Volvo Plots Slow Course To Fast EV Charging

By · November 14, 2012

Volvo C30 Electric

Volvo's slow and cautious approach to bringing EVs to market could pay off big, or leave it trailing the competition.

Despite a number of promising concepts from Volvo, and a fleet of more than 250 electrified C30 coupes already on European roadways, the Swedish automaker has been slow when it comes to bringing an electric vehicle to market. The company has now announced another concept: a fast-charger system, one that trims the time needed for a full recharge to only 1.5 hours. Fitted to 100 C30 Electrics, this new system, developed in cooperation with Siemens, is approximately six times faster than other on-board devices, according to Volvo’s press release.

That’s well and good, but trimming charge times is only part of the solution towards widespread EV acceptance, explained Lennart Stegland, Volvo’s vice president for electric propulsion systems, while speaking with about the fast-charger project and Volvo’s long-term EV planning. “In many, many studies there has always been a discussion about range anxiety,” said Stegland. He believes the issue is “still a relevant one,” but the fledgling EV market is proving that “EV owners are having less and less of this anxiety…they are planning their trips more, and are accustomed to the characteristics” of an electric vehicle.

A Business Approach

This new fast-charger system operates on a three-phase supply, one where the operator of the vehicle can adjust charge levels depending on the electrical supply available. In ideal circumstances, the 22-kW fast-charger can provide approximately 50 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes—albeit only when using a high voltage outlet. When operating with a 220-volt outlet, the norm in European households, charge times increase to 8 to 10 hours. Preset charge levels and adjustable usage of available amps is fine for a fleet of test vehicles, though Stegland concedes the technology is still a work in progress.

“It’s not for everyone. It’s a selective approach,” he explained, adding that the system’s primary focus is on small businesses. The C30 Electric with fast-charger targets business users that need “a personal commuting device,” a vehicle that is charged and ready “when you come back after one hour or, say, after a meeting.” While charging is fairly straightforward, controlled by a button and rotary knob, Stegland agreed that Volvo’s EV technology, like those of all automakers, is always open to improvements.

The C30 Electric is a mule vehicle, used to validate the technology for the future. Everything can be moved over to other products, according to Volvo. That’s a positive sign that Volvo’s ongoing EV powertrain, and the fast-charger system, will have a shelf life longer than the limited-run C30 coupe. “We are assessing the market possibilities all the time,” Stegland said. “The electric vehicle is a brilliant concept for a city community, but the customers are not there yet.” Sales of a Volvo-badged EV remain a “few years” into the future for U.S. car buyers, he confirmed.

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