Is the future of trucking electric? We drove the VNR Electric to find out.

Trucking is vital to keeping the country running smoothly. From the tanker truck that pulls into the gas station to refill fuel storage tanks while another truck arrives to refill refrigerated boxes with your favorite beverages, to the moving truck that delivers your belongings to your new home and the big box store truck that drops off a fresh truck Delivering goods – 72 percent of the goods we consume are Delivered by truck.

However, with millions of miles driven across the country by trucks annually, there is the issue of diesel fuel particles adding to overall air pollution. According to the Clean Air Task Force, the worst diesel pollution in the United States is in Los Angeles along Interstate 5 at a rate of 0.726 micrograms per cubic meter. Logistics companies have been looking for greener solutions to mitigate their contributions, with hydrogen and battery electric power coming on the way over the past few years.

One company, Golden State Foods of Irvine, California, has found a solution to its Quality Dedicated Distribution (QCD) division with Volvo Trucks’ first electric Class 8 vehicle in North America, the VNR Electric.

“You have to look at a lot of factors when moving to (fleet electrification), but first and foremost (are) our sustainability goals,” said Shane Blanchette, vice president of operations at QCD Group. “Our goal is net zero emissions by 2050 (…) The earlier you start, the better in terms of learning and achieving transformation (…) Volvo brought us this opportunity; we are a good use case, given our operating model. We tried the first one (VNR Electric), we really liked it and it made sense to continue down this path to learn more and grow this aspect of our fleet.

QCD certified the Volvo VNR Electric in April 2021, ordering 14 day cab units with funding support through a grant awarded to Volvo Financial Services by the California-based Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee. This was followed in 2022 by the addition of another 30 VNR Electric companies joining more than 700 QCD trucks in “last mile” deliveries to restaurant locations in Southern California.

“Drivers really like (VNR Electric),” Blanchette said. “We weren’t really sure how affected they would be, but they like a smooth ride. It’s definitely quieter (…) In terms of maintenance, it was in line with expectations: we expected it to be a lot less. The only bit we see is on the drive tires. It’s “It tends to wear out a little faster, given the weight of the car.”

The future of trucking begins in the New Virginia River Valley

Southwest Virginia is the home of Volvo Trucks in North America. Located in Dublin, Virginia, it covers 1.6 million square feet. The facility builds every Volvo truck sold in North America, including the VNR Electric. PopSci He was the first to visit the facility since the facility closed to the public in 2020 during the pandemic. On this visit, we got a glimpse into the potential future of trucking with the company’s first Class 8 electric vehicle.

Two images: People working on an engine and a factory floor
L: The Volvo VNR electric frame receives its own electric motor and transmission. R: Inside Volvo Trucks North America’s Dublin plant. Photos: Volvo Trucks North America

“Sustainability is at the forefront of every decision Volvo Trucks makes,” said Kyle Zimmerman, Director of Public Relations at Volvo Trucks. “Volvo Trucks sees electric batteries as one of the critical paths towards decarbonising transport (…) We remain committed to the three-pillar strategy of BEV, FCEV and ICE all working together to decarbonise transport across different business cycles and applications.”

Volvo Trucks North America announced VNR Electric in December 2018. It debuted alongside the Volvo LIGHTS project, a “public-private partnership to understand what it will take to commercialize battery-powered Class 8 electric vehicles,” according to Zimmerman. Dublin’s first VNR Electric vehicle rolled out in 2020, with more than 270 examples in both box (a cargo box mounted directly on the frame) and fifth wheel (an axle on the frame where the trailer attaches to the truck) offering local and regional haulage to date. There’s more to come from the New River Valley, including a hydrogen-powered Class 8.

“In addition to electric batteries, we see fuel cells (with hydrogen) as another path that will be more suitable for long-distance applications, heavy transportation, and in areas where electrical infrastructure will not be available for some time,” Zimmerman said. “We also see a long future for the internal combustion engine.” , which runs on fossil-free and renewable fuels such as hydrogenated vegetable oils, renewable diesel and hydrogen.

First time for everything

The highlight of my visit to Volvo Trucks North America’s West Virginia plant was driving the VNR Electric along the factory test track. Originally one mile long, the route was recently expanded to three miles to give customers a better idea of ​​what their chosen truck model can do on the open road in a safe environment.

Pictures of electric vehicles

The only times I’ve driven a truck has been through SCS Software’s “American Truck Simulator,” which includes the current Volvo VNL in its lineup, though the Czech-based company plans to introduce both trailers and electric trucks into ATS. And “Euro Truck Simulator 2” over time.

So how does the Volvo VNR electric car fare? My test rig was an old VNR electric box truck that had 20,000 pounds of rock loaded into the box behind the day cab to give the driver a better idea of ​​what this machine would feel like driving with a full load on the open road. Starting the truck takes a few more steps than simply turning the key, but what you won’t hear is the usual clatter and purr of a diesel engine. Instead, the only sound coming out of the truck was the sound of the air parking brake at the beginning and end of the run.

The VNR Electric rode the various sections of the test track like a champ, rolling smoothly and comfortably along the track. Regenerative braking did cause the big EV platform to creep at times, too. What I wanted to know is what would happen if you smashed the throttle to the floor. After all, EVs are known for their instant torque, especially when you press the high (not so high) pedal, shoving all the electric power into everyone’s bellies.

This truck, on the other hand…didn’t do that. With the pedal pressed to the floor, the VNR Electric cruised gently down the straightest part of the test track, eventually accelerating as quickly as other electric cars. As Ken explains, the VNR Electric is more of a utility than an everyday electric car, designed to deliver goods rather than the thrill of driving. Then again, there are quite a few drivers — like those at Golden State Foods — who are excited to have a Series 8 EV in the fleet for all it offers them: a quiet, smooth ride from the distribution center to the supermarket.

The future has not been built yet

If there’s one thing keeping more Class 8 truck makers from joining Volvo Trucks North America on its electric journey, especially when it comes to long-haul trucks, it’s a two-pronged issue: infrastructure and batteries.

“Batteries are heavy, so there is a limited amount of batteries that can fit on a truck and still be commercially viable from a payload perspective,” Zimmerman said. “This range is likely to extend with future advances in battery technology. Additionally, there are still many hurdles to overcome in terms of charging infrastructure. The grid faces the challenge of providing electricity in the quantities needed by fleets using electric vehicles from Class 8 This also plays a role in keeping Class 8 battery-powered vehicle solutions more suitable for regional transportation at this time.

Plugs man in the truck
QCD driver charges VNR Electric. Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

However, there is a lot of excitement for this large Swedish-American electric platform, especially for QCD and other “last mile” operators.

“For the Southern California market, we have the ability to convert the entire fleet to electric,” Blanchette said. “There are significant cost savings on the fuel side. Depending on what you pay for electricity in a given market versus diesel, most of the time you will see savings in that area. That’s what we’ve seen so far, and it has informed our forecasts.”

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