Melbourne: Volvo Cars is drawing attention to the important - but often overlooked - issue of electric car safety by displaying a Volvo C30 Electric that has undergone a frontal collision test at 64 km/h.

"We were the first car maker to show the world what a truly safe electric car looks like after a collision with high-speed impact," says Volvo Cars' President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.

"Our tests show it is vital to separate the batteries from the electric car's crumple zones to make it as safe as a conventional car. This is of utmost importance not only to the people riding in an electric car, but also to, for example, first responders," says Stefan Jacoby.

"We note that not everyone that now launches or is in the process of launching electric cars are approaching the safety challenges as we are. But Volvo will never compromise on our stringent safety demands," Jacoby continued.

Batteries and cables intact

The show car is a Volvo C30 Electric, which had a fully charged battery when it was tested at Volvo Cars' crash test laboratory in early December 2010. The crash was a so-called offset collision in which 40 percent of the front hit a barrier 64 km/h.

"The test produced exactly the results we expected. The C30 Electric offers the very same high safety level as a C30 with a combustion engine. The front deformed and distributed the crash energy as we expected. Both the batteries and the cables that are part of the electric system remained entirely intact after the collision," relates Jan Ivarsson, Senior Manager Safety Strategy & Requirements at Volvo Cars.

Large batteries, small motor

The structure of an electric car differs considerably from that of a conventional car - and the new components pose a number of new safety challenges.

In order to give the Volvo C30 Electric a range of up to 150 km it is necessary to have a battery pack that weighs about 300 kg and this takes up far more space than a conventional fuel tank. Under the bonnet, the combustion engine has been replaced by a more packaging-efficient and lighter electric motor. What is more, the car has a 400 Volt high-voltage electric system.

"Our far-reaching research emphasises the importance of separating the lithium-ion batteries from the car's crumple zones and the passenger compartment. This is the same safety approach we apply with regard to the fuel tank in a conventional car. Another challenge is to reinforce the crumple zones at the front where the smaller motor occupies less space than usual," says Jan Ivarsson.

Well-protected batteries

In the Volvo C30 Electric the batteries are fitted in the traditional fuel tank position and in the tunnel area. The batteries are robustly encapsulated. Beams and other parts of the car's structure around the battery pack are reinforced. All the cables are shielded for maximum protection.

The crash sensor in the car also controls the fuses - and power is cut in 50 milliseconds in a collision by the same signal that deploys the airbags.

The system has several fuses that cut directly if an earth fault is detected, such as a damaged cable coming into contact with the body frame.

In a conventional car, the combustion engine helps distribute the incoming collision forces. In the C30 Electric this task is performed by a reinforced frontal structure that also helps absorb the increased collision energy created as a result of the car's added weight.

Comprehensive test programme

The crash-tested cars are part of a rigorous test programme that also includes a large number of virtual crashes. Individual components and systems are also tested individually.

In addition to frontal full-scale tests, the C30 Electric has been subjected to other accident scenarios such as side collisions and rear-end impacts. The programme also includes front and side collisions with a rigid pole. The aim is to ensure that the car gives its occupants the best possible crash protection in the accident scenarios that are most frequent in real-life traffic.

"For us, the technology behind electric power is yet another exciting challenge in our drive to build the safest cars in the world," explains Jan Ivarsson.

No compromise

With climate change in focus, interest in electric cars has increased considerably. The electric motor is almost four times more energy-efficient than a combustion engine - and if the electric car is recharged using renewable energy it produces virtually no carbon dioxide emissions.

"The C30 Electric meets car buyers' increasing demands for minimised carbon dioxide emissions. However, this can under no circumstances come at the expense of other properties that customers expect of their Volvos. That is why our electric C30 has to be as comfortable, as usable, as fun to drive and as safe as all the other C30 variants," explains Lennart Stegland, director of Volvo Cars' Special Vehicles division.

C30 Production underway

Volvo's C30 Electric is now in production. Initial deliveries to leasing customers, mainly companies, authorities and governmental bodies, will take place from next month.

The Volvo C30 Electric will be manufactured and delivered to leasing customers throughout Europe, including in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway.

Tests on a fleet of about 50 cars have been conducted since September 2010, mainly internally at the Volvo Car Corporation. About 250 cars will be built by end 2012, possibly more if market interest takes off.

The Volvo C30 Electric is built on the regular assembly line in the Ghent factory and then transported to Goteborg for installation of the motor, batteries and other model specific electronics. The batteries are installed where the fuel tank normally sits and also in a special compartment in the car's central tunnel. As a result, the luggage compartment is unchanged.

The car is recharged from a regular household power socket. A full recharge takes about seven hours. The operating range is up to 150 kilometres per full charge. Top speed is 130 km/h and the C30 Electric covers the 0-100km/h sprint in 10.9 seconds.

Environmental strategy

The Volvo C30 Electric represents just one approach to Volvo Cars' environmental strategy. Volvo will introduce the V60 plug-in hybrid in Europe in 2012. It features a diesel engine backing up the electrical motor. This cuts emissions to less than 50g of CO2 per kilometre. Later, the plug-in hybrid will come to the United States with a gasoline engine backing up the electrical drive.

The third element is to use power hybrids to provide more fuel efficiency from Volvo's new, upcoming generation of downsized engines.

Volvo C30 Electric - Specifications

Electric motor 82 kW
Top speed 130 km/h
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 10.5 sec
Batteries Lithium-ion 24 kWh
Charge 230V, 16A, 10A, 6A
Recharging duration 8-10 hours
Range 120-150 km
Battery weight 2 x 140 kg
Weight increase compared with a standard car + 300 kg

For further information please contact:

Jaedene Hudson
Public Relations Manager
Volvo Car Australia
T: 02 9020 1613
M: 0412 259 635