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The future of automotive
Electric cars are set to form a pivotal part of the future automotive landscape after a century of historical false starts with electrification.
They were primitive in the late 19th century and early 20th century, of course – essentially a horseless carriage powered by batteries. And by the 1930s, electric cars had all but disappeared as the internal combustion engine soared in popularity.
From false starts to fast tracked
The 1970 Clean Air Act and 1973 oil crisis influenced a revival of interest in electric cars in the 1970s, but manufacturers were more excited than buyers and their return was short-lived, petering out by the turn of the next decade.
Two factors continued to plague electric vehicles (EVs): their relatively high cost compared with similarly-sized cars, and ‘range anxiety’ – the term given to a driver’s fear of running out of battery power and being stranded.
Momentum for electric cars seems unstoppable now, however. Battery technology continues to develop at a fast rate, and multiple manufacturers have committed to a significant percentage of EVs in their showrooms for the next decade.
And in 2017, Volvo Cars became the first manufacturer to declare that its entire model range would become electrified in at least some form: mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric.
This will include models that meet the classic definition of an electric car: a vehicle that is powered only by one or more electric motors.
The benefits of electric cars
Vehicles powered by electricity rather than petroleum offer several advantages.
Significantly, in terms of more sustainable motoring, battery-electric vehicles produce zero emissions at the tailpipe. Just how environmentally friendly they are, however, depends on whether a given country’s primary energy source is itself sustainable.
(Australia, for example, relies heavily on coal power, whereas Volvo’s home country of Sweden is more focused on renewable energy.)
In the case of petrol-electric vehicles – such as Volvo Cars’ Twin Engine models – fuel consumption and emissions are still stunningly low (see Volvo Electric Cars section, below).
‘Refueling’ a pure electric car is also a far cleaner experience as there is no smelly or oily liquid involved, as with petrol or diesel. It’s clean hands and clean feet all around as you simply push the vehicle’s recharging plug into a relevant power socket.
The benefits of electric cars also extend to performance and refinement. Unlike conventional internal combustion engines, electric car motors typically produce torque from zero revs – creating instantaneous response when moving off from a stationary position.
The acceleration can be exhilarating in some cases, and slightly surreal as there is none of the engine noise associated with regular cars – just a faint whine from the electric motor or motors.
This contributes to a quieter cabin, while progress is super-smooth as electric motors typically employ just a single gear where conventional petrol/diesel engines require transmissions with multiple ratios for the crucial matching of engine speed to road speed.
Recharging the battery
Recharging an electric car battery is as simple as refueling a petrol- or diesel-powered car – it just takes longer.
You can recharge an electric car by plugging it into a conventional household power socket, though for the quickest times it’s possible to install special fast-chargers in your garage.
There’s also a growing network of charging stations for replenishing electric car battery life, though the infrastructure is still in its infancy – especially in Australia.
Going the distance
The distance you can travel on a full charge varies between electric vehicles – essentially determined by the size of their battery packs, and their energy density – measured in kilowatt hours.
Compact electric cars have typically been offering a range of about 160km, though continual electric-car development means newer models are reaching claims of 200km, or even close to double that distance. Some larger EVs are already capable of about 500km – and a new generation of EVs arriving in the next few years will reach a similar range, according to manufacturer claims.
Volvo Electric Cars
The Volvo Cars showroom of the near future will comprise vehicles that all feature at least one electric motor.
A choice of vehicles
Customers will have a choice of electrified vehicle, whether it’s a mild hybrid utilising a 48-volt electrical system in conjunction with a conventional petrol or diesel powertrain, a plug-in petrol or diesel hybrid, or a full electric car.
Volvo Cars’ industry-first move to electrify its model range will not only expand the electric-car market but also ensure there are affordable electric cars.
Fully electric range
Volvo Cars will launch five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021. Of these electric cars for sale, three will wear the famous Volvo ironmark, with the other two wearing the Polestar badge of Volvo’s high-performance arm.
The move is a natural progression for a car maker that has produced various hybrid concept cars since the 1992 Environmental Concept Car before introducing production plug-in hybrid models in recent years.
In 2015, Volvo also debuted its stunning Twin Engine technology. Combining a high-performance supercharged/turbocharged four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, this T8-badged powertrain produces a total output of 300kW yet can achieve official consumption in the region of 2.0 litres per 100km.
While the T8 features in larger Volvo models such as the XC90 and XC60 SUVs, the benefits of electric cars – or at least plug-in petrol-electric hybrids – will filter down to smaller and more affordable models.
The first ever Volvo XC40 SUV, for example, will be available with a T5 Twin Engine drivetrain that combines an electric car motor with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine.
The first Volvo electric car powered solely by a battery pack is scheduled for release in 2019.