XC90 presents… the mild hybrid movement

Volvo Cars’ vision to add electric power to all its cars is becoming a reality thanks to pioneers such as engineer Robert Eriksson. On a walk through the beautiful Swedish countryside, he explains how it feels to see his work with electric car technology helping to making a difference to our planet.

INTERVIEWS: IAN DICKSON | PHOTOS: JOHAN WEDENSTRÖM

Mild hybrid: time for a change

“I think everyone in the world now recognises that climate change and air quality are problems, and that we need to do something about it,” says Robert Eriksson, as he picks his way through pristine pine trees on his regular walk around a forest, just outside Volvo Cars’ home town of Gothenburg. “We need to change – to reduce harmful emissions and improve the air that we breathe. We still need mobility, but there’s a better way of doing things.”

Robert is Senior Technical Leader at Volvo Cars. His work over the past 30 years has been developing hybrid and electric technology, helping to find that solution. He and his colleagues have come a long way, and mild hybrid technology is the next step.

A mild hybrid powertrain is a way of making petrol and diesel engines even more efficient through electrification, using an electric motor/generator and a 48-volt battery to reduce the amount of work the engine has to do. That means it uses less fuel and produces fewer CO2 emissions. Volvo Cars’ new mild hybrid powertrains – which all feature a ‘B’ nameplate – make their debut in the new XC90, and will become available on every model as the company works towards its goal of having an electrified powertrain in every new car it makes.

Mild hybrid: an electric option for everyone

The main function of Volvo Car’s new mild hybrid system – and the inspiration for the ‘B’ badging – is that the vehicle’s kinetic energy is recovered during braking and fed back to the 48-volt battery. In turn, this energy can be used to power electrical functions or the electric motor/generator assisting the engine. Unlike Volvo Cars’ Twin Engine plug-in hybrid models, the electric motor/generator is there only to assist the petrol or diesel engine under acceleration – it never actually drives the wheels on its own.

It’s all about managing energy cleverly, and part of this is an improved stop/start function. “Using the electric motor/generator as a starter means that the engine can actually be switched off earlier, while you’re still braking, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions,” says Robert. “This is because the electric motor/generator is much more powerful and responsive than a conventional starter motor. It also gives you a faster start-up, with less noise and vibration, so the whole driving experience is smoother,” he adds.

“Mild hybrid technology gives our customers another electrified option,” Robert says.” “It means that they can still make a positive change if a plug-in hybrid or fully electric car isn’t right for them.

“We want as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits of electrification, and the beauty of our mild hybrid technology system is that there’s no compromise – you simply get a seamless driving experience and better efficiency.”

Mild hybrid: a new era

The shift to electrification is the fruit of many years of labour for Robert. “It’s so exciting that a new era of electrified Volvo cars has begun,” he smiles. “For me, it’s a dream come true. I started at Volvo Cars in 1988 as a young engineer and my first work was actually doing studies around mild hybrid and 48-volt technology. I’m happy that it’s finally taking off, because I have believed in it from the start.”

Robert acknowledges that there are challenges ahead but he is pleased that, like many of us, Volvo Cars is taking practical steps to protect the planet for the future. “In Sweden we are lucky to have a big country and a lot of space,” he says. “But that comes with a responsibility to not leave any trash and leave it as it was when you came. We need everyone to start thinking like that.”