It seems clear that as far as fuels go, diesel is on the nose: and the head of Volvo Cars reckons it might not be viable beyond 2020.

The new Volvo XC60

Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson made the remarks at the 2017 Geneva motor show, where he said the ever-tightening emissions regulations, not to mention the cost of development when it comes to revolutionising diesel as a mainstream fuel source, could mean the company won’t offer it after 2020.

“After 2020, I think the situation is more open – then electrification can play a bigger role. And, depending of course on customer preferences, the cost of the batteries and then the charging infrastructure, we’ll see how fast electrification [eventuates].

Samuelsson said that the company is legally required to get down to 95 grams per kilometre of CO2 for its range by 2020, and beyond that the chances are that the emissions rules will tighten even further.

He indicated that diesel can do 95g/km, but it won’t be able to do less than that as a pure combustion engine without electrification.

Håkan Samuelsson - President & CEO, Volvo Car Group

“Coming further down on the 95g/km, then I’m quite sure the diesel engine cannot help us. Then it’s only electrification,” he said.

When asked if diesel and electric could work together, it was clear to all in the room that idea had been thought of before, but the cost-benefit ratio isn’t quite there.

“We already have that in our V60 – that plug-in version is combined with a diesel engine. I think it’s less important in the future what the thermodynamic process is, but I think the combustion engine will more and more likely be combined with hybridisation: that is the way, of course, coming further down,” he said.

“Just improving the efficiency of a combustion engine, I think, is already done,” he said. “The next step is hybridisation and pure electric cars.”

In the meantime, the company will further develop the diesel drivetrain that it has in play, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with varied power outputs and consumption figures – and while it will spend the money to keep it in the product portfolio in the short-term, long-term it seems that there’s less chance of it attracting resources for further development.

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“We have to make a diesel engine with the same emissions as a petrol engine. That can be done, but it will cost money. The diesel engine will be more expensive, that’s why long term it’s a negative thing,” he said.

“But if you look now until around 2020, we have this 95g/km CO2 requirement, and to be able to cope with that requirement we have very few options, and by we, I mean the industry.

“The only option then is electrification, and our first all-electric car comes out in 2019, so we’ll not have much,” he said.

“So until 2020, we believe the diesel engine has a very important role to play – if you want to keep those CO2 levels, and I think nobody is willing to give up that and allow higher CO2,” he said.

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“But after that, the diesel will be expensive, and at the same time ‘Twin Engine’ (plug-in hybrid) and all-electric cars will be more favourable cost wise, as volumes of batteries goes up and the cost goes down,” Samuelsson said.

With his theoretical crystal ball in hand, Samuelsson said that there will come a time that hybrid models are equivalent to diesels in terms of cost to the consumer.

“I think there is a sort of cross-over somewhere there, where a twin-engine car could be more or less equal as a diesel.

“We have to do that, because the legislation is coming in the beginning, in January 2019. And you need urea after-treatment on the engine – that investment we will do, and it’s necessary to cope with the 95g/km.

As for its electric car offering, Volvo has confirmed it will have at least one EV on its showroom floors in 2019, on its way to having one million electric cars on the road by 2025.

Volvo Concept 40.1 profile

“We are developing not just one model – we're developing electrification for the small platform, and electrification for the big platform, SPA. We haven’t revealed so far which the first one will be – it will be one of them,” he said with a smile.

“We see the future is electrified, and we want to be fast in that transition – and that’s why we have this commitment, one million cars on the road, and that’s also one million cars of potential business for somebody investing in charging.”