. After selling nearly 83,000 units in the U.S. in 2016 -- an 18 percent increase from 2015 -- Samuelsson said he expects another year of record volume in 2017.
The redesigned XC60 SUV and the all-new XC40 crossover will be introduced this year, with the V90 making its U.S. debut in Detroit on Monday.
Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Doug Bolduc contributed to this report.