Volvo Launches Electric Heavy-Duty Truck Program in California

February 11, 2020 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Volvo Trucks launched its first step in marketing electric heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. this week, unveiling a large program that will put more than 50 electric vehicles in service.

The truck manufacturer is working with California and regional air quality regulators, two commercial motor carriers and a major dealership group as it works to great interest in its VNR Electric regional haul truck.

Together they have created what Volvo is calling it Low-Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions, or LIGHTS program. It is a $90 million program funded by 15 partners. Volvo Group is contributing $36.7 million and the California Air Resources Board $44.8 million. Another $9 million will come from the other partners. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which oversees air quality in Southern California, will manage the program.

“This project is unique in the sense of its scope, and that it takes into account the entire system from charging stations to yard haulers to solar panels to workforce development to heavy-duty trucks,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America.

CONSUMER INFLUENCE

Transportation and population density are both continuing to grow globally, he said. Climate change, regulation and consumer demand will force the trucking industry to slash carbon emissions, other pollution and its noise footprint, he said.

The project includes the 23 battery-electric Volvo VNR heavy-duty trucks, 29 other electric vehicles such as yard trucks and forklifts. The Volvo trucks will run between the Inland Empire in cities of Ontario, Chino and Fontana and the massive combined Long Beach and Los Angeles port complex. They will travel routes of 75 to 175 miles.

“This is what it takes to transform this critical freight-hauling sector,” said California Air Resources Board chair Mary D. Nichols. “This project will put more ultra-clean, zero-emission trucks on the roads and highways of communities like Fontana and Ontario that are heavily burdened with growing diesel truck traffic.”

The public/private partnership includes 58 public and private charging stations, two colleges developing electric truck maintenance programs and 1.8 kWh of solar energy generation.

Additionally, both of the big ports are providing infrastructure planning. TEC Equipment, a private Volvo truck dealership group, will provide maintenance and leasing centers in Fontana and La Mirada.

Dependable Highway Express and NFI are the first customers. NFI also is participating in an early test of Daimler’s Freightliner eCascadia heavy-duty trucks.

Volvo is using the program to commercialize its electric trucks. It plans to launch sales of the vehicles later this year and ramp up production at its New River Valley, Va., factory in 2021. The company is investing $400 million in the factory, in part to allow for production of electric trucks.

SELLING THE TRUCK

The truck company is figuring out how to market the truck. One possibility is to offer VNR Electric with a single monthly lease payment that will include maintenance and insurance. But it will also sell the vehicle if that’s what a customer wants, said Brett Pope., Volvo’s director of electric vehicles, North American.

Volvo has not released any price information except that the truck will be eligible for various California incentives that could top $150,000. The incentives alone are about equivalent to the price of a new diesel VNR.

Volvo also will provide consulting services to help customers manage an electric fleet and charging needs.

THE DESIGN

The electric VNR has dual electric motors mated to a two-speed gearbox. Volvo placed the motors in the center of the truck rather than at each wheel because of high forces axles must withstand. Some truck manufacturers place motors at each wheel in their designs. But Volvo believes its design will be more durable.

Volvo located the electronics and controls in a modular power box under the hood – the former home of the diesel engine in a conventional vehicle. That allows for easy access and service. Battery packs slide into shelves on each side in the chassis. Technicians can remove and service the batteries without lifting the body off the truck, again easing access.

The company said working with the carriers and the dealership will allow it to figure out how the range of the trucks changes depending on factors such as load, traffic and weather.

The project is critical to transitioning freight hauling to a green industry, said Janice Rutherford, supervisor of San Bernardino County’s second district.

That’s critical for the industry because “trucks are the lifeblood of both the Southern California and the nation’s economy,” Rutherford said.

Jerry Hirsch November 19, 2019
Nikola Motor Co. said Tuesday that it achieved a landmark breakthrough in battery technology that could double the range of electric vehicles without adding any weight.

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