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Volvo readies production of 50-state VNR Electric trucks

Battery-powered Class 8 model will move with diesels along Virginia assembly line

Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) will begin building its regional haul VNR Electric truck on the same assembly line with diesel models in Virginia in early 2021.

The electric model is being tested by fleets in Southern California as part of the $91 million Volvo-led Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) demonstration program. The first five of 25 trucks are expected to be in operation by the end of the year.

Volvo received a $21 million grant in October from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for an additional 70 trucks for demonstration through 2022.

So, the early production at Volvo’s New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, Virginia, appears to be covered.

“We have done our homework,” VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve said during a virtual press event Thursday. “We have looked at all the end-to-end aspects in the LIGHTS project.”

A gold standard

Seeking to give peace of mind to customers unfamiliar with electric trucks, the company unveiled a standard Volvo Gold Contract. It includes scheduled and preventative maintenance, towing, and vehicle repair. The lithium-ion batteries and complete electromobility system are part of the contract.

“One thing we learned during the LIGHTS project was how critical it is that we help the dealers and customers navigate that transition,” said Mark Curri, VTNA senior vice president of uptime and customer support. “We’re preparing the entire dealer network with the parts, tools and training they need to service and maintain and monitor the VNR Electric truck.”

Product specifics

The VNR Electric applies lessons the Sweden-based Volvo Group learned from producing 5,000 electric buses. The FL and FE electric truck platforms for Europe followed. For the VNR Electric, a two-speed electric I-Speed transmission is mated with 264-kilowatt hour (kWh) batteries. 

The batteries provide up to 150 miles of driving range. Regenerative braking can return up to 15% of the energy to the batteries. 

The truck generates 455 horsepower and 4,051 pound feet of torque. It can charge up to 80% within 70 minutes on a 150-kilowatt direct current (DC) fast charger. The base VNR Electric tractor weighs about 20,000 pounds, 4,000 pounds more than a comparable diesel model. Batteries account for the extra weight, said Brett Pope, VTNA director of electric vehicles. 

The truck’s maximum speed is 65 mph. The VNR Electric is offered in three configurations: 

  • A single-axle straight truck with a gross vehicle weight rating of 33,200 pounds.
  • A 4×2 tractor with a 66,000-pound Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR).
  • A 6×2 tractor with up to 82,000-pound GCWR in specific applications.

“We have to act as consultants to some extent to match the truck with the application and the right customer and to get the dealers up to speed to support the new product,” Curri said.

Like other manufacturers of electric trucks, Volvo offers electric charging stations that can be rolled into truck financing of up to six years. 

Incentives needed

The successful rollout of electric trucks requires federal and financial support to offset their higher upfront cost, Voorhoeve said. California and New York are on board so far. The VNR Electric is eligible for sale in all 50 states, the EPA says.

“We need some kind of stimulus to accelerate the transformation to electromobility,” Voorhoeve said. “Ultimately, it is about the total cost of ownership of a diesel truck meeting the total cost of ownership of an electric truck.”

Local and regional haul first

The focus of Volvo’s first electric truck in North America is local and regional pickup and delivery. Middle- and last-mile delivery is growing in the pandemic era.

“The truck is not for everyone at this point,” said Magnus Koeck, VTNA vice president of marketing and brand management. “Short, regional haul is really where the focus is for the time being. That will change over time.”

That includes hydrogen fuel cell trucks, which Volvo dismissed until a recent joint venture between parent Volvo Group and rival Daimler Trucks AG. Volvo paid Daimler almost $700 million to take part in a 50-50 collaboration to mass produce fuel cells for trucking and stationary uses like data centers.

“Fuel cells are absolutely a viable alternative for long haul and heavy haul,” Voorhoeve said.

Volvo to begin production of Class 8 electric trucks in December

Volvo gets $21.7 million in grants for 70 electric Class 8 trucks

Holistic approach to heavy-duty truck electrification

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.