Safety in Numbers
Nesting the electric motors within the car’s wheels creates more interior space (getting rid of the centerline hump that typically runs from axle to axle). But distributing the car’s motors into the wheels has safety benefits to boot (remember, this is Volvo). The four-wheel drive and independent traction from the individually controlled motors will stabilize the car, says Sugioka.
Using the motors themselves as brakes eliminates pads and other physical mechanisms, and means that all four wheels work in sync to slow the car. Signals from the car’s pedals pass through quadruple redundancy, and the ReCharge’s unique configuration means that “if one motor fails, the other motors could... adjust their output to compensate.”
Crash safety also improves with wheel motors, says Sugioka. Eliminating the driveshaft means that the firewall between the engine and passenger compartment can be uninterrupted.
For batteries, Volvo went with lithium-polymer. Not only lighter than lithium-ion, li-poly batteries are more resistant to impact and, believes Volvo, more crashworthy.
A New Kind of Gridlock
Plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars are more than novelties; driving on electricity changes the equation, making cars part of our electrical infrastructure. To explore this, Volvo announced a partnership in March 2008 with the Swedish government, a battery maker, and energy producer Vattenfall.
The deal will produce a small fleet of plug-in hybrids like the ReCharge that will test the potential for car/grid connection. “[T]he electric utilities should be able to access the power electronics and the battery energy for their own uses to maximize the efficiency of the . . . infrastructure,” said Jonsson. We have something “that’s much more exciting than just a car, here.”
Volvo will not be the first company to put a plug-in hybrid on the road, but the Swedish company is patient, and the ReCharge is a forward-looking response to what’s ahead. “We’ve projected the future of energy and fuel scenarios out to the year 2100,” says Sugioka. “Around 2050 we won’t have enough conventional sources of energy to meet the demands of the world.” Tapping into solar energy will be the key, and plug-in hybrids are a means of storing that energy.
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