Volvo's decision to join Tesla by going electric makes perfect sense
For cynics, Volvo's announcement is a mere PR stunt designed to capitalize on the propulsion method du jour. After all, Tesla, a company that sells less than 80,000 electric cars a year now boasts a market cap on par with General Motors and its 10 million in annual sales.
On the other hand, proponents of electric mobility applaud Volvo for being a mainstream automaker brave enough to take the plunge.
While I am neither cynic nor e-mobility evangelist, I think Volvo's decision to go electric makes perfect sense.
Of all of the world's mainstream automakers, Volvo's all-out assault on electric mobility is the least surprising. And it has much to do with the future as it has with the past.
For most of Volvo's 90-year history, the Swedish automaker offered its loyal legions of customers well-built, safe, and practical transportation with a certain Scandinavian flair.
As powertrains go, Volvo has always marched to the beat of its own drum. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the company stuck with its signature turbocharged five-cylinder engines while other luxury brands moved towards larger six, eight, and even 12 cylinder powerplants.
In 2015, as the industry looked to downsize its engines amid tightening fuel economy and emissions regulations, Volvo took that to the extreme by debuting the diminutive Drive-E family of four-cylinder engines that will power the company's entire lineup.
All of that is to say Volvo's latest proclamation falls perfectly in line with the company's modus operandi.
In order to get Drive-E's small displacement engines to deliver the output necessary to power a luxury vehicle, Volvo turned to modern turbo- and supercharger technology. In fact, some Drive-E engines are both turbocharged and supercharged. However, there is a limit to the amount of extra boost Volvo can run to make more power before the engine's fuel economy and long-term reliability are compromised. That's where hybridization comes into play. Currently, Volvo uses a hybrid drive system to give its top-of-the-line XC90 T8 SUV a 100 horsepower boost and to create a virtual all-wheel-drive system by mounting an electric motor on the rear axle.
When applied across its lineup in non-all-wheel-drive applications, a hybrid drive system's electric motors deliver valuable low-end torque, which is often times missing from small displacement engines.
At the end of the day, Volvo's decision to go electric is once again a reminder that the Swedish automaker is busy at work nudging the industry forward as it has for nearly a century.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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