Navigating the future with electric trucks

Electric trucks are about more than batteries and charging stations – they can help improve working conditions for drivers and increase profits for transport companies. Three Volvo Trucks experts help navigate an electric future.
Volvo FE Electric.
The Volvo FL and FE Electric are the first electric vehicles from Volvo Trucks, and will cover a majority of urban transport needs.

Since Volvo Trucks announced that its first Volvo FL and FE electric trucks were ready to hit the road, the response from the market has been swift.

“Customers called up saying: “Finally! We’ve been waiting for this!” says Anna Thordén, Product Manager, Electromobility at Volvo Trucks. “Many of the customers that get in touch with us are seeing tightening regulations where they operate. Others have bought electric vehicles from market upstarts and found that they don’t offer sufficient support. So, as soon as anything happens to their truck, they are on their own,” she says.

Many of the customers that get in touch with us are seeing tightening regulations where they operate.

By contrast, Volvo Trucks is betting on total solutions for electric vehicles, to make sure customers are looked after.

So far, Volvo Trucks is only offering electric options to a limited number of reference customers on a trial basis, but the plan is to ramp up production in the next few years. According to Santosh Harakamani, Strategic Planning Manager at Volvo Trucks, the major factors that will help push electric vehicles into the mainstream are already falling into place and the transition to electric vehicles is set to go faster than most analysts have predicted.

“Three factors usually determine if a technical shift takes place: the technology has to be viable from a business perspective, it has to gain customer acceptance, and it should be technically mature.” 

One big milestone has already been reached. The levelised cost of renewable energy has become equal to that of coal in many parts of the world, a factor that is set to drive up investment in renewable energy. By 2040, over 70 per cent of global energy investment is estimated to be in renewables. Meanwhile, the fast drop in battery prices has beaten analysts’ expectations.

Another key development is that research organization Bloomberg New Energy Finance significantly shifted their forecast of battery prices when an electric car will achieve cost parity with a fossil fuel-based car. For truck owners, this fast development in battery prices ensures that the breakeven point for the total cost of ownership of an electric truck will be reached sooner than expected. Meanwhile, battery density is set to rise significantly, thereby increasing vehicle range.

What’s more, many countries have already committed to regulations that will speed up the transition to electric vehicles, including mandates from more than a dozen countries to ban fossil fuels by 2030. “Tighter regulations on emissions and fuel efficiency is already putting a lot of pressure on the industry to move away from diesel engines. Recent announcements by major vehicle makers on investments and product launches of electric vehicles are a clear indication that a shift is already underway,” says Santosh Harakamani.

The technology has to be viable from a business perspective, it has to gain customer acceptance, and it should be technically mature.

Taking these factors into account, over 30 per cent of all cars will be electric and over 50 per cent of all new cars sold could be electric by 2030. Although the electrification of commercial trucks is still at an early stage compared to the car segment, Santosh Harakamani expects the electrification in the transport sector to quickly gain momentum.

And electrification could help reduce the carbon footprint of the transport significantly. Today a four-megawatt wind power plant produces enough energy to drive 200 electric Volvo FE trucks, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

With so many factors pointing towards an electric future, Volvo Trucks is determined to develop electric solutions which will be introduced segment by segment, market by market as an addition to its diesel range. To develop its electric trucks, Volvo Trucks has capitalised on its experiences from sister-company Volvo Buses, which has been operating high-voltage hybrids since 2010 and fast-charging fully electric buses since 2015. By using components that have been tried and tested in regular traffic for years, Volvo Trucks’ customers can feel confident that the solutions offered are both optimal and safe. 

For truck owners, going electric is not just about buying the best technical solutions and services. It also means gaining an understanding of how electric trucks will change their business, and that the conversations they’ll be having with their truck dealer will be different.

“With electric trucks, familiar customer needs such as horsepower or engine size no longer apply. Instead, to be able to offer the best solutions to customers, it’s important to understand the customer’s driving route, application, payload and the weather conditions in which the truck will be operating, as well as available charging alternatives. We can then advise them on a tightly specified vehicle, with the optimum range and battery set-up,” Anna Thordén says. 

She has noticed that the biggest concerns customers have when it comes to electric trucks is the driving range and the availability of charging stations, even though these factors are considered when specifying the truck. To make driving range more reliable, Volvo Trucks is developing sophisticated predictive systems, that take all key factors into account, providing the driver with real-time information on the driving distance until the next charge. 

It’s hard to overstate the impact for drivers. People who drive one of our electric trucks come out smiling.

Anna Thordén stresses that electric trucks bring many advantages to truck owners, including reduced fuel costs and an improved brand image. It is also a way to keep on the right side of tightening regulations. If more transport can be done at night with more quiet vehicles, it can also lead to big efficiency gains. 

At Volvo Trucks’ aftermarket department, Carolina Grönstedt, who is Genuine Parts Business Development Manager, expects electric vehicles to boost driver recruitment and retention. Something that would be hugely beneficial for an industry with a widespread driver shortage.

“For example, our own tests show that a Volvo FL Electric truck has a 10 dB lower noise level than a regular diesel vehicle. This means that the perceived sound level is cut by about half,” she says. “There are also fewer vibrations in electric trucks, and drivers do not need to deal with exhausts when they work outside the vehicle.” 

A challenge for drivers is adjusting to operating a battery-powered truck, that may cause worry about range and charging issues. Despite this change, the reaction from test drivers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact for drivers. People who drive one of our electric trucks come out smiling. For many it’s a revelation, and for some, almost a religious experience,” Carolina Grönstedt says with a smile.

Some key figures for Volvo’s electric trucks

  • Range: Volvo FL Electric – up to 300 km; Volvo FE Electric – up to 200 km.
  • A 4MW wind power plant produces enough energy to drive 200 electric FE trucks.
  • Or one full turn of the windmill rotor moves a truck 1.5 kilometres.
  • Saving 2,500 cubic meter per fuel per year.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes CO2 per year (provided batteries are charged with wind power energy).
  • Note: Electric trucks are 3-5 times more energy efficient than equivalent diesel trucks.