The Volvo Lights event included ride-and-drive time in five electric trucks on a closed course.
 - Photo: David Cullen

The Volvo Lights event included ride-and-drive time in five electric trucks on a closed course.

Photo: David Cullen

Volvo Trucks North America laid out a roadmap at a daylong event on Feb.11 that the OEM and some 15 partners have drawn up to point the way for North American fleets to adopt heavy-duty electric trucks without missing any turns on that new road ahead.

The truck maker demonstrated several Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric truck and tractor models and showcased the work of its public and private partners in the Volvo Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) project over the course of a 10-hour program held at the TEC Equipment Volvo dealership in Fontana, California, and at nearby Auto Club Speedway.

Volvo offered the first look at the VNR Electric just last September.

According to Volvo Trucks North America, the all-electric, battery-powered project trucks will run in regular fleet revenue service while being closely monitored and evaluated over the next several months as the company completes product development to bring the VNR Electric to market here by the end of this year. Full production is slated to get under way in 2021.

The event, which included ride-and-drive time in the first five pilot trucks on a closed course, is the latest milestone in the multifaceted and complex effort that has been under way to roll out “electromobility” as a viable sustainability solution for hauling freight in high-density traffic and urban areas since the Volvo LIGHTS project was announced in late 2018.

Adopting Electric Trucks – Scaleable and Replicable

As the truck maker sees it, the partnership project will have a “transformative impact on fleet operations” because it is designed to show that adopting electric trucks to reduce emissions can be done in a scalable and replicable manner.

“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,” Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, said in his opening remarks.

”We are putting trucks on the road and fully testing them in real-world commercial applications, proving out this innovative approach to learn and prepare for commercial operations for zero-emission freight hauling,” he continued.

Voorhoeve emphasized that the project shows that “it takes more than just the truck” to switch from diesel to electric power. He said that can only be done by having “fully integrated collaboration among all stakeholders and agreeing to be pioneers together.”

Volvo LIGHTS has been funded by an award to South Coast AQMD of $44.8 million by CARB as part of the California Climate Investments program. CCI is a statewide initiative that earmarks billions of cap-and-trade dollars for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

VTNA’s Sweden-based parent Volvo Group contributed $36.7 million for the project’s total of $90 million, and South Coast AQMD contributed $4 million from the Clean Fuels Fund. SCAQMD also oversees the Volvo LIGHTS project. 

"This forward-thinking coalition has developed both a zero-emission truck and the whole ecosystem that supports these state-of-the-art vehicles, from charging to maintenance and repair,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols. "This is what it takes to transform this critical freight-hauling sector."

Wayne Nastri, executive officer for South Coast AQMD, said the project has “reached a huge milestone that lays a path for the commercialization of fully electric truck technologies.”

LIGHTS Partners: Beyond the Electric Truck

While ride-and-drive time helped demonstrate the electric truck’s propulsion and regeneration energy, maneuverability, quietness, and ease of operation, other sessions that involved other project partners delved into everything else that must be addressed to run a fleet of Class 8 electric trucks.

That makes up a long laundry list, including funding, installing, and operating high-voltage on-site vehicle charging stations; technician training and workforce development; use of solar power at facilities to capture more charging power; ensuring spare prts are on hand; and what may be done to recycle used batteries.

For example, Greenlots, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell New Energies, installed two fully operational 50kW DC fast chargers at the Fontana dealership site and plans to install an additional 150kW DC fast charger in the next month. All of the charging equipment for the project is connected to Greenlots’ Sky EV charging network software, which the company said “enables seamless management of Volvo's fleet and charging stations while balancing electrical grid demand.”

The next stage of the project will see the VNR Electric project trucks enter into real-world operation with two California’s freight haulers, Dependable Supply Chain Services and NFI. Volvo engineers and project managers will closely monitor and evaluate the vehicles’ performance, driving cycles, load capacity, uptime, range, and other parameters over the next several months.

Tapping Into Corporate Electric Trucks Expertise

Keith Brandis, vice president of partnerships and strategic solutions, Volvo Group, said the project has “relied a great deal on the technological know-how of our sister company Volvo Buses, which has already built over 5,000 hybrid and electric vehicles, and on Volvo Trucks’ production of all-electric, medium-duty vehicles in Europe.”

Here in North America, Volvo is pitching the VNR Electric at short- and regional-haul applications such as heavy urban distribution and drayage — operations the OEM sees as first having the greatest impact in this marketplace.

It was pointed out that by using existing electric-truck technology from within Volvo Group, Volvo Trucks North America was able to easily integrate those technologies into the existing VNR model. That in turn enabled it to meet “a very tight project timeline” ahead of schedule, within one calendar year.

The TEC Equipment Volvo dealership is serving as a fully certified maintenance hub for the Volvo VNR Electric project trucks in the South Coast Air Basin. In turn, the dealership group has partnered with local Rio Hondo College and San Bernardino Valley College to create electric vehicle repair and service technician programs to help ensure fully trained technicians will be available to support these new technologies.

In addition, the company will lease 15 Volvo VNR Electric trucks to interested customers for real-world trials as part of the overall project as well as offer uptime support for assistance with parts and service on these pioneering electric vehicles.

Discussing how the Volvo LIGHTS project got off the ground in the first place, Voorhoeve told HDT that, “With every fire, you need a spark. And from there, in this case, it’s very important to have government and local community involvement."

He added that while Southern California is very open to the development of electric trucks to reduce air pollution, there are other regions to turn to next as well. “Customers everywhere are interested in electric trucks. Here and in Arkansas and in Chicago and Florida. And in Mexico City, for that matter."

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