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Volvo invites the SWT to test electric truck

Southwest Times writer, William Paine, stands alongside Volvo’s VNR model Electric Truck after taking a test drive on the company’s test track. The electric trucks, which will soon be seen in the New River Valley, are recognizable by their distinctive green color, which is found exclusively on the VNR Electric models.

 

By WILLIAM PAINE
william.paine@southwesttimes.com

The Volvo Truck plant in Dublin is now producing electric powered trucks in addition to their traditional diesel powered Class 8 Tractors.

Franky Marchand, Volvo Vice President and plant manager of the Volvo Truck manufacturing facility in Dublin, invited The Southwest Times take a test drive of their brand new heavy duty hauler. The test drive was set to take place on the 1.1 mile test track that was built alongside the manufacturing facility in 2015. This closed track is used to allow customers to test drive these big rigs without the need of a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Business at the plant must be good because before meeting with Marchand, it was made clear to me that Volvo was looking to hire lots more employees.

Franky Marchand met me in the Safety Room of Volvo’s futuristic Customer Center to talk about the company’s innovative new product.

“We’re building electric trucks now,” said Marchand. “We’re building them on the same line as the rest. It’s a bet on the future.”

In making this statement, Marchand revealed that the Dublin plant is currently producing the full-size electric trucks on the same assembly line as the diesel trucks, which came as a surprise.

“It’s tempting to build these electric trucks in their own little shed,” said Marchand. “It’s almost easier to make them on a small volume line and grow from it. But if you do that and your customers like your product … guess what? You’re going to have to evolve from the shed to the real world.”

“We’re seeing new orders for these trucks on a regular basis,” Marchand continued. “So from the beginning, we’ve gone through the extra effort to make sure we’re building them on the main line.”

The trend toward producing electric powered vehicles is widespread, but Volvo Trucks is perhaps the only truck manufacturer to make a full size electric truck that is in currently in day to day service.

Most companies are going electric,” said Marchand. “It’s fair to say that everybody wants to be in the race. I am proud of Volvo’s position in that race. It’s not a prototype. It’s a production tool. The world of transport, in order to address climate change, in order to address the Paris accords, needs to go zero emission.”

The electric trucks now being produced at Volvo are powered by batteries but another type of electric power source for vehicles, involving the use of hydrogen fuel, is also being developed by vehicle manufacturers.

“We believe there is room for pure battery and for hydrogen fuel cells,” Marchand explained. “Step one is the electric battery. With hydrogen, all of us are going to have to get educated about this new technology. By the time we’re halfway through this decade, we’ll see hydrogen powered trucks from Volvo.”

There are currently 30 electric powered Volvo trucks in service across the United States and plans are in the works to deploy several more of these zero emission trucks in the New River Valley. These electric trucks will soon be delivering parts to the plant from local suppliers.

“Local deliveries made by trucks that are built here,” said Marchand. “We’re going to be the customers of our own product here in the New River Valley.”

Plant deliveries by electric trucks are set to begin before the end of this year. These deliveries will necessarily be confined to relatively short distances, as these vehicles have a range of only 150 miles before requiring a recharge. According to Volvo, the batteries on these vehicles can be 80% charged in 70 minutes.

“For the moment, we’re going to pick our runs and applications that are best suited for it,” said Marchand. “As the next versions get better, we’ll expand from there. An electric truck is just as powerful as a diesel, so we’re not afraid to be in the mountains. Of course they will evolve. This is only the beginning of the journey.”

With that, Marchand invited me to begin my own journey by test driving the new Volvo VNR Electric model truck. Typically, prospective buyers come to the Visitor Center first, before being taken down to the test track to try out Volvo Trucks latest incarnation of the Class 8 Tractor. Driving one of these behemoths was to be a first for me, as was driving along the test track, which I’d often seen from Cougar Trail Road.

Volvo’s new battery powered truck looks very similar to the familiar diesel powered trucks produced at the Dublin plant, except for two distinct differences. The first is a distinctive green color that is only used on Volvo’s VNR Electric trucks.

The second noticeable difference is the lack of fuel tanks, which are normally seen underneath the rear section of the cab. In their place, there are large black boxes containing the 264-kWh lithium-ion batteries that provide the trucks’ power.

The VNR electric truck was parked beside one of the two recharging stations set alongside the track.

To start the electric truck, one turns the key halfway and then looks to an indicator in the dashboard to make sure all systems are go. Seeing that the battery is fully charged, one presses the brake and turns the key a little further to the right.

A technician named John Moore coached me through all of this. To drive a truck of this size, one must be accompanied by someone with a CDL, even on a closed track.

Once started, a compressor located under the driver’s seat begins to hum but other than that, there is no noise emanating from the engine. That’s because there is no engine. Instead, state of the art electric batteries turn the wheels of the VNR.

Likewise, the gearing on an electric vehicle is completely different from one with an internal combustion engine, in that there are only two settings and the transition between low and high is hardly noticeable.

Once we let off the air brakes, the VNR was ready to roll and roll we did … but very quietly.

Not ever having driven a Class 8 tractor and trailer, I have nothing to compare it to. That said, this huge transport vehicle was quite easy to maneuver around the corners of the test track. Acceleration was also impressive and for a moment, I forgot there was a large trailer attached to the back of the electric tractor I was navigating through the curves.

“Slow down here William,” said John as we approached the first curve on the course. I tapped the brakes lightly and the truck responded in much the same way as a large automobile would.

Though capable of going much faster, the VNR Electric trucks all have a governor limiting their speed to 65 miles per hour. I topped out at 45 mph.

When one lets off the throttle, the truck’s gearing engages, so as to use the vehicles momentum to charge the batteries, similar to how an alternator works in an internal combustion vehicle.

Though I could have happily continued driving, after the third loop around the Volvo Test Track, my companion directed me to pull off into the same parking area from where we started.

I pulled beside the recharging stations, re-engaged the air brake and stepped out from my first big rig driving experience.

Will electric trucks like this predominate on our nation’s highways in the coming years? Time will tell. Meantime, check out The Southwest Times website to see the complete video of this week’s electric truck test drive. Or, go to YouTube under Electric Truck Driving and check out the video.

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