Volvo Trucks North America brought customers, partners, and media out to its customer center in Dublin, Virginia as part of its 2022 Electromobility Summit. They showcased the work they’ve done to date to lead the electrification of the heavy trucking space and cast a compelling vision for the future of electric mobility at Volvo Trucks.
The flagship of Volvo Trucks’ efforts in North America is the Volvo VNR, a Class 8 semi truck that carries forward the same look and feel of its predecessors to make it easy for drivers to hop into, but with a power-packed fully electric powertrain and battery system under the hood. We were fortunate enough to attend, spending some quality time behind the wheel of the VNR, talk to Volvo’s experts, and learn about the path forward for Volvo’s exciting line of heavy duty trucks. With numerous VNRs already putting in work in real fleets across North America today, Volvo Trucks is ramping up production to fill the larger orders coming in from customers as they look to scale electrification efforts beyond initial pilots.
Disclaimer: Volvo Trucks paid for the author’s travel and accommodations to attend this event.
Packed With Range
The first generation of the Volvo VNR Electric had a range of 150 miles per charge which was enough for early customers to get them out onto the road for early pilots and related testing. The new second generation boosts the range up significantly, with a range of 275 miles per charge. Increasing the range makes the fully electric heavy duty Volvo VNR even more capable and lets it electrify even more routes for more carriers across North America.
On the other hand, adding range for range’s sake adds unnecessary weight to the vehicle and takes away precious cargo hauling capacity with each incremental pound added. To build trucks that really nail the sweet spot between range, capacity, and price, Volvo Trucks bundled their batteries into 94kWh battery packs to enable greater flexibility to meet the needs of the customer. The ability to increase or decrease the range of the vehicle to optimize the capital expenditure is an important option as the needs of customers vary widely depending on the application and Volvo Trucks does this with a 4-pack and a 6-pack configuration, with a range of 150 miles and 275 miles, respectively.
The base vehicle configuration includes four battery packs housed that live in pairs on either side of the chassis. This configuration keeps the primary mass of the batteries low and provides a stable base for the vehicle. A six pack configuration boosts the range by 50% with the addition of two more battery packs mounted above the frame where they butt up against the cab of the truck. Volvo keeps the batteries in their happy place with a glycol thermal management system that can heat or cool the batteries to ensure peak performance regardless of the ambient temperature.
Volvo Trucks is introducing its electric powertrains inside the package drivers have come to know and expect from the company. The VNR does not move all of the controls to a massive touch screen, add a third pedal, or replace the round steering wheel with a yoke. Upgrading to an electric power train is the same experience drivers are familiar with, keeping the changes to a minimum. The legacy manual transmission has been replaced with a two speed automatic transmission that automagically shifts from the low, high torque gear to get the vehicle
The Potential Challenges of Charging
When it comes to charging vehicles, Volvo trucks expects 80% of all charging to be done at a centralized depot, whether it overnight or between shifts or runs. This is similar to what we expect in the residential space of passenger vehicles, though the number is slightly lower. This isn’t surprising as heavy trucks spend much more of their lives on the road driving compared to the 4-5% of the time passenger vehicles are actually driven.
Much like in the passenger vehicle space, public fast charging networks are being built out in fits and spurts. Volvo trucks recently announced its partnership in the deployment of the new Electrified Charging Corridor Project in California. This network established a connected chain of public fast charging stations using the CCS1 standard designed for heavy duty vehicles. It will be available to any carrier and is designed to gauge demand for longer haul fast charging for heavy duty vehicles and to provide the foundational infrastructure for early adopters.
As of today there is no firm standard for heavy trucking DC fast charging but Volvo is moving forward with the existing CCS1 DC standard in the US. When it comes to directly supporting the installation of new public DC fast charging stations we can look to what Volvo has done in Europe for guidance. There Volvo partnered with competitors and NGOs to establish a public charging network to support fleets across the pan-European region.
No similar group exists yet today, but the early progress is being made to support early adopters along critical routes like the California network mentioned earlier. It’s definitely a question of the chicken or the egg, but with so many trucking routes accomplished at the local and regional level without the need for public fast charging Volvo’s moving into these earlier markets and attacking the low-hanging fruit as a way to develop an early sales lead, educate customers and build support for full electric heavy duty trucks in North America.
When it comes time to help customers select a fast charger for their depots, Volvo Trucks has stepped up its game, adding their own in-house fast charging station testing and validation team. They run new fast chargers through a battery of tests to determine station reliability, quality, and compatibility. Chargers that pass the tests make it onto Volvo Trucks’ short list of recommended fast chargers and are then eligible to be financed through Volvo Trucks at the time of purchase of a fully electric truck.
Options range from “slow” DC fast chargers at 50kW and below all the way up to 350kW stations. Slower chargers are more affordable but require longer to charge the vehicles up. Faster chargers can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to procure and install but offer much faster charging speeds. Understanding all of the options for charging lets Volvo Trucks build the best solution to meet the current needs of their customers with an eye to the future.
Volvo Trucks’ second generation VNR can currently charge at up to 250kW via a CCS1 fast charger. This translates to 50-60 minutes on the charger to go from 20-80% state of charge for a VNR with a 4 module pack (376 kWh total). The larger 6 module pack VNR takes a bit longer, at around 90 minutes to go from 20-80% state of charge. As with any technology, charging speeds typically increase generation after generation as the cost of charging stations and the installation continue to fall over time.
With that in mind, the expertise Volvo Trucks has built up in the charging space is invaluable to customers as Volvo Trucks can help build out the best comprehensive solution for customers to meet their needs today and for years on into the future. Fleet managers are increasingly planning to convert their fleets to fully electric and having a partner that can help plan not only the timeline for truck purchases, but the cost and timing of charger and related infrastructure makes that whole process much easier.
A Clear Path to Zero Emissions Trucking
Seeing the progress Volvo trucks has made in North America and Europe made it obvious that Volvo is well on its way to dominating the fully electric heavy duty trucking space in the near term. Volvo trucks CEO Peter Voorhoeve reiterated multiple times throughout our time with him that Volvo is making this push for multiple reasons first and foremost, which is for the climate. Action needs to be taken now to ensure the earth remains a viable home for future generations in Volvo is taking that missional call very seriously.
Of course there’s also profit to be had and taking the early lead in the full electric heavy trucking space sets available up as the most established player in the space for its current and future partners as they look to electrify their fleets.
The future is electric. The future is now. Volvo is making a bold push into heavy duty electric vehicles ready to put in the miles for transit companies arrived the without and those trucks can be driven and purchased today. It’s a beautiful leap into a future of zero emission, low nose trucks that can be powered with solar power from the sun. Volvo has built an ecosystem of solutions from financing to service, insurance to charging, and everything in between that makes one winner why any customers would venture outside Volvo’s lucrative ecosystem to electrify their fleets.
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Source: Clean Technica