Volvo Cars of North America President John Maloney is committing the automaker to hybrids and smaller engines in the United States over the next decade. Maloney’s presentations during the 2012 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) indicated a desire to streamline the brand while attracting consumers concerned about fuel mileage. The American market is critical for Volvo with 121,225 units sold over the past two years. This commitment to lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles allows Volvo to perfect their hybrid technology and meet the needs of brand loyalists.
The focus of Volvo’s renewed focus in the United States is the XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept premiered at NAIAS. This plug-in hybrid achieved a fuel economy rating of 50 miles per gallon based on early testing. Volvo notes that the XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept is powered by a 52kW electric motor and 12kWh lithium-ion battery. The concept vehicle contrasts greatly from the 2012 XC60 currently available in the United States, which only achieves 20 MPG according to EPA ratings. Maloney is pushing Volvo Cars to quickly bridge the gap between these two models in order to meet state and federal emissions standards.
Representatives from Volvo have been murky about delivery of hybrid vehicles to the American market. CEO Stefan Jacoby noted that plug-in hybrids from Volvo would be available in the United States in a couple of years. This projection did not include a firm date or an assessment of which hybrid technology would act as Volvo’s inaugural offering. Engineers and designers at Volvo are spreading their efforts across various hybrid methods including battery power, flywheels and hydraulic systems. The XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept ventures into battery power but Volvo is hedging bets on other hybrid technologies before advancing to the production process.
Volvo’s high sales in the United States do not necessarily translate into the conditions necessary for hybrid adoption. The automaker cannot count on popular diesel offerings from Europe and Asia as diesel vehicles are not commonly used by Americans. Volvo could experience frustration trying to enter a market featuring established models like the Toyota Prius and newcomers like the Nissan LEAF. A final problem for Volvo is that the brand has not been associated with great fuel economy in the recent past. The XC60 Plug-in Hybrid Concept, the C30 and other models delivered under Maloney’s watch might face skepticism by American drivers.