Volvo Goes Electric

Because Volvo is so imbued with a green, people-friendly ethic, it is hard for some to believe that the brand doesn’t offer an electric car. Giving consumers the choice of an emissions-free vehicle seems utterly in keeping with what most people think about Volvo. Happily, the lack of a Volvo-built battery-electric is about to change.

At last fall’s Frankfurt motor show, Volvo showed off a concept version of what will be its first battery electric car, and then it added some new thinking to the concept before unveiling it again at the recent Detroit motor show. Enhancing a previously introduced concept vehicle and showing it again at another major motor show is not a typical scenario, but Volvo is not a typical car company, so it is not surprising that the Swedish company has continued to refine the electric vehicle concept with the intent that it will become a production vehicle available from your local showroom.

The latest (Detroit show) iteration of the simply named Volvo C30 BEV — BEV for battery electric vehicle — offers significant changes over the Frankfurt show car. And the changes to both the interior and the drivetrain indicate how serious Volvo is about making a production version of the vehicle. The most visible new feature on the upgraded C30 BEV is the innovative, electric-car-only instrument panel that puts EV-specific graphics front and center and reminds us again that EVs and hybrids now feature the most graphically interesting instrument panels in the industry.

The other major change is in the battery pack design. Where it was one unit in the Frankfurt version of the car, the lithium-ion battery pack has now been divided into two modules installed carefully into what is typically the driveshaft tunnel and the spot formerly occupied by the fuel tank. This is designed to improve passenger safety, overall vehicle balance and packaging efficiency. What it does not do is increase the car’s expected range. That remains at a predicted 94 miles — not very far by U.S. standards but perhaps plenty far enough for an urban-oriented commuter car.

The 82-kilowatt, 111-horsepower electric motor is expected to accelerate the chic four-seater from 0 to 60 mph in about 10.5 seconds, making it one of the less sprightly EVs planned for future introduction. Perhaps a more important time is the eight hours it will take to recharge the battery pack fully using a 230-volt/16-amp circuit — similar to one that might be powering your electric dryer should you not be using a much cheaper-to-operate gas dryer.

Top speed for the BEV is expected to be right around 80 mph, but Volvo insists that the C30 BEV will offer the fun-to-drive personality of the gasoline-powered version of the car. Next step for the BEV is a series of test vehicles that will go into real-world usage for a period of two years. If all that goes well, we expect a somewhat revised version of the C30 BEV — perhaps with freshened exterior styling — to arrive in Volvo showrooms in the U.S. and Europe in 2013.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.

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