The Swedish automaker Volvo and the power generation company Vattenfall have created a joint venture company to develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle that can run on both electricity and diesel fuel. The unique cooperation calls for Volvo to begin series production of the hybrid cars in 2012, with Vattenfall supplying infrastructure in the form of public charging stations and a billing system.
A major advantage of plug-in hybrids is the ability to charge the batteries from any standard wall socket, allowing drivers effectively to refuel at home. With highly efficient electric motors, Volvo says its new hybrids will cost just €3.00 per 100 km to drive on lithium-ion batteries, about one-fifth the cost of standard petrol-powered engines or one-third the cost of the most efficient diesels.
The backers of the new company believe the joint venture approach will speed development and reduce the relatively high development costs. “Two companies will share the R&D expenses, and that will make the process more efficient and quicker,” said Stephen Odell, President and CEO of Volvo Cars.
The batteries in the new plug-in hybrid take about five hours to charge, and extra power is supplied by capturing the energy released from braking. The new plug-in hybrid will have a range of about 50 km on batteries, enough for most commuters to make it to work and home again on a single charge. For longer journeys, the new Volvo will feature an extremely efficient diesel engine that consumes less than two liters per 100 kilometers.
Vattenfall will give hybrid owners the option of signing an agreement for renewable electricity sourced specifically from wind or hydropower, as an alternative to the regular mix of electricity sources. Vattenfall President and CEO Lars G Josefsson said, “We’re really enthusiastic about what we’re doing. This will take Vattenfall—and the automotive sector—to the next level.”
Vattenfall estimates that the increase in electricity demand from converting all of Sweden’s passenger cars to electric power would be only 6 percent over the current baseline, well within the industry’s capacity margin.
Almost all of Sweden’s electricity comes from hydro and nuclear power, neither of which are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But Vattenfall is a major player in other European countries, where electricity is more often produced from fossil fuel sources. Even when electricity comes from coal and oil, the company says, electric-powered automobiles offer environmental benefits over petrol and diesel because reducing emissions from large, centralized power plants is far more practical than cleaning up millions of internal-combustion engines. Vattenfall has committed itself to a 50 percent reduction in emissions from its European fossil fuel plants by 2030.
The initial purchase price of the new plug-in hybrid cars will be somewhat higher than traditional autos due to the expense of the lithium batteries, but Volvo and Vattenfall say that the environmental gains and the extremely low running costs will compensate.
Volvo will develop the new cars based on existing car models, for the first time bringing Volvo’s hard-won reputation for safety and reliability to the rapidly growing hybrid car market.
“We think this is exactly the right way to go for the future,” said Paul Gustavsson, Vice President for Business Development at Volvo Cars. “This is how people will buy cars in the future, with clean emissions and very low consumption—safe and practical modern cars that drive and handle well.”
Article published in July 2009