Volvo C30 Electric comes to America in 2012; we drive it

Volvo C30 Electric

Volvo C30 Electric

Beginning in the first quarter of 2012, Volvo begins testing a fleet of battery-electric Volvo C30 coupes—creatively named the Volvo C30 Electric—in daily operation in the U.S. fifty on the east coast and fifty on the west coast.

Volvo chose the C30 coupe, perhaps the most idiosyncratic vehicle in its fleet, as well as one of the lightest, for the platform for electric vehicle development. It’s nominally a four-seater, and that won’t change with the conversion to electric power. Volvo puts the battery modules where the fuel tank comes out and also up the central tunnel. The latter steals room from console storage bin, but otherwise batteries don’t take any interior room from the Volvo C30. Placement of the batteries put them well within the crumple zone, with the passengers crumpling before the batteries ever would.

The two battery packs are independent, each with a 35Ah capacity and each with its own controller. The management system is integrated into the C30’s overall vehicle management system.

Lennart Stegland, president Volvo’s Special Vehicles, believes an electric car shouldn’t have to compromise for weather, but because the ambient air temperature can have a dramatic effect on battery effectiveness, the electric Volvo C30 will include an ethanol-fueled heater to warm the battery in cold weather–and Swedes know cold weather. On the other hand, heat is very hard on batteries as well, so the Volvo C30 Electric not only can precool the passenger compartment but it can also preclimatize the battery pack. And naturally, there’s an app for that. Owners will be able to use their cell phones to preheat or precool the Volvo C30 Electric.

Volvo C30 Electric plugged in

The Volvo C30 Electric plugs in for recharge via a door in the grille.

The Volvo C30 Electric has a range of about 90 miles. Alternative charging strategies are being investigated with the expectation of getting a full recharge down to the two hour range in the next several years recharge, but at present it takes eight hours on American house current.

Volvo began its development program for electric vehicles more than two years ago with a search for a partner to work with Volvo on an electric vehicle plan as well as supply batteries. From 235 lithium ion battery producers, only six or seven could produce “what we were looking for,” said Stegland. The batteries had to have “the right chemistry” as well as be practical to fit inside a car.

Volvo found what they were looking for in New York City. It was Ener1, a company that according to its own description “provides commercial-scale clean technology solutions for the transportation and grid energy storage markets globally.”
The partnership with Ener1 allowed Volvo to move its electric car development ahead without having to develop expertise already available from Ener1, which had automotive experience from working with Think, the Norwegian electric car company.

When or whether the Volvo C30 Electric goes into production depends largely on price, of course, and Ener1 is working to bring costs down. Batteries elements are now made in Korea assembled in Ener1’s facilities in Indiana and then forwarded to Sweden for installation.

A brief drive in a prototype Volvo C30 Electric on Manhattan’s assorted street surfaces was impressive, the Volvo electric coupe behaving and feeling like a real car, not a college senior engineering project. It’s stealth-mode quiet, of course, but lacks even electric motor/gearing whine. Ride over the various surfaces was comparable to a gasoline-engined car’s.

 Volvo C30 Electric motor

The standard gas engine of the Volvo C30 is replaced by an electric motor and ancilliaries in the Volvo C30 Electric.

The electric motor in the Volvo C30 Electric is equal to about 90 horsepower, and the electric C30 accelerates accordingly, although with the “torque from zero” characteristic of the electric motor.

The tachometer is replaced with two needles, one that shows current use/recharge of the battery and another, an eco-driving gauge that doesn’t seem to be completely thought out yet. A small readout in the info center on the dash tells how many miles are left in the batteries.

To the casual observer, the Volvo C30 Electric appears ready to go now. Of course, that’s without considering the daunting tasks of engineering the manufacturing process, arranging distribution and service, and of course figuring out how to make money–or at least a business case– out of it. But if everything is perfect, the starts align and the right Taro card is played, the Volvo C30 Electric–or a battery-electric Volvo–could be on the market by 2014.

Volvo puts plug-in hybrid on the market in 2012. Read about it here.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

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