Electric Semi-Trucks Are On Their Way, At Last

Volvo Trucks has just received the single largest order for its VNR Electric model, with Quality Custom Distribution (QCD), a food service logistics supplier, requesting 14 trucks for its Southern California operations. The Class 8 trucks, built at Volvo Trucks’ New River Valley plant in Virginia, will serve last-mile delivery routes for QCD starting this fall.

This will bring QCD’s fleet of electric Volvo trucks to 15 by next year (the logistics supplier has already taken delivery of one truck), with the newly ordered trucks scheduled to operate in Riverside and San Bernardino c-ounties. In total, QCD operates a fleet of 700 Class 8 tractors, so the VNR Electric order will not exactly change things overnight.

The Class 8 electric Volvo trucks are offered in two tractor configurations, 4×2 and 6×2, as well as a box truck. Ranges can vary quite a bit depending on how much cargo the truck is hauling, and of course on trailer size, but the box truck version offers a range of 150 miles on a single charge, drawing power from a 264-kWh battery. This version can be juiced up to 80% capacity in an hour and 10 minutes, according to Volvo.

“The experience gained from this program will help accelerate battery-electric truck adoption in QCD’s fleet, as well as other last-mile delivery fleets,” said Mike Douglas, senior director of strategic procurement at QCD.

The drivetrain of the trucks themselves produce 455 hp and up to 4051 lb-ft torque, sent to the rear wheels via a two-speed I-Shift automated transmission, and have a top speed of 65 mph. As trucks of this type are used primarily for daily delivery routes with a set distance, it’s easy to charge them overnight or during a break midday, though the 150-mile range of the battery should be enough for a daily shift.

“Earlier this month, we delivered QCD’s first VNR Electric to be used in its first-class distribution and logistics services,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America. “With this exceptional commitment to deploy an additional 14 Volvo VNR Electric trucks, we are pleased that QCD has chosen to continue its longtime partnership with our organization to achieve its sustainable freight transportation goals.”

Electric semi-trucks and box trucks are just now appearing on sale in North America and Europe, with Renault offering its 16.0-metric tonne (17.6 U.S. tons) D Z.E. model in a number of configurations and battery sizes across the Atlantic. The latest was just delivered to Warburtons, the U.K.’s largest bakery brand, for its secondary bread fleet operating from the company’s Enfield bakery.

The 4×2 Renault D Z.E. is powered by a 200-kWh lithium-ion battery capable of 150-kW DC fast charging, with a synchronous motor with permanent-magnet technology producing a maximum of 248 hp and 313 lb-ft of torque. The Z.E. also features a gearbox, with two forward speeds and one reverse—essentially a city and a highway gear. The truck has a range of 150 kilometers or 93 miles, which makes it ideal for daily deliveries from the bakery in north London to shops around the city.

Back home in the US, attention is largely centered on Tesla’s Semi, which was first seen several years ago and is still inching its way to production, with first deliveries scheduled for late 2021. Daimler is also an early player in the electric truck market, and has just opened preorders for the eM2 and eCascadia trucks earlier this month under its Freightliner brand.

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Of course, the US is still in the very early stages of electric delivery truck adoption, whether that goes for large tractors in 6×2 configuration or Sprinter-sized offerings, so we won’t be inundated with electric truck sightings on the roads for some time. The EV nature of the trucks also means that for a few years they’ll be use primarily for daily routes in a given region rather than interstate trucking, since an EV charging network for trucks does not really exist in any appreciable way.

This means that the next few years will be an era of “day cab” electric delivery truck adoption, primarily by food logistics companies like QCD and also of smaller delivery vans by consumer giants like Amazon, which are already testing trucks made by Rivian. That’s where the most visible progress is expected to happen in the near term.

Do you think we’ll see wider longer-distance EV truck adoption soon, or will the concentration be on last-mile delivery for the foreseeable future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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