How Volvo Stole Energy From Other Cars on a California Highway to Power This SUV

Grey engineers some neat 'highway robbery'

Volvo's new XC90 T8 hybrid is more than just a potential getaway car. It's a twin-engine thief that steals power from other vehicles.

At least, that's how the seven-seat SUV is portrayed in this inventive "Highway Robbery" stunt crafted by Grey New York. Over the course of a two-day shoot on a busy roadway in Southern California, the team employed a tricked-out peristaltic pump and "road-mat" to harness the momentum of passing traffic and generate electricity for charging the XC90 T8.

Check out the stunt here:

"It takes a very integrated team to pull something like this off," Andreas Dahlqvist, Grey New York's chief creative officer, tells AdFreak. "It's more like an inventor's workshop process than your regular campaign development."

After the idea was approved, "it took around four months to find the perfect location and fully develop the technology," he says. "We evaluated and tested a bunch of existing technologies that would allow us to capture the power from the road, but none of them really suited our purposes."

Most of those early attempts required cars to slow down drastically before their energy could be captured—and that simply wasn't going to happen on a busy West Coast highway.

"We ended up developing our own proprietary hydraulic system from scratch, and it proved to be incredibly efficient at generating electric power," Dahlqvist says. "We were kind of blown away that this type of system had never been developed for commercial use before, given how well it worked."

Grey also used a small billboard to flash real-time lines of copy at cars as they passed and unknowingly provided the XC90 T8 with power. Some were brand-specific—such as, "Thanks for the extra miles, Jeep"—while others simply proclaimed, "You've just been robbed." (Wonder what motorists made of that one.)

The unusual campaign serves notice that "Volvo is focused on innovation," says Dahlqvist. "We wanted this launch to also represent that, not only talk about it," and hopefully spark social sharing and consumer conversations.

At this point, Grey and Volvo are building quite a rap sheet. Previously, they "hijacked" rivals' commercials on the 2015 Super Bowl, inviting fans to tweet using the hashtag #VolvoContest whenever another carmaker's ad ran during the game. That campaign, which gave folks the chance to win a new Volvo for family or friends, snared the Grand Prix in Direct at last year's Cannes Lions festival.

Hey, if vehicles can be our best friends and our safety nets, why not our partners in crime, too?


Client: Volvo

Spot Title: Highway Robbery

Agency: Grey New York

Chief Creative Officer: Andreas Dahlqvist

Executive Creative Director: Matt O'Rourke

Group Creative Directors: João Coutinho, Marco Pupo

ACD/Art Director: Rodrigo Burdman

CD/Copywriter: Natalie Rose

Copywriter: Jason Goldshteyn

Agency Producer: Stephen Samelko

Agency Music Producer: Ben Dorenfeld

Production Company: 1stAveMachine

Director: Bob Partington, Jordan Fein, Hunter Baker

DP: Hunter Baker

Post Production: 1stAveMachine

Editor: Colin Laughlin

Sound Mix: Gramercy Post

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@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.