Motoring: Volvo’s electric dream

Days numbered for traditional combustion engine and human driver

 

The slow crawl towards an electric car future received a boost yesterday with Volvo’s announcement that its new models will be solely hybrid or electric from 2019. The firm will start to phase out exclusively petrol and diesel models.

Despite several attempts to recharge the electric car market, sales in Ireland have been lacklustre to date. Only 374 new electric cars were registered in the Republic in the first six months, in a total new car market of 91,188. A further 3,035 new hybrids of various formats were sold.

Yet an international backlash against diesel – partly sparked by VW Group’s emissions scandal – is accelerating moves to alternative power. It is also hoped that within the next five years, the battery range of electric vehicles will approach those of combustion engines. Most car firms have major plans to bring new multiple electric and hybrid models to market in a similar timeframe to Volvo.

Although it seems like a turning point for electric cars, yesterday’s announcement also serves to illustrate Volvo’s remarkable turnaround. The sensible Swede, long regarded as safety-conscious if a little staid, faced an existential crisis in 2010 when it was sold off by Ford. New Chinese owner Geely gave its management team the freedom to act more like a tech start-up and less like a traditional metal-bashing car maker.

This led to bold statements of intent. First came an ambitious safety promise: by 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car or SUV. This was followed by a promise to offer fully autonomous driving features as an option on its cars from 2021. Today, much to the envy of larger rivals, it is even stealing some of the limelight from Tesla, the poster child for disruption.

Motor firms like Volvo are increasingly betting on self-driving electric cars being the must-have format in the next decade. It would seem the days are numbered for both the traditional combustion engine and the human driver. Yet the ultimate decider will be consumers who, up until now in Ireland at least, have failed to buy into the electric dream.

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