Volvo to be leader in plug-in hybrid technology

Volvo claims that it will be a leader in plug-in hybrid technology by 2012.

A joint project with Swedish energy supplier Vattenfall is leading to the production of battery-powered Volvos featuring plug-in hybrid technology.

Vattenfall will offer customers the opportunity to sign up for renewable electricity sourced specifically from windpower or hydropower. In Sweden, virtually all Vattenfall’s electricity production is emission-free.

Volvo sees many benefits to plug-in electrical hybrids: carbon dioxide emissions are far lower and with an electric motor offering higher power, the car’s performance is also far better. The company says that being able to offer a car that doesn’t compromise on the other important properties that the customer wants is an absolute precondition for the market to shift towards more environmentally sustainable alternatives that really do make a difference.

In January 2007, the Volvo Car Corporation and Vattenfall launched a joint project with the aim of testing and developing plug-in technology. Now their co-operation is being taken to the next level.

“We are investing in an industrial joint venture to series-produce plug-in hybrid cars in Sweden in 2012, cars that can be powered by both electricity and diesel. This is an important business development for us and our partnership with Vattenfall allows us to take a giant step toward offering our customers cars with an even smaller environmental footprint,” says Stephen Odell, President and CEO of the Volvo Car Corporation.

Vattenfall and the Volvo Car Corporation believe that series production of plug-in hybrid cars and the development of infrastructure can generate new jobs and help Sweden maintain its position at the cutting edge of advanced pro-environmental technology.

One of the major benefits of Plug-in hybrids is that they can be charged from a regular household wall socket.

“We want to reinforce electricity’s importance in society and its key role in solving climate issues. Through this cooperation we hope to be able to speed up the introduction of electric cars. Together we are developing the next-generation technology based on plug-in cars and various charging alternatives,” says Lars G Josefsson, President and CEO of Vattenfall.

The development of the cars is being carried out and financed jointly by the two companies. The Volvo Car Corporation will manufacture the cars and Vattenfall will develop charging systems and supply the cars with electricity.

Electricity is very well-suited as a power source for cars. An electric motor has a high efficiency rating and consumes roughly one-fifth the energy needed to power an engine that runs on fossil fuels. The purchase price of the plug-in hybrids will be higher than that of cars with conventional technology. Batteries are still expensive but with the car running on electricity, its fuel costs will be cut to roughly one-third compared with diesel power.

Vattenfall will offer customers the opportunity to sign an agreement for renewable electricity sourced specifically from windpower or hydropower, as an alternative to the regular mix of electricity sources. Lars G Josefsson sees many benefits from chargeable plug-in hybrids, even in cases where the electricity does not come from renewable energy sources.

“Through electric power, we avoid the emissions from each individual car. Instead of petrol or diesel, the energy is derived from a few large power sources and Vattenfall is working hard to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from all electricity production. In Sweden, virtually all Vattenfall’s electricity production is emission-free,” explains Lars G Josefsson.

The plug-in hybrid cars will be driven by a powerful electric motor fuelled by a lithium-ion battery. The battery takes about five hours to charge from a standard wall socket, and the battery is also charged every time the car’s brakes are applied.

“Most car journeys are short trips, for instance to and from work. We will be able to offer a product that fulfils this transportation need. In order to cover longer distances as well, the car will also be equipped with one of Volvo’s fuel-efficient diesel engines,” says Stephen Odell.

In the summer of 2009, three Volvo V70 demonstration cars will be available. The demonstration cars will be used to gather information about the wishes and demands that drivers may have on the new technology, to determine their driving habits and to establish how they want to charge their cars.

Vattenfall will, among other things, test various concepts for high-speed home charging and also for charging stations in public places, where owners pay to fuel with electricity instead of petrol or diesel. The cars that are planned to go into series production in 2012 will feature somewhat different technology, but the launch of the demonstration vehicles is a step towards series-producing plug-in hybrid cars specifically tailored to market needs.

“There is no doubt that the environmental issue is at the very top of Volvo Cars’ product development agenda right now,” says Stephen Odell, President and CEO of Volvo Cars. “Carbon dioxide emissions from our cars will be drastically reduced by the plan we are now implementing and our aggressive electrification strategy will put us in a leading position when it comes to environmentally optimised passenger transport.”

“In fact, I would go so far as to say that the plug-in electrical hybrid we will launch in 2012 will be a true dream car. With the innovative solution we will offer, the car owner will be able to drive a thoroughly enjoyable car packed with Volvo’s renowned high safety and genuine driving pleasure”, says Stephen Odell.

Stephen Odell says that Volvo Cars’ industrial co-operation with Vattenfall opens up entirely new potential for developing future green technologies in a far more efficient way. Working in partnership is something that the company regards as essential in order to generate sustainable development.

“DRIVe Towards Zero is our vision and with Vattenfall’s expertise and partnership, we are making giant strides towards our targets. With our updated environmental map for the future, we are reinforcing our leading position in the environmental sphere within the premium segment,” concludes Stephen Odell.

At present, Volvo Cars has seven car models that can be specified in DRIVe configuration. The DRIVe badge refers to those cars in the model range that have extremely low carbon dioxide emissions. Among their many features, these cars have been specially designed for low air resistance and their drivelines are optimised for low fuel consumption. The most fuel-efficient variants are the C30, S40 and V50 1.6D DRIVe, with fuel consumption of 3.9 litres/100 km (104 grams CO2/km).

Volvo Cars’ FlexiFuel models are powered by E85 (85 percent renewable bioethanol and 15 percent petrol). Bioethanol is an entirely renewable fuel and can be made from a variety of sources such as sugar-cane, wheat and wood by-products. Both Volvo’s smaller models (the C30, S40 and V50) and the larger cars (the V70 and S80) are available in FlexiFuel variants. There is a choice of three engine power outputs: the 1.8F producing 125 hp, the 2.0F which produces 145 hp and the turbocharged version, the 231 hp 2.5FT.

Biogas is one of the vehicle fuels with the lowest climate impact. On Volvo Cars’ home market, where there is a satisfactory infrastructure for gas supply, the best-selling V70 model will be available in a gas-powered version in 2009. An outside conversion specialist contracted by Volvo Cars will fit the gas tank. The car’s range on gas is about 300 km. To back this up there is the 2.5FT 231 hp FlexiFuel engine so the car’s total range on biofuel is more than 900 km.

The car can be run on petrol, bioethanol, natural gas, biogas and hytane (methane gas with 10 percent hydrogen gas mixed in the fuel).

The Volvo model range also includes engines that switch themselves off when the car comes to a standstill. These so-called micro-hybrids cut fuel consumption by 4-5 percent. This system is even more effective in congested city traffic with frequent stops and starts. Start/Stop is being initially introduced on the C30, S40 and V50 DRIVe and will undergo constant development, and will over time be implemented in additional drivelines.

In 2011, Volvo expects to introduce yet another highly advanced, entirely in-house developed system with even greater savings potential.

In 2009, Volvo will launch the development of an entirely new generation of high-efficiency petrol engines. These engines will be far more economical and will cut fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 20-30 percent.

GTDi technology makes it possible to reduce engine size while retaining current performance levels.

Volvo will put plug-in electrical hybrids on the market as early as 2012. With this technology, there is a battery pack that is used to drive an entirely emission-free electric motor. The battery is recharged via a regular wall socket and in addition, braking energy while on the move is stored and reused. This power system will be supplemented by one of Volvo’s high-efficiency diesel engines. This diesel engine is designed to run on renewable synthetic diesel and will meet forthcoming extremely stringent exhaust regulations.

The car’s range will be class-leading and what is more, tailpipe exhaust emissions will be virtually non-existent while the car is powered by electricity. If the battery pack is recharged with electricity produced from renewable sources, then carbon dioxide emissions from the lifecycle perspective will also be very low.

In the NEDC standardised driving cycle, carbon dioxide emissions from Volvo’s plug-in electrical hybrid will be lower than 50 grams/km. The plug-in electrical hybrid will thus qualify into what is known as the super-credit tax incentive band. In several European countries, a variety of incentive programmes such as tax relief will be introduced over the next few years. Cars that emit less than 50 grams of CO2/km will probably be granted the most favourable status.

For short distances in city traffic, dedicated battery-powered cars may well be the next step. Volvo Cars is therefore researching into this area. There are still many challenges that have to be solved with battery cars and the company is working hard to find alternative ways of reducing battery cost, increasing their performance and ensuring that Volvo’s high safety requirements are met at all times. At present, there are no battery-powered cars in Volvo’s product plans, but the possibility of introducing new green technology is under constant review.