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Customers here are ready for electric cars, says Volvo

The Swedish brand wants to tempt green-minded drivers with plug-in hybrids that mix cleanliness with naughtiness.

"I think at this point Singapore is such a high profile market, and we really do believe that it's time for Singapore to go down the same route as we do in Europe." - Hans Hygrell, market area director - region Asia Pacific, Volvo Cars.


VOLVO has finally pushed the "On" button for its electric cars in Singapore. The Swedish brand launched the S60 Recharge and XC60 Recharge, plug-in hybrid versions of a sedan and a sport utility vehicle respectively, at January's Singapore Motorshow.

The cars are Volvo's first electrified models here. They run on petrol or electricity (or both at once), and can be driven for more than 30km without emissions after being charged by an external power source.

The S60 Recharge and XC60 Recharge are only a taste of things to come. The brand will launch the XC40 Recharge, its first full-electric car, here next year.

For Singapore drivers, it has been a long wait for electrified Volvos. The carmaker has sold plug-in hybrids at home since 2012, and plug-in Volvos have been on sale in other countries, including nearby Malaysia, for years. Rivals like Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz already have a wide range of such cars on offer here.

"We have been looking at Singapore for quite some time, but we now believe that the customers are ready, and the market is right," said Hans Hygrell, market area director - region Asia Pacific, Volvo Cars. Mr Hygrell spoke to The Business Times at the Singapore Motorshow in January, where he launched the two plug-in hybrids.

Mr Hygrell said electric and plug-in electric cars tend to be popular in markets where strong incentives are in place to give them a boost. In Europe, buyers have been nudged away from pure fossil fuel cars and into electric models by tax breaks and perks such as free charging and access to bus lanes.

"I think at this point Singapore is such a high profile market, and we really do believe that it's time for Singapore to go down the same route as we do in Europe," he said.

For its part, Volvo intends to reinvent itself around electric power. "I think that we don't we don't have a choice. That's why we call this Volvo Recharge. It's not all about the cars, we are actually recharging the entire company," he told BT. "We are taking this global warming thing extremely seriously, and we believe that the car industry must take a big leap."

Volvo's own leap involves jumping into battery propulsion. By 2025, half its cars will be hybrids while the other half will be pure electric cars, Mr Hygrell said.

"We're going all in. I think it's the responsible thing to do. Of course, Singapore being one of the key markets in Asia, needs to follow and also to drive this trend for other markets in Asia," he said.

Mr Hygrell believes that plug-in hybrids are perfect for assuaging range anxiety because they have petrol engines to let them run like normal cars, but said that Volvo wants customers to use the Recharge models' "Pure" mode, which is when they operate only on battery power.

Both cars come with a wall-mounted home charger (including installation) so drivers can leave for work with a full battery each day, and local distributor Wearnes Automotive is giving each buyer S$1,000 worth of credits to use at public charging points.

"We want to encourage them to use Pure mode as much as possible," Sabrina Sng, the managing director of Wearnes' Volvo operations, told BT. "The alternative is that if they are more sustainability driven, we will buy S$1,000 in renewable energy credits, which basically certifies that that equivalent amount is used to generate adequate clean and renewable energy from, for example, solar power. So at least the customer knows that while he has used this amount in energy an equivalent amount has also been generated from a renewable source."

Of the 800,000 cars Volvo expects to sell worldwide this year, the company projects that 20 per cent will be electrified. The brand is unlikely to see the same level of adoption for its Recharge models here, however.

Figures from the Land Transport Authority show that electric and plug-in cars are gaining ground quickly, but still only account for a tiny proportion of car sales here.

In 2019 the population of electric cars doubled from 560 to 1,120, while the number of plug-ins grew from 380 to 473, a 24.5 per cent increase. Over the same period the number of petrol-powered cars climbed just one per cent, from 569,673 to 574,967.

What could help Volvo's Recharge models is that they have more to offer than green car credibility. Having both electric and petrol engines means they have plenty of power for acceleration, which lets drivers have a bit of fun when the urge arises.

Ultimately, the pitch is that Volvo's plug-in hybrids offer the best of both worlds by mixing cleanliness with naughtiness. "We think it's a viable business case and something that customers will consider, especially given the class-leading performance," Ms Sng said. Just because burning fuel is going out of fashion doesn't mean burning rubber has to.