Exciting, adventurous, green and inspirational are words used to describe the Volvo Ocean Race – the greatest around the world yacht event stopping at six continents. The Volvo spokesperson said that the race also describes the ethos of its product design. If you add the word “silence” to the list then you have the full set of adjectives to describe the yachts and the C30 electric vehicle.
The Ocean Race will start the second leg of the competition to Abu Dhabi on Sunday and will face tough challenges from nature, floating containers littering our seas and even the threat of pirates along the way. Words cannot describe the size of the event, logistical nightmare, human endurance and costs involved. These yachts are the F1 equivalent of the sailing scene and are extreme examples of cutting-edge engineering and design. Capable of achieving speeds of up to 75 km/h (which is break-neck on the ocean) under ideal conditions, the distance record set for a 24-hour period is almost a 1 000 km. Masts are made from carbon fibre (as the rest of the yacht), ten stories high – the cost to replace a mere $700 000…
Volvo took the opportunity of the Ocean race coming to Cape Town to introduce journalists to the sport as well as its latest products. The C30 Electric looks exactly like the fossil-fuel burning equivalent except the “electric” graphics on the side and the charging point in the front grill of the vehicle. Inside it is still pure Volvo with the original four seat layout and boot intact. The battery pack is divided into two modules of which one is located under the rear seat and the other in the centre of the vehicle (“transmission tunnel” cavity). This infringes a little on the footwell space as it had to be widened to fit the pack.
Dashboard design is neat and clear and even the instruments look C30 specific until you notice the kW markings on the right analogue dial replacing the r/min inscription. The driving position is good and the vehicle is by no means intimidating because it is electric. Turn the key in the ignition and the dashboard lights up, move the selector to the “D” position and off you go. No chimes, no fuss and also no sound.
Flooring the accelerator pedal emits a faint whine not dissimilar to the sound of a dentist drill from the engine compartment, the energy dial swings into the red and you are immediately pushed back in the seat – quite a satisfying experience. With outputs close to that of the Nissan Leaf driven a few weeks earlier the overall straight-line performance feels quite similar. Where the Volvo has the upper hand is in the fact that it is smaller and feels more nimble and responsive. The test route did not allow highway speeds but the vehicle will easily exceed the national speed limit. The endurance is not quite up to the level of the yachts but Volvo promises 150 km of driving on a single charge of the 24 kW.hr battery pack.
Lifting off the accelerator pedal will activate the regenerative braking which is more severe than what I found on the Leaf in normal mode and the vehicle can almost be driven only with the use of the accelerator pedal if planning ahead (single-pedal driving). A nice function is D+ where the regenerative braking can be disabled from the accelerator pedal during highway driving to enable the vehicle to coast when lifting off the accelerator pedal. Pressing the brake pedal will activate the mechanical brakes plus an extra bit of regenerative braking but the pedal feel is much more commutative than on the Leaf.
Lithium-ion batteries do not perform well in extreme climates so the C30 Electric can use the air-con to cool the pack and it has an optional 14,5 litre E85 bio-fuel tank that is used in conjunction with a fuel-fired heater to heat the battery pack in the most severe Scandinavian winters, albeit with the loss of the zero emission statement when used.
Will the C30 Electric be available in South Africa? Unfortunately the answer is “no” as Volvo is only planning a limited run of 250 vehicles that will be available in Europe next year on a lease scheme only. This will allow Volvo engineers to gather real world data before electric vehicles will be considered for mass production. As safety is one of Volvo’s biggest concerns this seems to be a responsible ploy. The C30 Electric is the perfect automotive product to tie up with the ethics of the Ocean race – just keep it far away from water!
Power: 82 kW
Torque: 220 N.m
Top speed: Approximately 130 km/h
Gearbox: Single speed
Battery pack installed capacity: 24 kW.hr
Charging time from normal household outlet: Approximately 7-8 hours
Range: Approximately 150km depending on drive cycle
Price: N/A, will only be available in Europe as a lease option