By Kevin Miller
Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles virtually littered the floor of Cobo hall this year. It seems as though near as many vehicles have an SAE J1772 charging port as have a standard gasoline fuel filler. Show stands on the main floor and the basement of Cobo featured a variety of EV charging equipment. Into this environment, Volvo injected their focus on safety. In combination with the battery supplier ENER1, Volvo showed a C30 Electric which had been subjected to a 40 MPH frontal offset collision.
In C30 models with internal combustion engines, the engine forms a part of the crash-absorbing structure at the front of the car. Because the C30 Electric has a much smaller electric drive unit, with a relatively heavy load of batteries located farther back in the car, additional structural members were added to the front of the vehicle to provide occupant protection in a collision.
Additionally, Senior Manager Safety Strategy & Requirements at Volvo Cars explained that the 23 kWh capacity in the C30 Electric’s two 400 V battery packs which weigh a combined total of 660 pounds must be protected in the event of a collision as well, to avoid risk of injury to vehicle occupants and emergency responders. For this reason, the C30 Electric mounts its battery packs under the rear seat and underfloor in the central tunnel, away from crumple zones. Beams and structural members surrounding the battery pack have been reinforced to provide increased protection.
IN the event of a collision, battery power is disconnected within 50 milliseconds, from the same signal used to actuate the vehicle airbags. The battery pack is additionally protected by fusing in the event of a ground fault or short circuit. Throughout Volvo’s program of collision testing, the batteries and cables remained intact, meaning that occupants would not need to worry about the risk of electrical shock or exposure to battery chemicals in the event of an accident.
The Volvo C30 Electric has an estimated range of 95 miles in average driving conditions. Volvo announced that it has a fleet of media demonstrators coming to the US later this year. “Among other things, we will give the U.S. media opportunities to test-drive the car. We think they will find it as enjoyable to drive and as dynamic as the standard car,” says Volvo Cars President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.
Jacoby adds: “Several car makers have launched or are in the process of introducing electric cars onto the market. We are carefully monitoring their progress and note that not everyone is approaching the safety challenges as we are. But for us at Volvo, this issue is crystal clear. We never compromise on our stringent safety demands.”
This is the first car in Volvo’s ongoing electrification efforts. Volvo C30 Electric deliveries to fleet customers in Sweden will start early next year. The next step will be introduction of a plug-in hybrid in Europe in 2012 featuring a diesel engine backing up the electrical motor. Later, the plug-in hybrid will come to the United States with a gasoline engine backing up the electrical drive. Volvo’s next step in fleet electrification is planned as the use of hybrid technology to give more miles to the gallon from Volvo’s new, upcoming generation of downsized engines.
While other automakers have been touting their EVs, their emphasis has been on range and recharging time rather than on safety. As Volvo is known for their safey innovations, their angle on EV safety makes a lot of sense, and is likely to resonate with their core audience. It is always interesting to see the results of vehicle crash tests, and Volvo has done a great job showing off those results on the show floor in Detroit with the C30 Electric.