Confirmed: Volvo To Offer Plug-In Hybrid Option on All Models
I’m sitting in the Swedish modern headquarters of Volvo U.S.A. in Rockleigh, New Jersey, right across from a shiny V60 wagon emblazoned with lettering proclaiming it as one of the new 2015 E-Drive cars, boasting of both 240 horsepower and 37 mpg on the highway.
The turbocharged E-Drive cars are a very welcome addition to the lineup, because for 2014 Volvo had not only no cars with plugs, it had none with four-cylinder engines. Because of that fortunately temporary situation, Volvo came in dead last in compliance with the 2014 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, worse even than Jaguar/Land Rover. Eeek! Super-green Volvo!
Plug-In Options on Every Model
Volvo, best known for stellar safety, has long emphasized protecting its occupants over protecting their wallets at the gas pumps. But now that’s changing in a big way. Dean Shaw, Volvo’s vice president of corporate communications, tells me that the company is not only switching to 100 percent four-cylinder power, it’s also planning a plug-in hybrid version of every single model in its lineup.
And that’s why I’m here in New Jersey. The company is refreshing its whole product line, and by the end of 2017 all Volvos will ride on scaled versions of the new seven-passenger XC90 platform. The XC90 will be revealed in August (then shown at the Paris and Los Angeles auto shows in the fall). The "think simple" strategy is called Scalable Product Architecture, with all of the to-come vehicles getting either gas or diesel turbo fours.
Doing Well in Europe
Volvo launched its V60 plug-in hybrid, a diesel, in Europe only, and Shaw says it’s the number one plug-in hybrid there now. In 2013, the company sold 7,739 V60 plug-in hybrids (and another 3,230 through May this year) at a price that would translate to $85,488 in Britain. Production has been upped twice and, in May, the company added an R-Design version.
The biggest markets are, in order, Netherlands (where the car is attracting buyers who normally drive Porsches), Sweden, Belgium, Germany and France. But with the U.S. market notoriously gun-shy about diesels, Volvo thinks we can wait for a gas version.
But don’t worry, Americans are going to get a 2016 plug-in hybrid sometime next year, off the new XC90. Few details of that car are available yet, but I did the next-best-thing—I drove one of the few Euro-spec V60s on U.S. soil. It’s a remarkable car, complex under the skin but basically seamless for the driver. “Anyone can just jump in the V60 and take off,” Shaw said. And that diesel problem? Forget about it—it’s nearly impossible to tell, driving this car, that it’s a diesel at all. There's no black smoke, no poky acceleration (zero to 60 comes up in 6.9 seconds), and no annoying diesel lag.
The V60 wagon, one of the more attractive recent Volvos, is powered by a 2.4-liter, five-cylinder diesel, delivering 215 horsepower (and 325 pound feet of torque) to the front wheels. On the back wheels, a 20-kilowatt (50 kilowatt peak) electric motor offers 70 horsepower (and 148 pound feet). The water-cooled li-ion battery is 11.2 kilowatt-hours, stored under the cargo floor (and compromising storage space somewhat).
30 Miles as an Electric
The driver controls this “through the road” hybrid layout through three buttons: Pure/Hybrid/Power. With the first, there’s up to 31 miles of all-electric driving (including at highway speeds). The V60 will stay electric unless you really put your foot into it, when the diesel kicks in to supplement. Hybrid is normal operation, and Power turns everything up to 11.
I drove the V60 in the wooded suburbs surrounding Rockleigh, and was knocked out by how effortless it all was. Yes, the car’s quiet in electric mode, but it’s not hugely noisier with the diesel running, and the transitions are hard to detect. If you were paying attention, you noticed how much torque is potentially on tap, and the car really takes off in “Power” mode. The hybrid drivetrain adds 550 pounds of weight, but doesn’t turn the V60 in to a slug. Weight-saving efforts are concentrating on boron steel, not (as at other automakers) aluminum or carbon fiber.
One of the best features of the V60 is the “Save” button, which not only will keep the charge in reserve until you’re in optimal conditions (off the highway, for instance) but also charges the battery while you’re driving. We started out with six miles of EV range and ended up with nine.
Here's a closer look at the V60 plug-in hybrid on video:
There’s a graphic representation of power flow, as in cars like the Prius. Volvo’s screen interface is a little busy for me, but there’s no shortage of available information, and you can use apps to remotely find or unlock the car. The test car was loaded with features like dynamic traction stability control, collision warning, blind spot monitoring, heated seats and voice controls.
Yes, Volvo has shown a class of battery electric C30s, and some of those were in test programs in Europe, as well as available to company execs in the U.S. A few were in Rockleigh, but I didn't get to see them. The program is basically moribund, though Volvo is exploring new motor technology with Siemens. The company is really betting on plug-in hybrids.
Shaw said that Volvo’s fuel economy target with its new platform is to be best-in-class in every segment in which it competes. Green car customers who’ve let Volvo slip from their radar may want to tune in to its signals again. The company sold 61,000 cars to Americans in 2013 (virtually the same as its China sales), but it’s aiming for 100,000 here once it has all the four-cylinder models on line.
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