Volvo's electrification journey

From 1976, the importance of climate neutral cars was already recognized

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Hans Hedberg, left his fast paced career as a motor journalist and began the role of Volvo Cars heritage manager.

“I am part of the brand team and make sure we bring our core values into the electric future”, says Hans. “We have a 95-year tradition of building cars and have become part of the Swedish culture. It makes us unique in a way many challengers can only dream of.

“As a Swede, it’s easy to take Volvo for granted,” continues Hans. “Especially for me, born and raised in the area, close to Volvo Cars. But now that I have travelled around and tested almost all vehicles, I have gained an outsider perspective. Volvo is a brand I am proud of.”

Volvo’s Elbil (electric car in Swedish) 1976 was financed partially by a Swedish telecommunications company, Televerket. Despite the national discussion on electric cars and early development of clean electric vehicles, interest from the public remained low.

Electric cars were thought of as slow, heavy, and difficult to charge, therefore they were not taken seriously compared to combustion engines that were becoming increasingly efficient and less damaging to the environment.

The press release in 1976 highlighted the importance of charging the Elbil with climate-neutral electricity. The twelve six-Volt batteries powered the vehicles for 50 kilometres, which fulfilled their purposes of driving the short distance to deliver post and aid staff at Televerket in Gothenburg, without generating emissions. The electric cars were seen to have the same advantages and disadvantages as we still observe today as they were considered environmentally friendly, quieter and cheaper to maintain, yet the battery was a challenge.

Hans Hedberg

"As a car manufacturer we are part of the problem, and therefore we must be part of the solution"

A luxurious concept car

Volvo Cars displayed the luxurious concept car ECC in a showroom in Paris 1992. The electric motor and gas turbine created an impressive hybrid solution, but the design hinting at the coming S80 model gained the most attention.

In hindsight, 1995 yielded a more interesting development from an electrification perspective as Volvo Cars released a prototype based on the 850 model introduced years before. Volvo 850 was named “the safest car in the world” from its unique front wheel drive and side airbags.

A hybrid before its time

The prototype car HEV 98 was a charging hybrid used similar technology today with a chargeable electric engine and a standard combustion engine.

“In my view, the HEV 98 is fascinating,” Hans explains. “With a battery range of 85 kilometres, a total range of about 400 kilometres, and a well-packed battery package, it was just too early and too good for that time. The actual prototype is also fully driveable. Like many of our concept cars, it was driven hundreds of miles for testing.”

Yet, just as the charging hybrid completed its development, Volvo Cars stopped investing further in electric and hybrid cars. This was fuelled by the car industry promoting performance rather than fuel consumption or sustainability.


Volvo Concept Car ECC


Volvo 850

The company car Volvo C30

Volvo Cars continued experimenting. In 2001, the ISG solution was announced as an integrated started generator that charged a 42-Volt battery and began the evolution for today’s hybrids. The smaller series of fully electric Volvo C30s were developed in 2011, and charged from a wall socket, and had a range of up to 150 kilometres.


Volvo C30

“Volvo C30 Electric demonstrates that we had a clear electrification strategy over ten years ago,” says Hans. “The cars were gaining interest, but we were still a bit early. The general debate was about environmentally friendly gasoline and ethanol cars, diesel engines with low carbon dioxide emissions, and sparingly trimmed gasoline engines.”

Hans continues, “Everyone who's driven a C30 Electric knows what a good car it is. Simple, fast, and with practical solutions to heat the interior. C30 Electric was so famous that we developed another series a few years later. Even today, these cars are standard on the staff parking at Volvo Torslanda.”

Electric cars as part of the solution

The project began after the UN’s Environmental Protection Conference in 1972, which is where the Volvo Cars Manager at the time, Pehr G Gyllenhammar, produced the famous words: “As a car manufacturer we are part of the problem, and therefore we must be part of the solution.”

“Who doesn't want a small, sleek electric-powered city car these days?” continues Hans. “Today, car buyers everywhere like a vehicle that is manufactured and charged sustainably. In other words, the time has come for Elbil 1976. Volvo Cars’ view on the sustainable production of safe cars that always put people first has never been more relevant.

That is why it has never been as exciting as today to work with the history — and the future — of Volvo Cars.”