With the release of the Volvo V60 PHEV, new ground was broken in the automobile market, becoming the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and that was just the beginning.
It should come as no surprise that, with stricter emissions and fuel economy regulations, engines are getting smaller. Smaller engines, of course, have better fuel economy and generate fewer emissions, but also don’t deliver the same kind of performance that their larger cousins do. With the development of the hybrid electric vehicle, however, it was found that even smaller engines, coupled with electric motors, could deliver better performance and consume less fuel.
The current Toyota Prius, for example, uses a 1.8 ℓ 98 hp gasoline engine paired with an 80 hp electric motor and is rated at 50 mpg. A comparable conventional vehicle would require a slightly larger engine to achieve the same power output, but would use more fuel. By the same token, a 50 mpg conventional vehicle would give up a lot in performance, when compared to its hybrid counterpart.
Still, the combination of high-torque electric motors and low-displacement engines seems to be the key to today’s transportation emissions-reduction measures, but there’s one small step that most automakers have overlooked, which brings us back to the Volvo V60 PHEV. We already know that diesel engines are inherently more efficient than gasoline engines, as well as delivering more torque, so it’s kind of surprising that Volvo is the only automaker which has implemented the idea in a hybrid.
Even Volvo’s tuning shop, Polestar, which would not normally be associated with “green” tuning, is seeing the benefits of the hybrid electric powertrain. Volvo Polestar head, Hans Baath, says electric motors perfectly complement the lower torque output of small engines. In fact, Polestar is already trying to get under the hood of the Volvo V60 PHEV, which could benefit from the combination of a small-displacement turbodiesel, for cruising fuel efficiency, and high-output electric motors, for all-wheel drive and acceleration performance.
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