Volvo is making an $11 billion investment in new products and the plants to build them – an aggressive and much-needed plan that puts a particular premium on the all-new line-up of advanced powertrains that Volvo promises will deliver both segment-leading mileage and world-class performance.
The first of the maker’s models equipped with the new Drive-E engine family are just beginning to roll into US showrooms this month – and they mark the beginning of the end of the relationship between the Swedish and Ford.
The broad investment program is being funded by Geely, the ambitious Chinese automaker that purchased Volvo in 2010 for a fraction of what Ford originally spent on the brand – never mind what it invested during a decade of ownership. Geely CEO Li Shufu, intent on becoming a serious global player, has seen Volvo as both a way to expand his company’s presence outside China as well as a source of technical knowledge that has so far been difficult for Geely to develop in-house.
The $11 billion authorized by the Chinese parent is funding, among other things, two new Volvo plants in China, including one that opened in Chengdu last year. Volvo has meanwhile worked up two new vehicle architectures, one for its smaller models, the second for larger vehicles such as the next-generation XC90.
These new products will start phasing in over the course of the decade and they will switch to the new Drive-E powertrains. But Volvo isn’t waiting until then to begin using these all-new engines, which are being produced at its powertrain plant in Skovde, Sweden which recently went through a $300 million expansion. They’ll be offered as part of the powertrain mix for the updated Volvo S60 sedan, V60 wagon and XC60 crossover, all three launching in the coming months as 2015 models.
Volvo expects the new Drive-E engines alone to reduce fuel consumption by anywhere from 13 to 26% compared to its current powertrain lines. The displacement downsizing is one key factor, but the new engines will adopt direct injection and variable valve timing, along with other advanced features such as a new 8-speed automatic gearbox and Stop/Start.
But Volvo is also adding battery-assisted versions of the E-Drive family such as the new plug-in hybrid it recently launched in Europe. A hybrid version of the next XC90, could opt for a so-called through-the-road all-wheel-drive system where the rear axle is powered exclusively by battery power.