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No longer considered prototypes, Volvo’s range of electric trucks are now series production models and available in Australia.
Volvo Electric FH.

Volvo has been able to draw upon its considerable experience with electric buses during the development of its rigid and prime mover battery electric models.

As its commercial BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) are currently entering the mainstream of suitable applications, Volvo continues to develop other carbon neutral technologies such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the project being carried out by Cellcentric, Volvo’s joint venture with Daimler Trucks.

At this stage Volvo’s electric trucks are sufficiently developed to be able participate in some local practical “real world” applications and this is another big step in the provision of information to the local market which is generally acknowledged as presenting its own unique parameters in terms of vehicle weights, speeds and distances.

Similar to diesel ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) powered trucks the BEVs’ efficiency can be positively or negatively affected by driver behaviour and will require a new approach to driver training.

The prodigious amount of instant torque available from an electric driveline makes it very tempting to ‘floor’ the accelerator pedal to experience maximum acceleration, even with the realisation that the available level of energy from the batteries will be quickly depleted, resulting in a significant reduction of the range available without recharging.

Consequently Volvo, in Australia as it does in the rest of the world, provides a program of driver training specific to maximising the efficiencies inherent in electric trucks.

Subtle alternative driving inputs such as simply coasting rather than applying regenerative braking can make a substantial difference to the efficiency of the vehicle in terms of the time required to perform a specific transport task and how much energy it consumes in doing so.

On the test track it quickly becomes obvious that the level of power required to shift a fully loaded truck from a standstill needs to be balanced with maintaining momentum and avoiding unnecessary braking.

Just like driving an ICE, smooth and steady is the way to go and anticipation of what lies on the road ahead can seriously affect electrical energy consumption and trip times.

The Volvo Heavy Duty electric FH and FM models are available in a 6×4 configuration with gross combination weights of up to 44 tonnes.

Depending upon whether battery packs with five or six batteries are used, a capacity of 450-540 kWh of electrical energy is possible with a resulting range of up to 300 kilometres, which makes the trucks suitable for local and even regional delivery applications. A fully recharged state of the batteries can be achieved in 9.5 hours using a 43kW AC charger, while a 250kW DC charger will achieve the same result in just 2.5 hours.

If a quick turnaround is required, the battery pack can be charged to 80 per cent of its total capacity in just 90 minutes using the DC charger.

Truck charging station.
Electric charging dock at Mount Cotton.

The electric Volvo FH utilises three electric motors driving via a 12-speed Volvo I-Shift automated manual transmission to provide up to 490kW (666hp) of power.

In electric vehicle applications the I-Shift transmission, more usually found attached to diesel engines, has been calibrated to best suit the combined torque characteristics of the three electric motors and will always start in the highest suitable gear, including on uphill grades.

In response to the level of power delivered from a standstill, a traction control system has been incorporated to reduce the incidence of wheel slip especially on surfaces with less-than-ideal traction characteristics.

The medium-duty 4×2 electric FL model has a 16-tonne GVM and employs a single electric motor driving through a two-speed transmission which upshifts into top gear at around 30 km/h.

The rationale of the two-speed is better startability than what could be available in a direct drive configuration. The FE models use two electric motors and the same two-speed gearbox as the FL. The FE is also available as a 6×2.

The Volvo electric range incorporates similar safety features to the ICE models with the additional function of a noise generator to alert nearby pedestrians and other vulnerable road users that a large and relatively silent truck is in their vicinity.

Driver support functions such as lane keeping assistance and radar based adaptive cruise control are part of the package.

To mitigate risks, if a Volvo BEV is involved in a serious impact the battery pack will be self-isolated to ensure safety for anyone involved in the accident as well as first responders who attend the scene.

Connectivity through the Volvo telematics system portal has been expanded to monitor battery packs down to individual cell level.

Locally, Volvo is working with TAFEs and Registered Training Organisations to develop the additional technician training relevant to BEVs.

In addition to the trucks, Volvo can provide a full eco-system for fleets wanting to move into the BEV space including charging, route and range planning, truck and battery monitoring and a simulation tool which will contribute to ensuring that the right trucks with the right specifications are made available to specifically suit the various applications required by customers.

Despite the restrictions inherent with the closed-road test facility at Mount Cotton near Brisbane, the driving experience in any of the Volvo models is similar — virtually noise and vibration free with powerful and seamless acceleration even at maximum GVMs.

The impressive take-off torque can be demonstrated on several of the steeper inclines around the course while the driveline retardation available when in regenerative braking mode is essentially as effective as conventional engine and exhaust braking when descending the steeper sections of the Mount Cotton long circuit.

Late last year, Volvo announced the introduction of new, more powerful batteries for its medium-duty FL and FE electric trucks, capable of delivering an increased range of up to 450 kilometres.

A Volvo electric truck is put through its paces.
Volvo Electric FH on the test track at Mount Cotton.

This is achieved by using new batteries with 42 per cent extra energy capacity.

The latest Volvo FL Electric now has a range of up to 450km, while the Volvo FE Electric has a range of up to 275km.

In Europe the Volvo FH Electric has been selected as International Truck of the Year 2024 and received the prestigious award during the prize ceremony at the Solutrans Transport Exhibition in Lyon, France.

Not every aspect of BEV transport technology will apply to every potential customer or application, but it is worth noting that most of the world has committed to net zero vehicle emissions by 2050.

As a manufacturer, Volvo has demonstrated its strong initiative by the early development of a range of practical zero-emission trucks which, although perhaps not yet suitable for every interstate or trans-national applications, will readily slot into numerous other situations where zero emission vehicles will shine, particularly in urban areas.

Since Volvo Trucks started producing fully electric trucks in 2019, the company has sold nearly 5,000 electric trucks in 40 countries around the world.

The company’s target is that half of its global total truck sales will be electric by 2030. Volvo has the stated ambition to commence building electric trucks in Australia by 2027.

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