Role Call

In all probability the internal combustion engine will be dominant for some years and Volvo globally is on a journey towards fossil-free transport solutions by 2040.

In early 2021 Paul Illmer was appointed to the newly created role of Vice President Emerging Technology and Business Development at Volvo Group Australia. Paul previously was Vice President Sales Strategy and Support. More recently, smart mobility advisor Tim Camilleri has been recruited to the position of E-Mobility Solutions Manager.

Prime Mover: Can you provide an overview of the functions of your new role?
Paul Illmer: I now focus on emerging technology and under that umbrella is electric and hydrogen energy as well as automation. I’ll be acting as a conduit between the market here and the various brand HQs. I’ve been fortunate in my previous roles to form a global network of people I can connect with fairly quickly when it comes to making sure that Australia is absolutely aligned when it comes to new technology. The other thing is being astutely aware of how the Volvo Group works when it comes to bringing an idea to market.

PM: Do you expect a transition involving alternative fossil fuels such as gas or even manufactured fuels like biodiesel, or is there going to be a jump direct to electric and hydrogen?
PI: We’re still going to be reliant upon diesel for a period of time and we don’t have an end date for the diesel engine because we know in heavier applications, and in some remote locations, the diesel engine will certainly play a part for many years to come. However, we do see a shift from the diesel fuel that we have today and the energy source to be a more sustainable product such as renewable diesel or synthetic diesel.

PM: Australia is yet to mandate Euro 6 emission standards. Is it being left up to the industry to clean up our air?
Tim Camilleri: The availability of Euro 6 vehicles on the market right now is a strong incentive. We’ve got a lot of partners and businesses who are interested in converting to Euro 6 so there is probably a strong enough push coming from industry, but there is always a place for the government to play as well. There is enough buy-in and strength coming from industry and it would be good to see everyone on the same page and pushing forward to the same goal but I think we’ll eventually get there anyway.

PM: The Volvo Group has always been a leader in new technologies. What’s next?
What you will see is a real push for Level 5 autonomous vehicle platforms operating in confined spaces. This is where companies like Volvo are able to come and test and learn and take those learnings into future product road maps. The starting point will most likely be autonomy in controlled spaces like mines, ports, terminals and those environments where we know we can deploy autonomous technology safely in line with our corporate values and I don’t think it’s too far away. The Bronnoy mine in Norway is a good example of what is possible. It will be more collaboration between companies like Volvo, and maybe the telcos, when it comes to creating the communications environment for autonomous vehicles.

Six autonomous Volvo FH trucks are transporting limestone over a five-kilometre stretch through tunnels between the Brønnøy Kalk mine and the crusher.

PM: Is communication between vehicles and infrastructure an area where both safety and efficiency have benefits?
TC: The vehicles themselves can be autonomous but can also take information from the infrastructure around them, which could be as simple as detecting a red traffic light over the crest of a hill. As we progress towards Level 5 on-road we will start to see more where we are not just relying upon the vehicle and its sensors to do the work, we’re getting information from the surrounding infrastructure. It’s effectively another set of eyes. An example is the Emergency Vehicle Priority system which is very effective but if we move forward from that, not just the emergency vehicles but other vehicles can influence green light wave-throughs and also become the mobile sensors themselves. Rather than having to rely on in-ground sensors every ten metres we’ve got mobile sensors in the vehicles able to do the same job.

PM: Is the cost of development of future energy and future technology such that no manufacturing group can go it alone?
That’s a really timely question and there are two ways that we describe it in the Group. First, ‘partnership is the new leadership’. Second, is ‘to make or buy decisions’. The cost of R&D for these new technologies is expensive and we want to bring these solutions to market as soon as possible, primarily from a sustainability perspective and the reduced reliance upon fossil fuels. We are also in this position where we have two different R&D streams. One is ensuring the product platform we have today is further refined and we don’t lose focus of that, and then we’ve got this other R&D stream with the emerging technologies which requires a lot of capital input and also a lot of competence.

PM: Has the BevChain trial of Volvo electric trucks created much interest from the wider industry in Australia?
PI: It’s been hard to keep up with the demand for information and there is a lot of interest around our electrification projects. The BevChain trial is performing very well and we’ve learned a lot from it. The way we work with this new technology means we won’t just dump trucks into the market and walk away, the sales process is very different between ourselves and the customers. We start with a pre-study with route configurations to make sure the truck is going into the right application. At the same time we build them a program of safety training for the operator, the company, emergency services, the dealer and anybody who will interact with the vehicles. We are certainly talking to a broad range of operators around some opportunities at the moment.

PM: Most of the electrification technology we have seen so far has been in light to medium vehicles. When will we see some heavy EVs here such as the 60 tonne GVM Volvo being trialled with DHL in Europe?
PI: The technology around the batteries and their energy density will continue to improve. Tim is leading the way here for Volvo Group with factors such as re-charging. Once we move from battery electric to hydrogen fuel cells that scenario then completely opens the door for a range of other use cases and applications in Australia.
TC: We’ve got a maturity in numbers when it comes to zero emission vehicles and we are seeing some quite interesting applications with our trials being a success. If put into the right use cases these vehicles excel but given the unique freight task in Australia there is going to be a mix going forward.
PI: The thing we have learned in this technology is there are no gimmicks and there are no short cuts. We feel that the best way to bring this product to market is with strong consultation and business relationships. It’s a huge shift for our industry, and it’s a huge shift for our customers and we need to do the heavy lifting as a manufacturer and make sure we conduct our business in this industry in a really trust-based way and de-risk the transition for customers.