Volvo Demos Second Generation C30 Electric, Keeps Quiet On EV Plans

By · May 16, 2013

Volvo C30 Electric Gen II

Volvo's second-generation C30 Electric prototype can rapid charge to 90 percent full from three-phase AC power in 90 minutes.

Swedish automaker Volvo wants the world to know it has big plans to produce a zero emissions fleet by 2020. But while its rivals are moving forward with their EV programs, Volvo isn’t speaking in specific terms about full-scale production electric cars.

Nonetheless, I was able to drive a prototype C30 electric around the outskirts of Gothenburg this week. It's a tough game to spot the difference between this version and its predecessor. The second generation electric hatchback—a car whose gasoline sibling ended production earlier this year—drives like a production-ready EV. On paper, the new 89-kilowatt asynchronous electric motor and power electronics from German electronics company Siemens improves performance by a small margin. But without driving it and the previous generation side by side, you’d be hard-pressed to notice.

The real change to the second-generation C30 Electric doesn’t affect driving but charging. The revised C30 electric, Volvo said, has the ability to charge to 90 percent full in around 90 minutes.

Under the hood, where the previous generation’s 3.3 kilowatt single-phase charger lay, is a powerful 22-kilowatt, 3-phase AC charger by Swiss EV specialists Brusa. Capable of utilizing the full 22 kW of three-phase power found at many European EV charging stations, it can fill the C30 Electric from empty to 90 percent in less time than it takes to have a leisurely lunch.

Why AC instead of DC? First, three-phase AC is far more ubiquitous in Europe than it is in the United States. Second, three-phase charging stations cost far less to install and build than complex DC rapid charge stations.

Only A Test Fleet

Brusa Charger

The second-generation prototype includes a Brusa NG6 three-phase, 22kW charger.

Brusa’s compact, powerful on-board charger gives the second generation C30 Electric prototype the ability to travel large distances with ease in a single day, on par with cars like the 2013 Smart ForTwo ED and slightly behind cars like the 2013 Renault Zoe when it comes to charging.

Regardless of how practical the second generation C30 Electric is, however, it is nothing more than a limited-run lease-only car. In fact, of the 100 cars due to be produced by Volvo, not a single car will reach private hands. Fifty will enter into a corporate test-fleet at Siemens, while the remaining cars will be driven by companies across mainland Europe on two or three year lease-only deals.

Coy About The Future

Volvo engineers, however earnest and proud of their work thus far, remain tight-lipped about the future. When asked, they insist that—following the European success of its V60 diesel plug-in hybrid wagon this year—Volvo is committed to plug-in drivetrains, but specifics will have to wait.

The future of Volvo, specifically its recently-launched Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA), includes “varying levels of electrification.” Volvo is clearly paying close attention to the all-electric sales figures of rival companies, testing the water with a cautious toe before diving in. And while Volvo clearly apparently has a timeline in mind, it isn’t about to share them publicly.

As one of the smaller global car makers in the world, Volvo is the first to admit it doesn’t have huge amounts of spare cash to bet on a large-scale all-electric model. Instead, it has recently increased production of its popular V60 Plug-in hybrid to meet high demand.

Based on a now obsolete model, the C30 Electric testifies to Volvo’s technical ability to make a robust, versatile electric car that can handle extremes of weather better than many production electric cars. But for now, Volvo’s electric car program remains a symbol of the company's reluctance to bet the farm on an electric future.

Volvo provided travel, accommodation and refreshments to enable us to bring you this report.

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