This Volvo FL Electric refuse truck is being evaluated in real-world operations by Volvo customers in and around Gothenburg, Sweden.
 - Photos: Jack Roberts

This Volvo FL Electric refuse truck is being evaluated in real-world operations by Volvo customers in and around Gothenburg, Sweden.

Photos: Jack Roberts

In spitting rain squalls coming in off the Danish Sea in Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo Trucks introduced its new FE Electric and FL Electric trucks to the North American press corps. The launch was conducted alongside the next-to-last leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, which was in port in Volvo’s home city before sailing to the Netherlands later in the week, wrapping up another epic, 9-month run that takes the sleek sailing vessels around the world.

The Volvo Ocean Race is a high-profile way to call attention to one of Volvo’s core principles — sustainability. And so the launch of the new electric truck models was a perfect complement to the event as Volvo is touting the ecologically and socially responsible aspects of electric trucks that it believes will grow in importance in the coming years.

To be clear, Volvo executives don’t think that electric trucks will suddenly come into the North American market and sweep gasoline and diesel models aside. In fact, Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand identity for Volvo Trucks North America, told me that once the initial hype over the introduction of electric trucks dies down in the coming months, he doesn’t feel their introduction into urban fleet operations will be particularly disruptive at all.

His point is that the technology is so familiar to drivers and fleet executives alike that electric trucks will simply become another purchase option that will be an ideal solution for some — but not all — city and urban applications in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The FE Electric and FL Electric trucks are essentially pre-production test models that will be given to select Volvo customers in Europe for real-world evaluation. That was why the company opted to initially unveil the new trucks in April and May of this year in Hamburg, Germany, and in Gothenburg.

Koeck said Volvo is currently “Analyzing the North American market to determine the timing of a full-production launch” there. That’s corporate code for “the North American market isn’t quite ready for electric trucks yet.” But make no mistake, according to Koeck, electric trucks are “absolutely” coming to North America in their own due time.

Volvo opted to simply convert its existing Class 8 FE and Class 7 FL trucks with the addition of a new, proprietary all-electric drivetrain. Both trucks are conventional European cabover designs that are already optimized for urban delivery applications.

With such a viable platform already at hand, Volvo engineers knew they didn’t have to reinvent their concept of an efficient, urban-focused commercial vehicle. Rather, their mission was to showcase how some fleets will be able to soon take already-familiar and proven technology and spec an electric drivetrain to do the same jobs they perform today with diesel-powered trucks.

Features of the Volvo FE Electric include:

  • Fully electrically powered truck for distribution, refuse collection and other applications in urban conditions; GVW of 30 tons
  • Driveline: Two electric motors with 370 kW max power (260 kW cont. power) with a Volvo 2-speed transmission. Max torque electric motors 626 lb-ft. Max torque rear axle 28 kNm
  • Energy storage: Lithium-ion batteries, 200–300 kWh
  • Range: Up to 124 miles
  • Charging: Two different charging systems are available. CCS2: Maximum charge power 150 kW DC. Low Power Charging: Maximum charge power 22 kW AC
  • Charging time: From empty to fully charged batteries (300 kWh): CCS2 150 kW approximately. 1.5 hours, low power charging approximately 10 hours.

Features of the Volvo FL Electric include:

  • Fully electrically powered truck for distribution, refuse collection. and other applications in urban conditions; GVW of 17 tons
  • Driveline: Electric motor with 185 kW max power (130 kW cont. power) with a Volvo 2-speed transmission. Max torque electric motor 313 lb-ft. Max torque rear axle 16 kNm.
  • Energy storage: Lithium-ion batteries, totaling 100–300 kWh
  • Range: Up to 186 miles
  • Charging: Two different charging systems are available. CCS2: Maximum charge power 150 kW DC. Low Power Charging: Maximum charge power 22 kW AC
  • Charging time: From empty to fully charged batteries: fast charge 1-2 hours (DC charging), night charge up to 10 hours (AC charging) with maximum battery capacity of 300 kWh

Currently, Volvo said that it takes between 10 and 12 hours to fully recharge a FE Electric or FL Electric truck. That’s by way of a three-prong, pistol-grip style charger that plugs into the vehicle’s 22 kw recharging system through a socket located immediately behind the driver’s door on the left-hand side of the cab.

It takes between 10 and 12 hours to fully recharge a Volvo electric truck, via a three-prong charger that plugs into a socket located immediately behind the driver-side door.
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It takes between 10 and 12 hours to fully recharge a Volvo electric truck, via a three-prong charger that plugs into a socket located immediately behind the driver-side door.

Quiet, quick, and capable

With the Ocean Race in port for the weekend, the Volvo Group had pretty much taken over the busy Gothenburg Harbor. And although full-blown road tests were out of the question, Volvo had set up a short driving course through the port facility that was, in essence, a close approximation of the type of drayage operations the company feels electric trucks will prove especially suitable for.

The Swedes seem to be obsessed with all shades of the color blue, for some reason. So the FL’s odd-to-American-eyes sea-foam blue color was the first thing that caught my eye as the trucks rolled into the staging tent ahead of the test drives.

The second — and vastly more striking — impression was how quiet the trucks were as they pulled in. It seemed downright strange that vehicles that large can be so incredibly silent. But that feature is also one of Volvo’s main talking points concerning electric truck technology — these vehicles are an excellent, and socially responsible option for refuse collection and delivery fleets that typically work late at night and in the early morning hours.

Climbing up the steps and settling in behind the wheel, there is nothing at all out of place to anyone familiar with modern trucks today. There are a few instrumentation tweaks reflecting the electric drivetrain over a diesel one — a battery life indicator instead of a fuel gauge, for example. But all in all, the Volvo FL Electric cab is familiar and comfortable.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between a conventional FE or FL model and an electric one is the lack of a transmission to manipulate. At idle, the truck hums quietly with the predominant noises in the cab coming from the HVAC system, the wipers and muffled outside conversations.

To get underway, you first pull the toggle handle up on the parking brake and move it upwards to disengage it, and you’re ready to roll. Once that’s done, you simply shift your foot from the service brake to the accelerator and the electric powertrain responds instantly with a smooth, measured take-off. One problem with early electric trucks was the fact that unlike gas or diesel drivetrains, there is no power/torque curve to contend with. Electric drivetrains can deliver 100% full torque instantaneously, which means it was possible to burn the tires on a fully-loaded truck like a top-fuel dragster if a driver wasn’t careful. Today, with carefully calibrated and specialized electronic control modules metering the amount of power delivered to the drive wheels, these burnouts are a thing of the past. But the truck still gets up and moving in a highly impressive fashion.

At this point, as you’re accelerating up to a normal drayage driving speed of around 35 to 40 mph, is when the stunning quietness of this powertrain really hits home. It is no exaggeration to say that there is no noise emitted by the Volvo electric drivetrain. You hear some road noise, and a bit of wind as it gusts in off the Danish Sea. But that’s about it. But, oddly enough, as a driver, you get used to the lack of noise and vibration with amazing speed. And then, as you drive around a bit more, you suddenly realize that you can hear noises from the chassis, suspension and axles that are normally completely drowned out by the roar of a gas or Diesel engine.

On a new truck like the FE models we were driving, there were very few of these squeaks, pops and groans to be heard. But it is my guess that these extremely quiet electric drivetrains will put increased — and all-new — pressure on suspension and axle suppliers to completely engineer these once-inconsequential noises out of their components.

As a writer, you hate to use cliches, but the most obvious comparison while driving an FL Electric is to a golf cart — a massive golf cart, to be sure. But in terms of drivetrain behavior and responsiveness, it is the most apt description. Response to throttle inputs is instantaneous and crisp. The brakes on the truck are impressive, too, thanks to the regenerative system that captures kinetic energy and once pressure is applied to the brake pedal and channels it back into the truck’s battery system.

The regenerative braking system, when combined with the FE Electric’s version of an engine brake, activated and controlled by a separate control stalk mounted to the left-hand side of the steering wheel, delivers truly impressive stopping power without the driving having to engage the service brake pedal at all.

All in all, the FL Electric is a delight to drive, with impressive views from the cab, and deep wheel cuts combined with Volvo’s Dynamic Steering assistance system (currently available only in Europe) make for a highly capable truck that responds deftly and light on its feet even driving through a crowded European port.

Taken as a whole, it’s easy to see that electric trucks are soon going to be a viable option for select, specialized fleets working in urban centers. There will be some operational adjustments that will have to be worked out in terms of operational ranges and scheduled recharging times. And, at least currently, these trucks are best-suited for operations with set routes that vary little, or not at all from day to day. But in terms of familiarity, efficiency and productivity, these trucks are already capable of delivering the goods today.


Related: How Much Does it Cost to Operate a Battery Electric Truck?

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