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Volvo shows Class 8 electric truck for California partnership

Five battery-powered VNRs will be ready by year’s end, but infrastructure may lag

The first Volvo Trucks VNR model equipped to run on electricity. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) is on track to deliver five Class 8 VNR electric trucks to California for its multi-partner Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) program before the end of the year, but the infrastructure to charge them may be lagging.

During a technology program for media at its plant in Dublin, Virginia, on Sept. 12, Volvo showed its first regional haul VNR day cab assembled with twin electric motors and mounted two-speed transmission in the center of the frame rail. Two high-voltage batteries are mounted on either side of the chassis. The batteries slide in and out for maintenance. 

This cutaway of the Volvo Trucks electric-powered VNR day cab shows a layout of the changes from a conventionally powered diesel truck. (Image: Volvo Trucks North America)

Volvo engineers started with the frame and chassis of a conventional VNR and incorporated technology from its European FE and FL electric trucks. DC/DC converters from Inmotion US supply power to the 24-volt system The trucks retain a standard prop shaft and rear axle.

“The intention is a modular design,” that replaces the internal combustion engine, said Brett Pope, VTNA director of electric vehicles.

Volvo plans to offer an energy-as-a-service package including the truck, charging, electricity, insurance, maintenance and e-consulting services for a single price. It is too soon to know purchase or leasing options, Pope said.

Program centerpiece

The Volvo LIGHTS program, funded by a record $44.5 million matching grant from the California Air Resources Board, will help reveal how ready fleets are to integrate electric trucks into their regional haul and drayage operations. 

The 23 trucks for the LIGHTS program will be day-cab tractors and straight trucks with a 66,000-pound Gross Combination Weight (GCW). Three of the LIGHTS trucks will have 80,000-pound CGW ratings.

This side view of the Volvo Trucks electric-powered VNR shows the side-mounted battery packs that slide out for maintenance. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The Swedish truck maker made its electric truck program the centerpiece of Volvo LIGHTS a year ago. In December 2018, it said it would build electric heavy-duty trucks for commercial sale on the same assembly line in Virginia where all trucks for North America are made. 

Volvo envisions zero tailpipe-emission trucks that run quieter than diesel-power units, making them capable of night-time deliveries. That could reduce daytime congestion on California’s crowded freeways.

A limited regional rollout in 2021 includes California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and a few northeast states.

Infrastructure question

Southern California Edison (SCE), a Volvo LIGHTS partner, indicates it needs six to 14 months to have the infrastructure for the 53 charging stations ready, said Chad Burchett, chief project manager for the VNR Electric Truck.

The red arrow points to the location of the charging port on the Volvo VNR electric truck. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

SGE said it is working with Volvo to meet its timing needs, a spokesman said. The utility is committed to a five-year, $356-million Charge Ready Transport program supporting 8,490 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles at 870 commercial charging sites.

Even as Volvo added to the industry buzz around electric trucks, Volvo Group executive vice president and Volvo Trucks President Roger Alm told media that diesel-powered internal combustion engines will remain king “for many, many years to come.”

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.