Volvo's crash-tested C30 Electric

The automaker said its tests show that separating the battery pack from the car's crumple zones is one key factor for safety.

Electric cars can be as safe as gasoline-powered cars, a fact Volvo graphically demonstrated at the Detroit auto show by displaying a crashed C30.

The C30 electric car was put through a 40 percent offset front crash test at 40 mph--considered one of the toughest crash tests--in December.

The battery-powered C30 proved to be just as safe as the same model with a conventional engine, Volvo said.

Volvo says the structure of an electric car is significantly different from that of a conventional car, which poses a number of safety challenges.

In the electric C30, for example, the battery takes up much more space than a fuel tank.

A battery pack big enough to give the car a 95-mile range weighs 660 pounds--a large mass that needs to be secure in a crash.

Furthermore, the electric motor occupies less space under the hood than an internal-combustion engine usually does in a car, so front crumple zones have to be reinforced in the front to absorb increased collision energy from the battery's weight.

Volvo partnered with Ener1 for the C30's lithium-ion battery pack.

Ener1 said retrofitting a battery pack into an existing vehicle while maintaining the same safety standards required an intense collaborative effort with Volvo.

Volvo will roll out a test fleet of electric C30s in Europe and the United States within the next few months with an eight-city tour.

Volvo plans to eventually use the engineering lessons in its future electric cars.В