Volvo broke ranks recently to lead the traditional big manufacturers in announcing that all new cars launched by Volvo from 2019 onwards will be partially or completely battery-powered. The company calls it an “historic end” to building models that only have an internal combustion engine.
Håkan Samuelsson, the Volvo chief executive, said: “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”
The carmaker, owned by Chinese automotive giant Geely, has yet to build a single fully electric car but already sells five plug-in hybrid models that can run a few dozen miles on battery power before switching to a conventional engine.
Several other major manufacturers, including BMW and Volkswagen have signalled their intention to devote increasingly large resources to the development of electric and hybrid vehicles, in part aided by government grants aimed at tackling air pollution.
Volvo are relatively unusual in that they make use of hybrid technology for both diesel and petrol engines. Asked if the announcement showed diesel was dead, Samuelsson said: “Long-term, diesel will get more and more expensive, because it requires some after-treatment.” Volvo said in May it was considering ceasing development on next-generation diesel engines.
Volvo said the first of its electric cars will be built in China, but others would be made in Europe and the US. The company said it had not yet decided on a battery supplier.
Prof David Bailey, an automotive expert at Aston University, said: “It’s indicative of the speeding up of the shift over to electrics, particularly in the wake of the VW dieselgate scandal, and it’s a sign that the industry is really starting to move and it will become mainstream.
The potential carbon savings of a widespread shift to electric cars are huge.
Although globally coal still accounts for about 40% of electricity generation and gas around 21%, countries such as the UK now source a significant amount of power from low carbon sources, such as renewables and nuclear. A quarter of UK carbon emissions are from road transport.