Volvo Will Build Electric Trucks for North American Market

December 12, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Volvo Trucks will build electric trucks for the North American commercial vehicle market starting in 2020.

Volvo will use electric powertrain components from its Swedish Volvo AB parent to refit its popular VNR model for full electric operation, said Peter Voorhoeve, president of the Swedish truck maker’s North American unit. Volvo will continue to sell the VNR as a diesel-powered model.

Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo’s North American trucks unit (Photo: Alan Adler/Trucks.com)

Volvo’s announcement Tuesday was the latest in a flurry of electric truck plans publicized this year. All of them target California, where regulators are attacking persistent air pollution with tougher diesel-emission rules.

California air quality regulators have approved $150 million in grants for projects that will put at least 187 zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks into service over the next several years.

The state is offering financial incentives to entice truck makers to go to exhaust-free electric power.

Electric truck trials

Volvo competitor Daimler Trucks North America plans to test 20 fully electric heavy- and medium-duty Freightliner e-Cascadia models at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach next year. The Kenworth unit of Paccar Inc. is providing 10 trucks to Toyota for retrofitting to hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric operation. The first of those trucks is being built in Michigan.

Tesla and Los Angeles-based startup Thor Trucks both plan production trials of heavy-duty electric trucks in 2019.

Thor has a semi but is focused on medium-duty applications in which distances traveled are shorter and regenerative braking in start-and-stop driving can add power to the battery and preserve a charge.
Thor is partnering with United Parcel Service to field two electric delivery trucks in Los Angeles next year.

Volvo will deploy 23 heavy-duty battery-electric trucks in 2019 and 2020 in the cities of Ontario, Chino, Fontana and Placentia. It is managing a $44.8 million grant from the California Air Resources Board to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which oversees air quality in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

LIGHTS partnership

The commercialization plan expands on Volvo’s Low-Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions, or LIGHTS, partnership announced by the air quality groups in September. Volvo is leading 16 partners investing $45.9 million in the trucks, 24 zero-emission forklifts, 58 heavy-duty fast chargers and related equipment.

Volvo AB, which soon will deliver its first all-electric truck to the German city of Hamburg, where it will be used to collect garbage, expects to have 25,000 electric trucks globally by 2025, said Mangus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management for the company’s North American division.

The VNR Is the “perfect marriage of global competence and Volvo Trucks North America know-how,” Voorhoeve said. The 23 trucks will be used for drayage in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as well as for short-haul and local delivery.

Volvo will send 23 heavy-duty VNR trucks to the California cities of Chino, Fontana, Placentia and Ontario as part of a grant from state air-resources agencies. (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

Electric trucks are best suited for short-haul routes and distribution service where they can return to a central depot for charging daily, said Antti Lindstrom, a truck analyst with IHS Markit.

Seventy percent of trucks in the U.S. travel fewer than 150 miles a day, according to Thor co-founder Giordano Sordoni. Delivery vehicles from companies like UPS and FedEx cover about 60 miles a day, he said.

Volvo offered no details on range or specifics beyond naming the VNR as its electric entry.

It did not rule out a fee-for-service scheme in which it would own the electric trucks and collect fees from trucking companies. It already has a similar arrangement with a Norwegian mining company using Volvo’s autonomous mining trucks under which Volvo gets paid for every ton of limestone it hauls from the mine.

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