Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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Volvo goes electric, ditches cars powered solely by gas

HELSINKI — Volvo plans to build only electric and hybrid vehicles starting in 2019, making it the first major automaker to abandon cars and SUVs powered solely by the internal combustion engine.

CEO Hakan Samuelsson said the move was dictated by customer demand. It means that in two years, all new Volvo vehicles will have some form of electric propulsion.

The announcement comes as the global auto industry slowly moves toward electric-powered vehicles after more than a century of using engines that burn only fossil fuels. Even though sales are a fraction of conventional autos, companies must sell them to meet fuel economy and emissions regulations. In some markets electric vehicles are seeing increased demand.

Yet the transition to fully electric vehicles will take years. Although Tesla Inc. has announced a $35,000 electric car for the masses and General Motors Co. is selling the all-electric Chevy Bolt for a similar price, less-expensive hybrids are likely to sell more at least in the short run.

Still, other automakers are likely to follow Volvo’s announcement in a few years, said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, with luxury automakers leading the way.

“I think we’ll probably see most of the premium brands do the same thing in roughly the same time frame,” he said. “More high-volume mainstream brands will be a little slower.”

In order to meet government fuel economy requirements worldwide, automakers are developing more hybrid systems. Many are 48-volt “mild hybrids” that assist a gas engine to move a car to make it more efficient, improving gas mileage by 10 or 15 percent, Abuelsamid said.

Such systems generate enough electricity to allow automakers to move functions such as air conditioners and water and oil pumps to electric power, getting rid of mechanical belts that are a drag on the engine. Those systems can run only when needed, and that can save another 2 or 3 percent on fuel consumption — so a vehicle that gets 20 mpg could get about another four miles per gallon, he said.

European luxury brands such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz already are rolling out mild hybrid cars in Europe. Those systems likely will be coming to the U.S. because it’s expensive for the companies to build different cars for different markets, Abuelsamid said. General Motors and others already have such systems as options on some models in the U.S.

 

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