Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – The Swedish government is not as keen on the future of electric vehicles as other European countries, a stance that has left Volvo Car Corp. largely on its own in the development of its C30 EV.

“There’s a big push in many European governments for EVs, but the Swedish government is not really pushing that hard yet, so we’re pushing them a little bit to wake up,” Henrick Jarcebrat, product manager for the C30 EV, tells Ward’s at the auto show here.

Despite its indifference, the government has provided Volvo with about SK150 million ($20.4 million) for EV development, but most of those funds are directed toward testing the safety of the technology, Jarcebrat says.

Since Christmas, Volvo has churned out 11 C30 EV prototypes, two of which already have undergone crash testing.

Jarcebrat is mum on the results of those tests, noting it’s too early to analyze the data accurately, but he vows the EV will adhere to Volvo’s hard-built reputation for safety.

Of particular interest to Volvo and the Swedish government is how the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery pack will fare during a crash.

Battery technology is “fairly new to everybody, so it’s difficult to determine how to work with these batteries,” Jarcebrat says.

Volvo plans on continuing crash tests and will launch a small fleet of prototypes for testing in northern Sweden and Arizona.

In first-quarter 2011, Volvo will put a small number of C30 EVs in the hands of “real people” to determine how the batteries hold up in real-world driving, Jarcebrat says.

“That’s one important aspect of the vehicle, because the battery is the most expensive part of the car,” he says.

The batteries, supplied by U.S.-based Ener1 Inc., can be recharged through a 230-volt outlet in about eight hours. The vehicle boasts a range of 93 miles (150 km) and a top speed of 81 mph (130 km/h).

Jarcebrat says the EV’s limited range is ideal for typical commuting cycles in Europe and the U.S., but warns the “lifetime of the batteries is very dependent on how you behave as a driver.”

If an EV owner charges his vehicle often, the battery will last longer, he says.

“These things we have to know, because residual values and everything are going to be dependent on this,” he says. “So we have to find out how customer behavior is relating to the lifecycle of the batteries.”

Volvo has yet to decide whether or not it will lease or sell the battery packs installed in the C30, but Jarcebrat says there is no urgency to make a decision, because it’s unlikely the EV will go into production anytime soon due to the prohibitive cost of the batteries.

“If you look at battery cost today, it’s basically about $1,000 per kW/h, and we have 24 kW,” he says. “And that’s the cost on top of the normal vehicle.”

“And then you have all the components, such as the motors and such, which is not in mass production today. So it has to come up in volume before prices start to drop, sometime (around) 2014-2015.”

Jarcebrat says his team also is working on how to best package the battery pack and electric-drive motors. Volvo, he says, is adamant that any future EV look like a typical vehicle.

“If you look at the car, it looks like a normal C30, and that’s one of the things we wanted to show,” he says. “Electric vehicles don’t have to be funny looking.”