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One interesting idea Volvo is toying with, ahead of the launch of its V60 plug-in hybrid next year, is an extra set of buttons to let you tell the car whether you’re about to set off on a short, medium or long drive. The duration of an upcoming journey might seem irrelevant for most cars, but for a plug-in hybrid it’s quite an important piece of foreknowledge.

Plug-in hybrids, as well as range-extended electric cars, must juggle two types of energy. There’s cheap, low carbon, slow-to-replace electrical charge fed into the batteries from the mains. And then there’s more expensive, higher carbon but quick-to-replace fuel in the tank. If the goal is to make the best use of the two resources during the journey, to minimise consumption of the dirtier, pricier fuel, it helps a lot to know where you’re going. It helps to know how thinly the electricity needs to be spread.

Sometimes the driver will want to save all of the electricity up for a particular part of a journey – when you know there will be city streets to traverse at the end of a motorway blast, for example. Volvo’s V60 hybrid and GM’s Volt/Ampera EREV both offer the option to save the battery for later, coupled with a pure-electric mode for summoning up that stored power on command. But for most journeys, the needs won’t be so explicit or so clear cut. It would be helpful for the car to have as much to go on as possible when it comes to metering out its precious stored charge.

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