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Volvo to Release an Electric Minivan — But Only In China

At least it doesn’t look as good as the ID.Buzz.

The Volvo EM90.
Heatmap Illustration/Volvo, MIIT

Volvo, a company that has never in its nearly 100 years of existence manufactured a minivan, is among the first automakers bringing an electric model to market.

The Swedish automaker, which was acquired by the Chinese company Geely in 2010, began teasing its first-ever minivan, the EM90, on social media in late September with images that looked like screenshots from Mad Men. In one, the silhouette of the van is barely visible outside the curtains of a shag-carpeted, wood-paneled living room, where a man sits with his feet up in an Eames chair. In another, the front bumper is peaking out the window of a high-rise office with a skyline view, where a designer is hunched over his drafting table.

It appeared that Volvo was marketing its electric minivan as something that minivans never were and perhaps have no reason to ever be: Highbrow.

Indeed, on Monday, full images of the vehicle were posted online by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and it’s hard to square them with the company’s marketing. The EM90 looks just as boxy and uninspiring as the minivans of yore — like an Escalade with rounded edges.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The secret to the minivan, like many things in life, is that it’s what’s on the inside that counts: the capaciousness, comfort, convenience, and sense of safety that is unmatched by any sportier, sexier SUV. My guess is that if minivans are ever going to be cool, it won’t be because businessmen and designers start driving them. Rather, there will be some cultural reawakening to all the reasons suburban moms, rock bands, and surf bums loved them in the first place.

As a climate reporter, one of the things I’m most interested in when it comes to electric vehicles is how companies are trying to convince the public they are just as good, nay, better than their gas-powered predecessors. And as a champion of the minivan, I’m heartened by the prospect that the electric revolution could bring about a minivan comeback. But in this case, I’m not sure Volvo really gets what it’s selling. Volkswagen, on the other hand, with its retro-looking ID. Buzz, is striving to tap into nostalgia without losing sight of the pure utility the vehicle offers families and adventurers alike.

But perhaps I’m wrong. The suburban soccer mom stigma of the minivan is a distinctly American phenomenon, and at least for now, there are no plans to bring the Volvo EV minivan to the U.S. The vehicle is set to debut in China next month.

(Volvo did not respond to questions whether it has plans to bring an electric minivan to the U.S.)

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Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal. Read More

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