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Volvo will launch a plug-in hybrid in 2012 and said pure electric power from the battery would cover the daily transport needs of 75% of European drivers.

For longer distances, a diesel engine would automatically take over when battery energy levels run low. Total combined range will be around 745 miles and carbon dioxide emissions under 50g/km, with fuel consumption of up to 148.6 mpg.

The Swedish automaker said plug-in hybrids are an attractive alternative offering the driver the best from both electric power and conventional drivelines: low fuel consumption and CO2 levels, combined with a long range and high performance.

President and CEO Stephen Odell said: “”The new plug-in will be a truly enjoyable car to drive, featuring our high safety and comfort standards. At the same time, CO2 levels and fuel consumption will be as low as half that available on the market today.”

The electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery and additional electricity is generated by regenerative braking. The battery can be recharged at home via a regular wall socket and will take around five hours to fully charge. The car will run up to 31 miles on electric power alone.

Odell added: “We are focusing strongly on plug-in hybrids in order to meet the demands for low CO2 emissions and to provide sustainable road transportation. We naturally expect that the relevant authorities will offer subsidies to boost developments, speeding up the creation of a market for this type of car.”

He added that, for now, Volvo has postponed plans to produce a full hybrid based on a diesel engine but the company’s long term goal remains to develop cars that are entirely free from harmful exhaust emissions and environment-impacting CO2 – its ‘DRIVe Towards Zero’ strategy.

The company has introduced seven high-efficiency diesel DRIVe models with very low CO2 emissions. Between 2006 and 2014 Volvo will be investing SEK15bn (EUR1.5bn) in research and development with the aim of reducing the fuel consumption and environmental emissions of its cars.

Director of electrification strategy, Paul Gustavsson, said: “We already have a wide range of models with extremely competitive CO2 emissions. It is our aim that by 2020, the average emissions from our models will be between 90-100g CO2 per kilometre and that we should lead the market in the environmental field. Electrification is an important part of the paradigm shift to significantly reduce CO2 emissions.”

R&D chief Magnus Jonsson added: “We do not feel that there is any single route to sustainable mobility. For one thing, local conditions vary considerably as regards to biofuels and the necessary infrastructure and we are seeing a steady stream of exciting new technological advances in fields such as electrification, which change these conditions.

“We maintain an open and proactive approach to various development tracks and technologies – so we can quickly and cost-effectively commercialise products with the minimum possible climate impact.”

The switch to increased use of renewable fuels includes car models that are tailored to run on multiple fuels. Volvo has models that are powered by petrol, diesel, ethanol and natural gas/biogas.

Within the next few years, second-generation biofuels such as synthetic diesel will also be able to be used in Volvo’s cars.

However the carmaker is not neglecting its safety heritage. The next generation of preventive safety technology is a groundbreaking function that can detect a pedestrian who has walked out in front of the car, as well as automatically braking to avoid the person at speeds below 15mph if the driver does not react in time.

At the same time as next year’s launch of the redesigned S60, Volvo will unveil ‘collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian safety’.

The company’s safety expert Thomas Broberg said: “Previous stages were developed to help the driver avoid collisions with other vehicles. Now we are taking a step forward with a function that also boosts safety for unprotected road users. What is more, we are advancing from 50% to full automatic braking power. To our knowledge, none of our competitors have made such progress in this area.

“Our aim is that this new technology should help the driver avoid collisions with pedestrians at speeds below 15 mph. If the car is travelling faster, the aim is to reduce the impact speed as much as possible. In most cases, we can reduce the collision force by about 75%. Considering the large number of pedestrian fatalities that occur, if we manage to reduce the fatality risk by 20% this new function will make a big difference. In specific situations the fatality reduction can be up to 85%.”

This technology is also highly beneficial in the event of rear-end impacts with other vehicles.

The system consists of a new dual mode radar unit integrated into the car’s grille, a camera behind the inside rear view mirror and a central control unit. The radar and camera continuously monitor the road in front of the car. The radar’s task is to detect objects and measure the distance to them. The camera’s function is to determine what type of objects they are

Broberg added: “We’ve been working on this technology for 10 years now. We have had test cars out on the roads for several years and we’ve driven in many different countries. Factors like traffic behaviour, road conditions and climate must be taken into account in the design of the final system. We can also use the information from these real-life traffic tests to conduct advanced computer simulations.”

In an emergency situation, the driver first gets an audible warning together with a flashing light in the windscreen’s head-up display. In order to prompt an immediate, intuitive reaction, the visual warning is designed to look like a brake light coming on. If the driver does not respond to the warning and the system assesses that a collision is imminent, the car’s brakes are applied with full braking power.

Broberg said: “Active brake deployment requires that the object is confirmed by both the radar and the camera. Thanks to [the latest] sensor technology, it is now possible to engage full braking power. We are probably among the very first in the world to offer full-braking protection for pedestrians.”