Volvo: We Already Have Electric Cars, But The Market Isn’t Ready for Them

Around the same time that Nissan was readying its 2011 LEAF electric car for market, Swedish automaker Volvo was working on its own electrified vehicle: a 100 percent electric conversion of its C30 compact four-seat hatchback. It was fun to drive, had a reasonable range, and came with not one but three different heating systems to enable it to live out cold winters north of the Arctic Circle without completely sacrificing winter performance.

Volvo C30 Electric

Volvo’s C30 electric hatchback was great, but never made it to production.


Sadly, the Volvo C30 never made it to production, despite being used since as a test-bed for all kinds of new electric vehicle technology, including a fast 22 kW three-phase on-board charger, inductive charging and even connected home integration. Despite continuing its electric vehicle development program and having electric cars which it says are ready for market, Volvo has no immediate plans to launch an all-electric car any time soon.

That’s according to Volvo’s vice president of product strategy, Lex Kerssemakers, who has told Autocar that while Volvo is ready to launch fully electric vehicles into the marketplace, it won’t do so until market or legislative demand makes it necessary.

“Our focus is on the roll-out of our plug-in hybrids,” he said. “Once there is a more sustainable business case behind full EV we can do it — our platform is scaleable and fully flexible. But we must see how the EV business evolves and what pressures there are from fuel efficiency requirements and cities closing borders.”

Financial logic?

This seems a particularly disappointing stance from an automaker which has previously committed to being zero emission by 2020, but it’s also not particularly surprising, because Volvo isn’t that big an automaker. Instead of being a complete dismissal of electric cars, we suspect there’s financial concerns about the large investment needed to bring a fully-electric model to market.

Volvo: for now, we'll make plug-in hybrids.

Volvo: for now, we’ll make plug-in hybrids.

Consider this: Volvo’s largest two markets (the U.S. and Sweden) amass the kind of annual sales totals for Volvo that some of the larger U.S. automakers (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) manage in just a week of U.S. sales.

Being smaller — despite being owned by Chinese parent company Geely — Volvo doesn’t have access to the large capital that the Detroit Three do. That fact alone explains why the outgoing Volvo XC90 was one of the industry’s oldest models, spanning twelve years without a generational refresh.

And when we’ve spoken candidly with Volvo’s executives in the past, there’s a distinct underlying business logic to everything Volvo does.

If it can make money from a technology, and it knows the technology will drive sales, it will invest in bringing that technology to market. So far, that kind of decision has brought some massively advanced safety technologies to market, including some which will debut in the 2015 XC90 when it goes on sale this year.

That same logic has also brought Volvo’s V60 plug-in hybrid wagon to market in Europe, and will bring the range-topping XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV to market this year too. In both cases, Volvo has referred to its plug-in hybrids as cars which are ‘without compromise,’ boasting everything that a standard gasoline or diesel-powered Volvo would have with the added benefits of zero-emission, in-town capabilities. In addition to all of Volvo’s legendary safety features and luxury interiors, both plug-ins boast all-wheel drive capabilities and the ability to tow, something not all plug-ins offer.

The XC90 plug-in hybrid is the second plug-in hybrid from Volvo to go on sale.

The XC90 plug-in hybrid is the second plug-in hybrid from Volvo to go on sale.

“With plug-in technology, we have some answers now — good efficiency and the option of driving in and out of cities on electric power alone,” said Kerssemakers. “For now, we can offer the best of both worlds.”

Logical or not?

Given Volvo’s propensity for long production cycles and the breathtaking speed at which the electric car world is evolving today, Volvo’s move to not bring any all-electric cars into production any time soon does make at least some sense, especially given its predominant target market segments.

Were Volvo to bring an electric car to market today, it could risk it becoming quickly outdated as the next-generation battery packs promised by GM, Nissan and Volkswagen up base-level range expectations to 150 or 200 miles per charge when they debut in production vehicles over the next few years.

By not bringing a vehicle to market however, Volvo risks missing the plug-in party altogether, losing out to larger, more aggressive automakers willing to take a risk on the hope that the current rising demand for plug-in cars across the world will continue.

Unless Volvo’s secret electric car technologies happen to be far superior to those currently being promised by more mainstream brands, we think Volvo’s decision to not launch a plug-in could be a very dangerous one indeed.


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  • Kalle Centergren

    i am higly disapointed in the management of volvo. they have decided thy don’t like electric cars and thats it.nthy even lobbied the political parties in sweden and managed to stop a incentive program similar to norway that was suposed to com in to play 2015-16nthanks for ruining that volvo, i will boycott you as much as i can

  • vdiv

    They don’t have to develop an electric drivetrain on their own, even though apparently they did. All they have to do is collaborate with a company that has already made one and share the cost. Ford apparently did this with the Focus EV, Toyota and MB got theirs from Tesla, and Nissan did this with hybrids, getting the tech. from Toyota.

  • EVcine

    What a liar ! The market is ready it is his shit cars with a 22kWh battery that is not ready. TESLA sells 85kWh cars and their entry level is 60kWh !! The first car they made the ROADSTER had 53kWh.

    • Hey EVcine, nnnYou’re entitled to your opinions, but please refrain from cursing 🙂

      • EVcine


        • Thank you 🙂 That will keep everyone happy 🙂 It’s worth noting of course (not that I’m standing up for Volvo) that Tesla had a clean start at this all…

          • EVcine

            Wrong ! You clearly do not seem to know about the prior generation of EVs killed off by GM, CHEVRON & TOYOTA.nVOLVO like the rest had years before TESLA to do the right thing. The technology was ready for the first generation by 1993.

          • I’m aware of history: but history is rarely black and white 😉

          • EVcine

            In this case it is. TOYOTA were allowed to continue the EV program in accordance with the out of court settlement and then they made an executive decision not to which cost PANASONIC an entire EV battery factory and put EVs in deep freeze for a decade. No one else was allowed to do it because CHEVRON control of the batteries prohibited this for nine years.

          • TornyiBarnabu00e1sazIsten

            What about chemtrails?

          • Joseph Dubeau

            Sure if you want to drive a golf cart to work and pay as much Model S for it. Now put your tin foil hat back on.

    • Reservoir Engineer-Enhanced Oi

      Archaic?nnnThe Nissan Leaf is a 24 kWh battery pack and it is the WORLDS best selling EV.nnnTesla is cool, but it recieves WAY more publicity than it deserves.

      • EVcine

        Depends on how you measure things. nTESLA has never spent a single dime on advertising.nThe average TESLA purchase is $90K.nThey have sold 50,000 units. nThey have built a SUPERCHARGER network that alreadyncovers North America and Western Europe and will haveneven deeper coverage by end of 2016.nNo company has fast charging that comes close to TESLA.nNo company invests in R&D at the level of TESLA.nTESLA and PANASONIC are building the gigafactorynin Nevada the first in a series that will change the world.nThe TESLA MODEL 3 will make the Nissan Leaf seemnlike a go-cart and for not much more money.nThe MODEL 3 will be the most important car event sincenthe MODEL T brought cars to the masses.

        • Reservoir Engineer-Enhanced Oi

          Hey, I thought Tesla only operated factory-store direct sales?nnnDind’t think they hired salesmen, well, oh well.

  • EVcine

    Any BIG AUTO that does not build a gigaplant has no intention of mass producing EVs.

  • EVcine

    Volvo another European company run by spineless cowards with no creative imagination.

    • Reservoir Engineer-Enhanced Oi

      No creative imagination?nnnThis is the only car company in the world which sacrifices profits for safety.

      • EVcine

        That is technical consideration that is not creative imagination.

  • D. Harrower

    Yeah, keep telling yourselves that, Volvo.nnTheir reasoning makes no sense, IMO. They claim to have spent all the money and done all the relevant R&D for EV development, only to discover there’s insufficient market. Have they even looked at it since 2011?!nnInstead they sound like a petulant child claiming “I could have beat you, but I wasn’t really trying!”

    • Reservoir Engineer-Enhanced Oi

      I don’t think you understand how lean Volvo is trying to become.nnnManufacturing an EV in Europe requires huge tooling enhancements to factories, it requires new assembly techniques.nnnVolvo only has two factories in Europe each with a few assembly lines. They can’t risk replacing one line making ICE cars for EV cars which may or may not be a quick sell.nnnVolvo is in a precarious situation, they need to make money NOW, not 10 years from now.nnnAs of now, no EV carmaker in the world is profiting from EV’s- not even Tesla, although Musk says by 2020, they will be profitable.nnnVolvo is a car company who has just come back from the brink of ruin an they are starting to make great ICE cars. But you are taking a very ignorant looks at Volvo’s decisions.

      • D. Harrower

        You’re right. My Volvo knowledge is pretty out of date. I didn’t even know they were bought out by a Chinese company.nnMy interpretation of the article (rightly or wrongly) was that Volvo is saying they could make EVs if they wanted to, but there’s just no market. This language reminded me of how GM handled the EV1 back in the day. (Claiming there was no market for the car while making absolutely no effort to sell it).nnIf Volvo’s capability is as limited as you say, why are using the bullsh*t market excuse?

        • Reservoir Engineer-Enhanced Oi

          I guess the reason that BS market excuse was made in the first place was for a real thing 🙂 Over the year, every car company has abused it as an excuse for everything. Sadly, in Volvo’s case, it really is the issue. They need to really make money on everything they do until 2020, or they will go like SAAB.

      • vigge50

        That’s not completely true, is you look at teslas latest quarter report they have a profit chare of about 24% on there’s cars but they use all that money to expand production, building superchargers, building service centers, develope new cars and have start building the new Gigafactory. If they can have a profitchear of 24% which I believe is higher when most automaker, I have hard to believe that other carmaker would do big loses on building electric cars.

  • doublehT900

    Bring the C30 plugin Hybrid to the US…..


    Zero emissions by 2020? Don’t you mean zero accident deaths?