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Volvo VNR Electric stakes early Class 8 leadership claim

Regenerative braking helps goal of 275 miles on a single electric charge


DUBLIN, Va. — The interior of the Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric truck won’t wow you with sleekness. It is utilitarian, practically unchanged from its 2016 introduction. But substituting batteries for an internal combustion engine provides a ride as quiet as any competitor and a single-charge driving range exceeding most.

My strongest takeaway from driving two laps around the private track at Volvo’s manufacturing complex was how energy from slowing down on curves returns to the battery. It is a feeling similar to engine braking on a downhill grade. 

But regenerative braking does more than just slow the truck. It captures energy and returns it to the battery as electric motors turn in the opposite direction and become generators. During a typical duty cycle, 5% to 15% of energy expended, such as in stop-and-go traffic, adds range, according to Brett Pope, Volvo Trucks North America director of central sales electric.

Add that extra energy to a six-pack of batteries, and achieving Volvo’s claim of 275 miles of range is doable. Never mind pressing the brake pedal. You won’t do it very often with three choices of regen located on the steering wheel stalk. 

Regen is how single-pedal driving is becoming a thing in electric cars and trucks.

Maximizing range 

The VNR Electric also uses exclusively disc brakes, which weigh less and require less use of the air compressor. That also helps maximize range, Pope said.


Range is the top consideration for zero-tailpipe-emission electric vehicles. Only the Nikola Tre with nine 1,000-pound battery packs and a range of up to 350 miles on a single charge tops the VNR Electric. But the Tre’s plentiful battery packs eat up cargo capacity. Nikola plans to offer a six-pack version for fleets that need less range.

The second-generation Freightliner eCascadia advertises a typical single-charge range of 230 miles.

The majority of customers order the VNR Electric with six 600-volt battery packs. Volvo buys lithium-ion (Li) batteries from Samsung. Packs are assembled by BorgWarner Inc. subsidiary Akasol in Ohio and trucked to Virginia.

The first-generation truck started with four batteries, two stacked on both sides of the frame. The additional two packs are affixed to the outside rear of the cab — inelegant but functional. They could be relocated when an electronic axle is introduced in a few years. An e-axle allows more batteries by integrating the electric motors and the transmission into the rear axle.

Volvo Trucks future e-axle
Volvo Trucks will introduce an electronic axle that integrates motors and transmission into the rear axle. (Photo: Volvo Trucks)

Two motors offset VNR Electric’s heaviness

Our test truck, used in regular runs of parts to the Volvo plant from suppliers, had two electric motors mated to a two-speed iShift transmission capable of 340 kilowatts or 455 horsepower and 4,051 foot pounds of torque, comparable to Volvo’s D13 diesel-powered engine. The LR Electric refuse truck from sibling Mack Truck runs on the same powertrain.

A full load — 82,000 pounds including a 2,000-pound allowance to offset the weight of the batteries — makes for a heavy truck. So, the VNR Electric needs two speeds. Launching in first gear clears intersections and gets the truck moving in traffic. An almost imperceptible shift to second gear occurs at about 24 mph.

Onboard calculations distribute weight between the daycab with the batteries and the trailer load. The goal is 50-50 weight distribution, easier with a trailer under load than empty. The axle lifts under a light load, saving on tire wear.

VNR Electric travels common production line

Volvo builds the VNR Electric on the same production line as Class 8 diesel models. The truck maker’s powertrain plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, created a modular power block containing all the power electronics. The assembly uses an engine crate like the D13 engines. They are shipped to the Volvo plant among D13s.

Underhood view of the Volvo VNR Electric
The Volvo VNR Electric has a modular power block that contains all its power electronics. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The same is true for the transmission. The electric motors and two-speed transmissions arrive in Dublin with the standard iShift gearboxes.

“At the end, we take [the VNR Electric] to the e-mod [electrification modification] assembly area, install the batteries, do the commissioning and then the truck goes through the normal product checks,” Pope said. “We produce at scale and with all the quality our customers expect.”

Specifications

VNR Electric SeriesVNR Electric 4×2 StraightVNR Electric 6×4 StraightVNR Electric 4×2 TractorVNR Electric 6×2 TractorVNR Electric 6×4 Tractor
Operating rangeUp to 230 milesUp to 190 milesUp to 175 milesUp to 275 miles*Up to 275 miles*
Weight rating (lbs.)Up to 33,000 GVWUp to 54,000 GVWUp to 66,000 GCWUp to 82,000 GCWUp to 82,000 GCW
ApplicationsLocal distribution and regional transportation with planned routes and frequent stops. Including food and beverage and other short driving cycle services.Local distribution and regional transportation with planned routes and frequent stops. Including food and beverage and other short driving cycle services.Local distribution and regional transportation with planned routes and frequent stops. Including food and beverage and other short driving cycle services.Local distribution and regional transportation with planned routes and frequent stops. Including food and beverage and other short driving cycle services.Local distribution and regional transportation with planned routes and frequent stops. Including food and beverage and other short driving cycle services.
Total battery capacity375kWh375kWh375kWh4 Batteries: 375kWh
6 Batteries: 565kWh
4 Batteries: 375kWh
6 Batteries: 565kWh
ChargingUp to 250kW DC charge rate with CCS1 or CCS2Up to 250kW DC charge rate with CCS1 or CCS2Up to 250kW DC charge rate with CCS1 or CCS2Up to 250kW DC charge rate with CCS1 or CCS2Up to 250kW DC charge rate with CCS1 or CCS2
Charging time60 min (80% charging at 250kW)60 min (80% charging at 250kW)60 min (80% charging at 250kW)4 Batteries: 60 min (80% charging at 250kW)
6 Batteries: 90 min (80% charging at 250kW)
4 Batteries: 60 min (80% charging at 250kW)
6 Batteries: 90 min (80% charging at 250kW)
Braking energyBetween 5-15% of brake energy is regenerated back into Energy Storage System, depending on cycleBetween 5-15% of brake energy is regenerated back into Energy Storage System, depending on cycleBetween 5-15% of brake energy is regenerated back into Energy Storage System, depending on cycleBetween 5-15% of brake energy is regenerated back into Energy Storage System, depending on cycleBetween 5-15% of brake energy is regenerated back into Energy Storage System, depending on cycle
Power340kW
455hp
4,051 lb-ft peak output torque
340kW
455hp
4,051 lb-ft peak output torque
340kW
455hp
4,051 lb-ft peak output torque
340kW
455hp
4,051 lb-ft peak output torque
340kW
455hp
4,051 lb-ft peak output torque
TransmissionTransmission
Two-speed I-Shift
Automated
Transmission
Two-speed I-Shift
Automated
Transmission
Two-speed I-Shift
Automated
Transmission
Two-speed I-Shift
Automated
Transmission
Two-speed I-Shift
Automated
DrivelineVolvo Trucks electric
driveline
Volvo Trucks electric
driveline
Volvo Trucks electric
driveline
Volvo Trucks electric
driveline
Volvo Trucks electric
driveline
Top speed68 mph68 mph68 mph68 mph68 mph
*when configured with 6 battery offering

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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.