The thing I noticed about proper motoring journalists is how incredibly hard and fast they work. On a recent trip to Gothenburg in Sweden I was in the company of many of them from all over Europe. Within minutes of them driving the Volvo C 30 electric car they were busy on their lap tops filing the story. By the time we got on the plane to come back to the UK, all their stories were already on line.
As you can tell (I got back on Wednesday night) I am a bit slower, but here, in a nutshell, is what I experienced.
Unlike Nissan, but like just about every other major car manufacturer, Volvo have gone for the electric conversion of an existing, tried and trusted model. The C 30 is normally a drill and burn powered model, but they’ve taken out the diesel engine, gearbox, drive train and fuel tank and fitted 280 kg of batteries containing 24 kilowatt hours of juice, an electric motor and battery management system in its place.
The batteries are made outside Volvo for this car, but they say that for future electric vehicles they would manufacture them in house. They have done a lot of work on battery management, including a very important system to keep the batteries at the right temperature while charging. Basically, if the outside temperature is too cold, the batteries will be heated and vice versa. I know from experience this is really important. The Tesla Roadster uses a similar system, the Mitsubishi iMiev currently does not. This is chiefly what reduces range in cold weather, not the passenger heater, it’s far more to do with the battery chemistry not taking as much charge when the batteries are very cold.
Volvo say they are also looking at using an ethanol powered heater for the occupants, this would reduce the call on the battery in very cold weather, something those tough Swedes are used to.
Another innovation I liked was the use of LED running lights resulting in much reduced demand on the battery giving an extra 4 kilometers range.
In the rigorous testing they have done on this car, apart from smashing it to bits in the crash tests, they have discovered it has a range of about 150 kilometers, (around 93 miles) on a charge, it can do zero to 100 kph in 10.5 seconds and it has a rather intriguing drive set up.
When you engage drive with the selector paddle, there’s no point referring it to a gear stick, there are no gears, it uses regenerative braking when you take your foot off the accelerator. The brake lights automatically come on when you do this as the car does start to slow down. However they also have a highway mode, basically the car freewheels and covers more ground without using, or capturing any energy. Until I drove it I wasn’t sure how useful this would be, but while descending a gentle slope on a very well built Swedish highway, the C 30 maintained its speed for far longer than I expected.
As for driving it, well, it was very pleasant, uneventful, easy, smooth, quiet and fast enough. All the things, or so I’ve been told, you can expect from a Volvo as I’ve never actually driven one before. All those motoring journalist observations like handling, build quality, comfort, visibility I would say were exceptionally good.
As for a major car manufacturer changing their production methods and technology, I learned that Volvo went from making 97% petrol cars to 98% diesel in 10 years. That is pretty impressive and they are clearly looking into the future and seeing hybrid and battery electrics as the route.
Finally the safety stuff is outstanding, they really are obsessed with this and good on them for doing so. Due to the lack of a great big lump of metal (the diesel engine) in the front of the car, they have built a very solid electric engine mount that acts as a buffer for the passengers in the event of a collision. The batteries are mounted down the centre of the car and are thus very well protected, they also have a battery cut off system which acts like the air bags, severing the 400 volt connection in 10 milliseconds.
So, the salty question, how much and when? As I said in my video piece about it, the electric Volvo C 30 is not for sale. They are making about 300 of them in order to carry out extensive market testing. Once they are happy with the results, they then plan to produce a commercially available model. And more bad news for us in the UK, they aren’t testing them here.
You can see the brief video here;
We also saw another car that Volvo are launching soon, again, very impressive but I’ve got to keep quiet about it for another few days.