Volvo driving forward with batteries, hydrogen

As battery-electric Class 8 trucks roll off assembly lines, Volvo Trucks North America president Peter Voorhoeve quickly refers to the 250 units that carry his company’s iron mark on the grille.

The total represents half the battery-electric Class 8 trucks on North American roads overall, and the Volvo trucks alone have accumulated about 1.9 million km with 40 different customers.

But there could be more. A “significant” share of vouchers available through California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) remain unused because charging infrastructure is not available, Voorhoeve told, referring to charger installation projects that currently take 24 months or more.

Peter Voorhoeve, Volvo Trucks North America
Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, says his company accounts for about half the battery-electric Class 8 trucks on North American roads. (Photo: John G. Smith)

While OEMs and fleets face regulatory targets, he wonders if those who oversee the permitting process for chargers should be guided in a similar way.

“The infrastructure, charging industry, whatever you want to call it needs to get organized one way or the other,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of regulation or a guideline [that] if I put in a permit for more power, then within three months you need to have that.”

530 VNR Electrics on order

The trucks themselves are proving their worth, though. Customers who originally ordered five or 10 of the power units have returned to order many more after determining where they can be used, he said. “They say, ‘We don’t have backup trucks for this. This is the solution. Period.’”

There are now 530 VNR Electric tractors on the company’s order boards.

But Volvo’s zero-emission future is not limited to battery-electric models. The manufacturer continues to develop hydrogen fuel cells in the cellcentric joint venture with Daimler Truck, creating technology that will offer the operating ranges needed for longhaul trucking.

One of the fuel cells was even on display in the Volvo Trucks booth at ACT Expo.

“We’re very serious about that. It’s not a PowerPoint slide,” Voorhoeve stressed. “And we have the trucks running a validation.”

Volvo fuel cell
Volvo Trucks North America included a fuel cell in its display at ACT Expo. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Hydrogen and diesel

There may even be a role for hydrogen injected into future internal combustion engines.

“Hydrogen in the internal combustion engine is an excellent idea because it’s zero-emission, it uses largely technology that we have,” he said.

“We’ve spoken about battery-electric, fuel-cell-electric, and internal combustion engines on fossil-free fuels … but we’ve never really been that clear on hydrogen as a fuel, and we are much more formulated on that right now. I think it’s a great opportunity for the internal combustion engine.”

As far as such technologies have come, he takes a more cautious tone than those who suggest the sunset of the diesel engine is upon us.

“If you see what we need to do for EPA 2027, you cannot call that sunsetting,” Voorhoeve said, referring to the investments needed to meet coming low-NOx standards. He also expects fleets to “pre buy” equipment that meets existing emissions standards, ahead of that deadline, referring to it as normal behavior.

In the meantime, today’s order boards are full, and fleets are still looking for ways to shorten typical replacement cycles that in some cases have extended by one or two model years because of previous supply chain challenges. While such issues have eased, they will take time to resolve.

And even as low- and zero-emission options begin to secure a larger share of the market, Voorhoeve knows Volvo dealers will still be supporting diesel-fueled engines for years to come.

“The diesel tail,” he said, “is very, very long.”

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