HE looks like an Apple Store genius with that headset on. But he’s not.
He’s the gaffer at Volvo Cars, having previously worked at Dyson and BlackBerry, and he’s a Scot.
Volvo CEO and President Jim Rowan believes the car industry will change beyond all recognition in the next ten years – and he’s not just talking about electricity, sustainable materials and self-driving tech to “protect people and the planet”.
He’s talking about how we use cars and how we pay for them.
Here’s ten minutes inside the mind of one of the most powerful men in the car world.
Jim said: “It’s ludicrous to me to think that this is an industry whereby you sell a £40,000 or £50,000 car to someone that you never talk to, ever. You leave all that to your dealership network.
“In today’s world, with the Gen Z digital natives, that’s not going to work. You don’t speak to that young demographic in dealerships, you speak to that young demographic in search and social.
“If you have a small SUV (like the upcoming EX30), comparatively priced and with subscription-based ownership, which we are now offering over three months, they won’t even go to the dealership. They will buy online.
“I guarantee you. I know this. This is my industry. Then you have a direct relationship with those customers at a really early age.
“Do our job properly and we will keep those customers and we will trade them up. As they get married, have a dog, have kids, and want a second car. That’s when they say, ‘I love a Volvo’.
“Talk to them on a regular basis and then you can say, ‘What else would you like from us? Would you like insurance? Would you like to have your tyres changed from winter tyres to summer tyres?’
“This is when you become sticky and get a really strong relationship with customers.
“So when you choose to change your car, it’s like when you choose to change your iPhone, it’s a hassle because you get so many benefits, and you think, ‘I’m just going to stay on the platform’.
“That is the way the industry is going to go in my opinion.”
‘Technology wins the day’
Jim was speaking at the launch of Volvo’s flagship EX90, a seven-seat electric SUV dripping in cutting-edge software and safety tech and bio-based materials.
It’s not cheap at £85k. But Jim is adamant cost will come down and that other “friction factors” to EV adoption – like range, charging speed, and charging infrastructure – are “starting to be solved”.
He said: “Cost will absolutely come down. Lithium is high right now but it will come down. Not only that, next-generation battery chemistry, next-generation manufacturing will bring down that cost as well.
“You are going to see other chemistries and more people coming out with competition. That’s going to bring down costs. Charge infrastructure? Everyone is leaning in on that. Even the big private equity guys. Shell. BP. These guys are looking at new revenue streams.
Maybe some people don’t care about sustainability, but I guarantee you Gen Z do.
Volvo CEO and President Jim Rowan
“Then you move from 400v to an 800v charging system and you can charge 180 miles in less than ten minutes.
“Maybe some people don’t care about sustainability, but I guarantee you Gen Z do. And they will say, ‘I will put up with some of those friction factors because I don’t want to destroy the planet in the way we’ve been doing it with internal combustion engines (ICEs) for so long’.
“And if you look at ICE versus electric propulsion, an ICE engine runs at best case 32-35 per efficient. Our new engines here are 93 per cent on electric propulsion.
“Technology wins the day. That’s why we all wander around with iPhones and nobody is tied to a phone any more. Were they more expensive when they first came out? Absolutely. But did they offer so many more benefits? Absolutely.
“So when you get into bi-directional charging and next-generation computational power, the benefits you have within your vehicle are massive.
“I go camping, right. With my electric car I can heat or cool a tent for three days. I can charge a small fridge. I can charge my phone. I can charge my electric bike.
“It’s a whole lifestyle change that you don’t have with an internal combustion engine. And you get the added benefit of trying to give the planet a little bit of a break.”
There is no escaping the fact that a battery-powered XC40 costs £10k more than a petrol XC40 today.
But Jim has an answer for that too. He said: “When people are making big purchase decisions in the future, they are going to really think about the residual value of an ICE car in three or four years’ time, and whether I should buy an EV because it’s going to have a higher residual.
“Because ICE technology is going to be going down. Plug-in hybrids will play a bridge to get people to full EV adoption and we need to make sure we are positioned in all of those markets.”
He’s not an Apple store genius, but he’s switched on all the same.