Tech

Charging into the mainstream: Volvo electrifies its first class-8 truck

  • This is the Volvo VRN Electric, the company's first electric class-8 truck. Volvo
  • Volvo has been testing the VNR Electric in a range of configurations, like this tractor-trailer. Volvo
  • … or this class-8 electric box truck. Volvo
  • There were a few different VNR Electrics on hand at the event, held at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in February. Derek Powell
  • DC fast charging is up to 150kW. Volvo
  • It's not quite as fast as filling a truck with diesel, but it's a lot less smelly. Volvo
  • This is one of the 66kWh battery packs. It weighs 1,267lbs (575kg) and has a nominal capacity of 99Ah and 663V. Derek Powell
  • An ABB DC fast charger. Derek Powell
  • You can tell it's environmentally friendly because of the green spotlight. Derek Powell
  • Our man on the ground in California takes the wheel. Derek Powell
  • The icon says engine braking, but in this truck this stalk controls the level of energy regeneration. Derek Powell
  • The energy gauges. Derek Powell
  • Automotive Editor Jonathan Gitlin would buy this truck just based on the seatbelt color alone. Derek Powell

The reality of a production-ready fully electric semi is now upon us, at least for the short-haul routes. Last week, Volvo Trucks revealed the VNR Electric, the centerpiece of an ambitious and highly collaborative $90-million pilot project. It's known as Low-Impact Green Heavy Transport Solution, or LIGHTS for short. In addition to Volvo, which has invested $36.7 million, 14 other entities from both the public sector and private enterprise have signed on to this collaboration.

"Bringing electric trucks commercially to market takes more than the launch of the truck," says Keith Brandis, vice president of partnerships and strategic solutions at Volvo Group. "With the LIGHTS program, Volvo and its partners are working on creating a true holistic strategy," simultaneously studying not only the performance of the truck itself, but also variables such as maintenance needs, route logistics, infrastructure requirements, and environmental impact.

"Goods movement in the region is one of the biggest contributors to smog-causing emissions and 22 percent of emissions from California's overall transport sector," says Harmeet Singh, chief technology officer at Greenlots, the company developing and deploying the charging infrastructure for the LIGHTS program. "Our goal for the project is to demonstrate that electric trucks and the requisite charging infrastructure and systems are ready for real-world application," Singh told Ars.

"The VNR is a bulls-eye when it comes to regional transport"

Interestingly, building an all-electric semi is perhaps the most straightforward part of the LIGHTS program. According to Volvo Trucks North America Director of Electric Vehicles Brett Pope, Volvo wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel, especially when it already had the ideal truck in diesel form. "The VNR is a bulls-eye when it comes to regional transport," he told us, so the focus was on adapting the existing platform for electric use. This conversion process was further aided by Volvo's extensive lineup of heavy-duty electric construction vehicles. A highly modular design was the goal, with technology and component-sharing a high priority. From a consumer standpoint, it's akin to the same battery design powering an entire collection of small power tools.

Brandis also pointed to the progress Volvo has already made overseas. When developing the VNR, "We relied on a great deal of know-how of Volvo Trucks' production of all-electric, medium-duty vehicles in Europe," he said.

Externally, the VNR Electric is nearly identical to the diesel-powered VNR. Under the hood, a massive cooling unit and a modular power box reside where the diesel engine used to live. Modular 66kWh battery packs—each weighing more than 1,200lbs (540kg)—are mounted amidships on the outboard of the frame. The drive wheels are powered byRead More – Source