DENVER — Volvo's electric-vehicle strategy may not be as dramatic as some initial headlines suggested, but the plan could change decades-old consumer mindsets, says Lex Kerssemakers, CEO of Volvo Car USA.
At a media event here last week, Kerssemakers emphasized that Volvo is not doing away with the internal combustion engine. It will transition to EVs via hybrids to increase consumer comfort with alternative fuel sources, and hopes the move will attract electrified vehicle enthusiasts from other brands.
"You stick out your neck when you make an announcement like that," Kerssemakers told Automotive News. "But we wanted to make a clear statement that we believe in electrification."
It's the second major pledge Volvo has made in the past two years. In 2016, the company said no driver will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020. To get there, it is relying heavily on self-driving technology, which requires new expertise that can't be developed solely in-house.
"There's no way you can do everything alone," said Kerssemakers, citing software and computing as areas where joint development will be necessary.
Both moves could help Volvo snag customers from Tesla Inc., which has also relied on self-driving technology and electrification to build a strong fan base.
Critics sometimes say Tesla is overhyped. Volvo received some overhyping of its own in July, when it announced its electrification strategy. Even though the company did not say it would have solely all-electric cars in the future, that got lost in headlines such as: "Volvo to go all-electric in 2019" and "Volvo: Gas-only cars are history after 2019."
Kerssemakers said the decision to introduce only hybrids or EVs after 2019 is a natural progression of powertrain development that began in 2008, when Volvo pared its engine offerings to four cylinders. Consumers didn't care.
After overcoming doubts that engine size dramatically affected vehicle power, the automaker sees its next challenge as showing consumers that batteries don't drastically change their driving experience.
"The biggest obstacle to electric vehicle adoption is between the ears of the customers," Kerssemakers said.