Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Think I Was Punked by Volvo

Remember back on the 6th when I posted about Volvo's announcement that every car they build after 2019 would either be a hybrid or a pure electric vehicle?  Like most of the people who read that article, I missed an important distinction that today's Design News clears up for us.
Industry analysts this week pointed out the obvious – that Volvo has no intention of abandoning IC engines.

In its own press conference, the company’s executives said mild and conventional hybrids will still be a big part of its lineup, meaning that engines will continue to play a role for the foreseeable future. “They are electrifying all of their cars, but they are not going all-electric by any stretch of the imagination,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News.

Abuelsamid acknowledged that Volvo’s press release, headlined “Volvo Cars to go all electric,” was ripe for misunderstanding. At the same time, though, he described it as a publicity “masterstroke.”

Indeed, it was a masterstroke because it obliquely drew some attention to a nugget of news that would have otherwise been ignored: That is, Volvo is joining a growing contingent of automakers planning to move to so-called “mild hybrid” technology.
So what's a mild hybrid?  Unlike conventional hybrids that use massive battery packs that run 300V, 400V and even 600V, these vehicles use 48V.  The vehicles feature a small IC engine and a relatively small lithium-ion battery (roughly half a kilowatt-hour), which allows the mild hybrids to do enhanced start-stop, along with regenerative braking that puts “fuel” back in the battery.  They can turn off the IC engine before coming to a complete stop, re-launch the vehicle on electricity, and fire the engine back up after it’s already in motion. Or they can “sail” – that is, shut down the engine at highway speeds and coast for a short time on electricity.
Moreover, 48V electrical architectures offer a big benefit for engineers who are trying to add power-hungry new features, such as heated seats, heated windshields, electric power steering, and infotainment systems. Unlike today’s 12V systems, which offer about 2-3 kW of power, a 48V system can produce 10-12 kW. 
I recall hearing that carmakers were considering moving to 24 or 48V systems years ago, maybe even the 1980s, and I know that some bigger pickup trucks use 24V (I think they're all diesels).   Volvo, Audi, PSA Group and Mercedes-Benz have all announced plans to implement 48V “mild hybrid” architectures.

Given that, you can take a pretty safe bet that those companies aren't going to invest in these hybrid 48V electric and IC engines for four years and then drop them.
Lux Research has predicted that seven million vehicles worldwide will use 48V architectures by 2024. And Navigant has said that 55% of vehicles will use start-stop technology by 2024. The point is, these IC-engine-based technologies are growing, not declining.

By comparison, fully electric vehicles will account for between four and 5.6 million new vehicles annually by 2025. That’s out of a projected total of 105 million worldwide. To put it another way, most of the rest of the 100 million or so light duty vehicles will still use internal combustion engines in some form in 2025.
So I got sucked into the "end date for conventional gas and diesel powered cars" story line.  That's way out in the future.  Last words to this week's Design News article. 
“The internal combustion engine is so cost effective and convenient compared to any other technology, it’s not going away any time soon,” Abuelsamid said. “At least through 2030 and beyond, the vast majority of vehicles will still use them.” 


  1. Plenty of 48 v motors to choose from. And it isn't the voltage as much as the amp hours.

    A fair number of electric and hybrid boats use 48 volts. You can buy off-the-shelf 48 v alternators and diesel APUs.

  2. There have been electric vehicles using more than 12 volts for many, many years. Higher voltage means fewer amps for the same power, which means smaller wires and fewer line losses.
    I think Volvo intentionally worded their statement the way they did to get environmental accolades - a type of 'greenwashing'. I'm skeptical about how much good turning off the engine at lights will do, and while this is a 'mild' hybrid, it IS still a hybrid, meaning it has both an electric system and an ICE system. Two powertrains means more cost up front and more maintenance long term. Personally, I would think that electric drive would be better for both ICE efficiency and ease of using a bettery, but I've heard very little about that.