Volvo C30 Electric: Keeping Car And Occupants Warm In The Cold

Follow Nikki

As most electric car owners will tell you, electric cars don’t have the same range in winter as they do in summer. 

Not so, says Swedish automaker Volvo. Thanks to a carefully engineered heating system, its test fleet of C30 Electric cars can still give impressive range when the outside temperature plummets to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Earlier this week, we became guests of Volvo at its winter test facility in Kiruna, a small mining town some 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  

Our task? To find out how Volvo has built an electric car that can keep warm and keep its range in cold weather. 

But first, we should explain how conventional heating systems work. 

In a gasoline car, waste heat from the inefficient internal combustion engine can be captured and used to heat the car’s interior. In an electric car however, the electric motor is so efficient that it doesn’t produce much waste heat. 

Instead, nearly every electric car on the market today uses either an electric immersion heater or an air heater to provide warmth to the cabin. When not plugged in and charging, energy to run those electric heaters has to come from the car’s battery pack. 

Volvo C30 Electric Arctic Test Drive

Volvo C30 Electric Arctic Test Drive

Enlarge Photo

At an energy drain of anything from a few hundred watts to several kilowatts, the energy taken to keep the car warm dramatically decreases range. 

In the frigid arctic, it isn’t just the driver that needs to stay warm either: at those kinds of temperatures, the battery pack and the motor also need to be kept warm. 

Which is why Volvo has built a triple heating system that makes use of two electric heaters, plus an E85 bio-ethanol heater to keep the C30 electric warm. 

Combined, the system is capable of providing 12 kilowatts of heat to keep the car and its drivetrain warm, and means the C30 electric can drive in temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Moreover, the system is capable of heating up the car from -13 degrees Fahrenheit to a warm, comfortable driving temperature of 70 degrees or higher in under 5 minutes. 

Using either petrol or bio-ethanol, the liquid fuel system works in concert with the electric heaters when the car is first started to quickly reach a comfortable temperature for the occupants. 

Once the cabin temperature has risen, the car’s electric heaters turn off, using only the liquid fuel tank for heating.  According to Volvo technicians, its 3.17 gallon tank can provide enough energy to heat the car for 24 hours at an impressively efficient rate of around 0.13 gallons per hour. 

Volvo C30 Electric Arctic Test Drive

Volvo C30 Electric Arctic Test Drive

Enlarge Photo

Because Volvo’s heater uses E85 -- and therefore some fossil fuel -- Volvo has designed its triple heating system in a way that means drivers can choose not to use the ethanol heater. 

Instead, the C30 can be heated on just its electric heaters, although Volvo warns that range will suffer, even if the C30’s  preconditioning immersion heater system is used. 

Volvo isn’t the first automaker to use a fossil-fuel burning heater in an electric car, but it is the first automaker we’ve seen to design such a complex system. 

We’ll be bringing you more from our Arctic adventure in the coming week, including a report of how the C30 electric drives on snow-packed roads. 

Until then, be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Volvo C30 project manager Annelie Gustavsson above, and let us know what you think of Volvo’s solution in the Comments below

Volvo provided airfare, meals and lodging to enable us to bring you this report


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in:
Follow Us

Comments (13)
  1. Great vid!

    I hope that the fact that the car uses ethanol doesn't become an issue in peoples minds. In this application it makes complete sense to me. Use the ethanol in the most efficient way; to make heat. The problem with using ethanol comes when you try to use it to make movement - that's where it doesn't give efficient results.

  2. And in the summer, when no heating is needed (and except for the Arctic circle), the system will burn leftover ethanol to generate electricity for extended range :-)

  3. That is fantastic, but I will never need it since I live in a sub-tropical climate where it seldom gets below -10. Onward and forward with those wonderful electric cars.

  4. Sorry, use of fossil fuels is unacceptable to me. They need to go back to the drawing board. IMO, it's no longer a BEV.

  5. As Annalie said, just don't fill the tank and it uses electricity. Problem solved.

  6. Personally, I think this a great idea. The user has control and can use the fuel or not depending on what they are interested in optimizing. Well done Volvo.

  7. For some this unacceptable but I wonder if heating their homes by gas or oil is also unacceptable?

  8. I use neither. And yes, that is also unacceptable. We need to stop using our natural resources. When we do, we are thieves.


    This is where ideology bites: green ideological purists will now say the car is no longer zero emission! It might have trouble getting the tax breaks or the ability to drive in California’s sought after High Occupancy lanes. The solution is technically correct but falls between extremes.

    What it represents is a moderate electric car in a world screaming for extremes.

  10. I've wondered about the heating and cooling of electric cars for a while. The Swedes obviously have climate that demands a robust heating for the passengers AND the batteries. I live in a subtropical climate so I'm more concerned about cooling. How do electric cars (or hybrids) air condition the passenger compartment?

  11. When turning on the air conditioning in a Better Place Renault Fluence, the extra power use seems to be less than a single kW. So running the A/C for an hour would take less than 5% of the battery. It looks (from the cut our model that they have on display at the visitor centre) like the A/C is exactly the same as that used in the petrol version with a completely normal heat exchange pump as you'd find in any automative A/C.

  12. Is this a new category of car that uses fuel to heat it when cold? It's not an EV, EREV or Plug-in hybrid, what is it? A "non pure EV"?

  13. I wonder if natural gas wouldn't be more energy dense for this purpose, and cleaner burning.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.