Last week the ‘Volvo Ocean Race’ sailed into Cape Town and brought with it much excitement and fanfare. What, you may ask, has yachting got to do with motorcars? Well, this around-the-world Ocean Race is considered the Formula One of yachting, which means the boats are fast, aerodynamic, lightweight, carbon fibre beauties – allbeit powered by the wind. Okay, so it’s a bit of a longshot, but that’s where Volvo come in and bridge the divide between land and sea, because the title sponsors brought some interesting cars along for us to look at.
While I often think there would be a strong case for wind-powered cars in Cape Town every time a South Easter whips up, the Volvo C30 Electric, with its own battery on-board, offers a far more consistent source of propulsion and one that could potentially be fueled by the 13.2 GWh per year Darling Wind Farm.
The C30 Electric retains the comfort, safety and equipment levels found in the standard car, but boosts its ‘green’ credentials with a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a 82 kW / 220 Nm electric motor, that work to offer a range of 150 kilometers on a single charge, as well as acceptable performance figures of 0 – 70 km/h in 6 seconds and a 130 km/h top speed. Depending on the available current, the car can be recharged with 6 – 8 hours via a regular 230V socket.
Having been though the final development stages, the Volvo C30 Electric is now being produced on the regular C30 production line for delivery to 250 select fleet clients that include government agencies and companies across Europe, the USA and China. Lennart Stegland, director of Volvo Cars’ Special Vehicles, says, “It is estimated that by 2020 between five and ten percent of cars in Sweden will be powered by electricity. Around 2020 – 2025 we expect that electric cars will have conquered three to ten percent of the EU market share”. Understandably then, Volvo need to be ready to compete in a renewable energy-biased market place and by all accounts they seem to be on the pace.
Unlike competitors who’ve invested boat loads of capital into all-new products, think the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Fisker Karma, Tesla and even South Africa’s own Optimal Energy Joule, Volvo are banking on their proven C30 platform to give them a cost effective and timeous start in the ‘green-car’ race. While their competitors can be applauded for taking the proverbial bull by the horns and providing a glimpse of the future now, there’s a real question as to whether – and here comes a yachting metaphor – these companies haven’t hoisted their Genoas a little too early. After all, even big brands such as Honda, Lexus, Porsche and Toyota are arguably battling to fill their eco-friendly spinnakers with the relative trickle of hybrid sales.
Hybrid’s are undoubtedly the motor industry’s answer to the missing link, because between now and the dawn of the electric future, as forecast by Mr Stegland just a short paragraph ago, they appease environmental agencies, tree-huggers and those bullied into a guilty conscience by the two. Abstract notions these may be, but in real terms, hybrids provide all the practicalities of conventional vehicles whilst warming us up to the adoption of electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles of the future, providing us with a choice when it comes to the very real value of new-car CO2 emissions taxes, and of course reduced fuel bills and environmental emissions.
The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is one such example, and a shining one at that. With the European order books having opened just this week, the V60 PHEV is the world’s first diesel-electric plug-in hybrid production car. The V60 PHEV combines Volvo’s 2.4-litre, 160 kW / 440 Nm, five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with a 52 kW / 200 Nm electric motor to deliver some impressive figures. A six-speed automatic transmission directs power from the engine to the front wheels, while the electric motor (powered by a 11.2 kWh Li-ion battery) drives the rear axle. The diesel-electric powertrain boasts acceleration of 0 – 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds, 2 seconds quicker than the range-topping V60 T6, but yet is capable of a lowly 1.9 L/100km and 49 g/km of CO2.
While the yachts and crew of the multi-million dollar Volvo Ocean Race were on show in Cape Town, boasting all-carbon fibre construction, revolutionary new kevlar composite molded sails, the latest ocean-going broadband satellite communications systems and…, well you get the picture, Volvo also showed off their Concept Universe.
“The Concept Universe offers the world a sneak preview of what people can expect from our next top-of-the-line sedan,” says Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation. The Concept Universe’s design language includes a coupe-like roofline and contemporary, solid rear end, together with cues borrowed from classic Volvo models of the past. The interior is intended to wrap around its occupants with intuitive controls and a touch-screen that approaches the hand when the driver reaches towards it. A dark colour scheme in front, fades to create a lighter ambiance in the rear, whilst classic forms, materials and textures, are used to create a contemporary luxury experience. The Concept Universe is entirely built by hand and took 8 000 hours to finish.
So then, still not convinced of the link between yachts and cars? Neither are we, but it did get us talking about Volvos, and that, to coin a phrase, is saying something.