17 oct 23

The Battery Series: Volvo's strategy combines performance and safety

Renowned for its top safety standards, Volvo has not been in silence mode in the competition of transition to electric. With a fully-fledged plan for electrification and electric vehicle (EV) battery development, Volvo has a clear -safety-integrated- roadmap towards 2030. 

Whichever major automaker we look at in The Battery Series, there's a customised formula for competing in the EV battery market. This could be all in-house development, working with battery developers, or partnering with innovative startups to achieve a breakthrough in battery technology. For Volvo, these options are also enhanced according to the company's characteristics, resulting in a clear and gradually improving roadmap towards the zero-emission goal 2030. 

The first major step is to make 50% of all cars manufactured electric by 2025. To that end, the Volvo Recharge sales, representing the brand's advanced hybrid and all-electric cars, have exploded in 2023. In July, Volvo Car's global sales jumped 21% compared to a year ago, reaching 54,165 and a tally of 395,856 cars in the first seven months of 2023 (an increase of 18% year-over-year). 

EV sales rose 95% year-over-year in July and reached 18,072 units, representing 34.5% of the total sales volume. In that share, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) grabbed 24.4% with 13,198 unit sales and went up 65% year-over-year. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) held a 10.2% share of the sales, going up 248% year-over-year and reaching 5,504 units. 

By the end of July, sales of the Volvo Recharge line surpassed 155,000 cars, going up 50% year-over-year and representing 39% of the total sales. Considering that Volvo exceeded 205,000 units (33% of the total volume) in EV sales last year, it is likely for the Swedish giant to go over 300,000 in 2023. 

'No longer long-term contracts'

Until 2020, Volvo used to acquire complete battery systems, reported Ars Technica. For PHEVs, LG Chem was the supplier, and Chinese giant CATL supplied prismatic battery cells for the BEVs sold in China.

Volvo changed its strategy over contracts and, considering all social, environmental and performance factors, signed a maximum of three-year agreements to keep the supply chain fresh. Focusing on new chemistries, the $60 million battery testing lab in Gothenburg, Sweden, commenced extreme battery tests in temperatures between -40 and 70 degrees. 

In 2021, the company made the battery plans more clear. The next-generation batteries offer a durability of 10 to 15 years, require significantly lower components and fit into the vehicle's flat floor, integrating into the safety prioritised design of new EVs. By improving the energy density by 50%, Volvo aims to reach a 1,000 range (621 miles) on one charge. Plans included halving the charging time from 10% to 80% through an 800-volt charging capability, including bidirectional charging, allowing Volvo Recharge cars to connect to the grid. 

Half a million EVs per year

The EV battery plan of Volvo became apparent in June 2021 when the Swedish auto giant announced a partnership with Northvolt to produce batteries for all-electric future cars. The collaboration, based on Research and Development and battery production, focuses on thermal resistance, cold weather performance, energy density and fast charge capability. 

In 2022, Volvo Cars and Northvolt announced a new battery manufacturing plant in Gothenburg, Sweden, with an annual capacity of around 50 GWH, enough for 500,000 cars annually. The calculation signals 100 kWh battery packs, which will be used in all-electric Volvo cars and Polestar EVs. 

Northvolt is also investing in battery recycling, planning to build a giant recycling plant, Revolt Ett, next to Northvolt Ett gigafactory in Skellefteå, Sweden. Expected to become functional towards the end of 2023, Revolt Ett will recycle lithium, manganese and cobalt, with a total capacity of 125,000 tons of batteries annually. The plant is to supply Northvolt Ett with 50% of its metals. 

Images: Northvolt.

Time for 'extreme' fast-charging 

Volvo took another critical step in 2022 and announced a partnership with StoreDot, a battery technology company developing a unique silicon-based anode technology, allowing a five-minute charge for a 100-mile (160 km) range. Being the first major automaker to invest in StoreDot, Volvo aims to apply the technology in 2024 and mass-produce it for the market.  

Producing highly durable, low-cost and high energy density batteries is not the only aim for Volvo, but repurposing them too. In September 2023, Volvo signed a letter of intent with the UK-based battery storage company Connected Energy to turn batteries into energy storage. 

Volvo is an investor in Connected Energy, and development has been going on for a while, as the E-STOR system of the latter is installed in Volvo's facility in Gothenburg, Sweden, going on tests for EV charging and grid backup. The project aims to use the remaining energy storage capacity of used batteries, up to 80%. The Volvo EV batteries-storage system prototype will be launched this year, and Volvo Energy plans to launch the technology in Europe in 2025. 

Image: Volvo.

Small LFP battery packs are the solution 

Volvo is focused on safety and is also concerned about the heavy weight of EV batteries, which can increase the weight of an EV by around 35% compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) models. 

Volvo's move from traditional lithium-ion (Li-io) batteries to lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) appears quite convenient, as it removes harmful materials such as cobalt, allowing smaller and higher energy density packs. Volvo has been refreshing the chemical formula for around three years based on its supplier strategy and working on new aerodynamics and composite materials to cut weight while maximising safety. 

The result? 

According to demand and, more importantly, the charging structure, Volvo is to offer EVs with battery packs ranging between 35kW and 70kW, according to WhichCar. This capacity will go up to 100-110kW for consumers who demand longer ranges. 

Global demand is going up 

Volvo said in September 2023 that sales rose 25% to 61,666 cars year-over-year as the numbers went up 65% in the US, 32% in Europe and 4% in China. 

Volvo Recharge sales jumped 37%, representing 34% of all the cars sold in September. BEV models surged 52%, accounting for 15% of the sales. 

With EV sales going up and battery development plans underway, Volvo is moving steadily towards the 2030 goal of zero-emission.  

Check earlier articles in this series:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
The Battery Series: Mercedes-Benz's global battery network is ready
The Battery Series: Renault to unleash future EV mobility with the R5

The main image is courtesy of Volvo.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen