Volvo puts plug-in diesel-hybrid V60 wagon into production–but not for U.S.

Volvo V60 diesel plug-in hybrid with Peter Mertens

Peter Martens, Volvo senior VP of R&D. drives the V60 diesel plug-in hybrid off the assembly line.

Volvo is ramping up to produce 1000 Volvo V60 diesel-hybrid station wagons for the 2013 model year, an event that raises a certain question:  If diesels get better fuel mileage than gasoline-fueled automobiles, and hybrids are more gasoline-thrifty than their conventionally-powered counterpart, then why has it taken so long for anyone to make a diesel-hybrid car?

It’s an oft repeated question, and the answer is always that diesel engines are more expensive than gas engines, and hybrid powertrains cost more than relatively simple gas engines, so a diesel hybrid would cost much more, more than would be made up by fuel savings.

Yet the Volvo V60 diesel-hybrid is not just a diesel-hybrid, but a plug-in diesel-hybrid that can go 30 miles on battery power alone. The electric engine adds 70 horsepower to the standard 215 hp of the D5 diesel engine, although because power peaks for the diesel engine and electric motor don’t occur at the same rpm, the two numbers can’t be summed for total output.

The system was engineered so that with the exception of welding the battery carrier into the rear of the car, the entire assembly of the car can be carried out on the normal production line.

Volvo notes, for example, that the electric motor along with its drive shafts goes in at the same station as the final drive on the standard four-wheel drive models. Also,  the cooling system and the high voltage cables for the hybrid system are assembled on the “pallet” used to assemble the car’s drive train and chassis parts.

Installing inverter into diesel-hybrid Volvo V60

The inverter, which is placed under the battery pack, is lifted into the cargo compartment. (Click to enlarge)

The 1.2 kWh lithium-type battery pack goes into the rear of the car—no doubt why the diesel-hybrid is built into a station wagon instead of a sedan—through the car’s tailgate. It’s then turned 90 degrees and dropped into position.  It’s a procedure that takes 60 seconds with less than three-quarters inch clearance, but does not interfere with the normal production flow. And because final assembly is performed on the standard production line, the Volvo V60 diesel-hybrid is offered with all the usual range of optional equipment.

The 2013 model year run has been completely sold out, which Volvo touts as proof of demand for the vehicle, and plans to increase production to 4,000-6,000 cars for the 2014 model year, with orders for those cars already coming in. For the time being, the diesel-hybrid is for Europe, including Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Britain.

There is significant difference in price, however, with the diesel-fueled Volvo V60 D5 AWD selling (in Germany) for about $61,000 and the gasoline engine Volvo V60

Don’t expect one in the U.S. anytime soon, however. Volvo no longer imports a station wagon, once a staple of the Volvo model mix in the U.S., thanks to demand for Volvo crossovers including the Volvo XC60. Of course, if Volvo can put the diesel hybrid into the Volvo V60, they could do so as well into the XC60. So a Volvo diesel-hybrid in America? Volvo will bring a gasoline plug-in hybrid to the U.S. “sometime in the near future,” according to Malin Schwartz, Volvo manager of strategic product communication.

But a Volvo diesel-hybrid? No word. But also, no doubt if there’s demand. And there is over there. Why not a Volvo diesel-hybrid here?

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