Volvo Boss Predicts a Plug-in-filled Future, but Americans Don’t Seem That Keen on the Brand’s Largest Greenie

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2016 Volvo XC90, Image: Volvo

The second-generation Volvo XC90 announced the brand’s confident and triumphant return to the forefront of automotive discourse. With its parental troubles behind it, the 2015 model year XC90 arrived with dignified, upscale sheetmetal and served as a styling template for future models like the S90 and XC60.

It also heralded the brand’s move towards downsized powerplants assisted by electric motors.

The company’s CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, sees a not-too-distant future where plug-in hybrids make up a quarter of its sales — an attainable goal on a global scale, given China and Europe’s fondness for such models. In the United States, though, Volvo’s plug-in XC90 — lately, anyway — seems to be headed in the opposite sales direction as its plug-free model. Slightly odd, as plug-in hybrids are ascendent in America.Speaking to Automotive News Europe, Samuelsson discussed the brand’s recent growth – not just in global sales, but also in product offerings. The compact XC40 crossover is the latest model to appear, but the XC60 gained a much-needed revamp for 2018 and there’s a new, U.S.-built S60 on the way. A third-gen XC90 will eventually join it in South Carolina.

Volvo doesn’t feel like spreading itself too thin. Hybrids are the go-to propulsion source for the coming years, it claims; other automakers can chase improvements in gasoline and diesel technology if they want.

“We are slowly but gradually increasing our gasoline engine offer because we strongly believe in gasoline engines with electrification,” said Samuelsson. “We are expanding our range with the T6 plug-in hybrid with less horsepower [than the top of the line T8 plug-in hybrid]. A T5 will come in the XC40 with electrification. That is what we are looking at because in the long run we believe the dominant powertrain will be a gasoline engine with electrification. I think by 2025 that 25 percent of our global sales should be plug-in hybrids.”

In Europe, the take rate for hybrids among 60- and 90-series buyers stands at 15 percent, the CEO claimed.

The U.S. is obviously a vastly different market, and plug-in hybrids, while on the rise, don’t enjoy nearly the same amount of volume. In April, plug-in hybrids accounted for 0.73 percent of the U.S. car market, which is better than the 0.64 percent seen over the first four months of 2017. It’s certainly a step up from the 0.53 percent take rate recorded in 2017.

The top-tier XC90 T8, Volvo’s first plug-in offering on this side of the pond, is a footnote in the U.S. plug-in market, despite the model’s sustained health. Helped by last year’s poor winter sales, overall XC90 volume rose 38.9 percent over the first four months of 2018. Volvo sweetened the pot late last year by offering a no-charge third-row seat in the base model.

Sales of the plug-in model, which boasts an extra 5 miles of all-electric range for 2018 (19 miles total) fell 9.1 percent, year to date. April volume declined 38.6 percent, year over year, to just 89 vehicles. With new plug-in models arriving at a regular clip, the XC90’s share of the American plug-in hybrid market has now fallen below 1 percent. The second-generation XC60 hybrid has outsold it since its first month on sale (January).

Again, different markets and different buyers. Samuelsson isn’t concerned about hybrid popularity in the U.S.; his concern is the coming launch of the new S60, which he claims will be targeted towards “a younger, more dynamic audience.” Built for domestic consumption and export, the S60 eschews an available diesel powerplant.

To help the automaker reach its green goal, all Volvos introduced after 2019 will feature some form of electrification, even if it’s just a 48-volt mild hybrid system that gently assists the gasoline engine in imperceptible ways. The first of many 48-volt Volvos arrives next year.

[Image: Volvo]