Let's go for a ride in a Volvo VNR electric truck

Let’s go for a ride in a Volvo VNR electric truck

Here on The Amped EV Podcast, we talk all the time about what it’s like to drive a vehicle with an electric powertrain, but driving an electric Class 7 truck is a bit more intimidating… or is it? To show off all the nifty features of the Volvo VNR electric truck, Jason Morgan, co-host of The Amped EV Podcast and content director for Fleet Equipment was recently invited out to Greensboro, N.C. to have a chance to ride along and see what the drive is like. And, as a bonus, he also spills the tea on some of the features of the next iteration of this truck (more range and a faster charge time being a few of the big ones).

Here’s a transcript from the show:

David Sickels: Hello and welcome back to the Amped EV podcast. My name is David Sickels. I am the editor for The Buzz and this would be Jason Morgan, the content director for Fleet Equipment. However, he has temporarily abandoned ship, only temporary. He was invited out recently by our friends at Volvo to experience a ride-along in their Volvo VNR Electric truck in Greensboro, North Carolina. And to learn a little bit about the next generation of the electric truck. I’m really excited about this. He’s got a lot of fun details to share about it. One thing I did want to mention to you, audio listeners of this podcast. We love you. We appreciate you very much, but for this one, you might want to turn off the audio version and head on over to either our website or YouTube, wherever you can find the video version of this podcast. I think you’re going to have a much better time here. Let’s check out the footage.

Jason Morgan: Hey David, I am with Volvo trucks. We got the VNR Electric behind us. We always hear about how driving an electric vehicle is a different experience. Well, we are going to put that to the test. We have the VNR Electric behind us. We are going to hop in and take a drive here in Greensboro, North Carolina at the Volvo headquarters. We’re going to hit the road. We’re going to check out the acceleration on all the features. So come along and let’s see what it’s all about.

Ashley Murickan: All right. So this is the VNR Electric truck that we have. So when you start the truck, it’s very different from diesel, right? You’re going to start and there’s no starter and stuff. So you don’t even know it started. How do you know? There’s no sound…

Jason Morgan: It’s on now.

Ashley Murickan: It’s on now. How do you know that? Because there’s a green indicator truck that showed up, so. Okay, it says you’re ready to go.

Jason Morgan: Okay.

Ashley Murickan: There’s no sound. It’s really quiet, right.

Jason Morgan: Awesome.

Ashley Murickan: And that shows you’re in neutral. So you got to hit reverse, also drive just like you do on your diesel truck, right? So it’s got a two-speed transmission here. As you can see, the whole display is different. I mean, this is showing if it’s going to be regenerating power or if it’s using power, so. All right.

Jason Morgan: Okay.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah, and then you still have your primary and secondary brake gauges. You still have your speedometer and it shows your state of charge. Whether it’s full or empty, you don’t want to be empty, okay. It’s very bad. So…

Jason Morgan: Well?

Ashley Murickan: Volvo safety, you always put your seatbelt.

Jason Morgan: Yep. Always.

Ashley Murickan: Special lime-green seatbelt for Volvo Electric. All right. So you ready to go?

Jason Morgan: Yes.

Ashley Murickan: All right.

Jason Morgan: And I do love The Cars, but I’m going to turn this off.

Ashley Murickan: Yes.

Jason Morgan: The radio works too.

Ashley Murickan: That’s right.

Jason Morgan: We’ll get hit with copyright. I mean, that’s the problem.

Ashley Murickan: All right. So as you can see, you got a camera here, a back-up camera.

Jason Morgan: Oh yeah. Okay. So you’re turning on the air condition now. Is there ever any concern for… Is this going to drain my battery with the air condition on now or…

Ashley Murickan: No. No. We’re good.

Jason Morgan: Negligible.

Ashley Murickan: No, I mean, it does use battery, but it’s got a nice battery management system that manages all that.

Jason Morgan: Nice.

Ashley Murickan: So we went with the VNR model because the electric model is specific for Regional Haul.

Jason Morgan: Yep.

Ashley Murickan: So it’s got the shorter wheel-base. And BPC, so. Yep.

Jason Morgan: In this… Are we at a class seven in this configuration? We got the vein body…

Ashley Murickan: Yes, yes. Correct. And this is a four by two.

Jason Morgan: Okay.

Ashley Murickan: They can be used for class eight as well. And it’s got all the safety features. Still got the Volvo active driver assist. Got the front-facing camera and radar. So it’s still got collision mitigation and lane departure warning.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. I mean it’s wonderfully quiet. I mean, we’re coming up a grade here. You’re at…

Ashley Murickan: I’m at 40 miles per hour now.

Jason Morgan: 40 miles already, and…

Ashley Murickan: You don’t even feel it.

Jason Morgan: Nope.

Ashley Murickan: You don’t hear any sound. Yeah. And I got my region braking stock here so I can crank up the intensity. I can put it in automatic mode, which is the best mode for region. So every time I let go of the accelerator, it’s using regenerative braking, so the electric motor reverses polarity and acts like a generator puts electricity back into the batteries.

Jason Morgan: Yeah, and the few times that I’ve gotten to drive some electric trucks, that takes a little bit of getting used to…

Ashley Murickan: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: … I always end up a car’s length away from where I want to be just because it takes a minute to get used to the regenerative brake.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: But very, very beneficial for recapturing some of that energy.

Ashley Murickan: Oh yeah. You can add like 15% to the overall range if driven properly, so.

Jason Morgan: Right. Well, and that’s what I’ve talked with Brent before about just how much the driver can impact them. Yeah, it takes a little… He has, if I recall correctly, talked about the efficiency curves and how it takes a little bit. You can see drivers getting used to it and gets better and better, but it is just a ton of fun.

Ashley Murickan: It really is.

Jason Morgan: Acceleration and…

Ashley Murickan: Oh yeah. It’s instant torque. It’s got like 40, 50-foot pounds of torque and that’s like 455 horsepower-worth in diesel terms.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. What’s the battery size on this one, do you know?

Ashley Murickan: This has four batteries. So each battery is 66 kilowatts.

Jason Morgan: Okay. Okay.

Ashley Murickan: But we have a newer version which has six batteries and that comes up to almost 560 kilowatts.

Jason Morgan: Right. Right. We walked through that with Andy and his team. To see those… Very cool.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah, so that can give you a range of up to 275 miles. This particular one can go up to 150 miles.

Jason Morgan: Yeah.

Ashley Murickan: Oh, there goes a lane departure.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. That’s all right.

Jason Morgan: Well, on the one… I like just letting it sit and being quiet for me because you don’t… I mean, the VNR does a nice job. You don’t have any rattles. You know what I mean? You can-

Ashley Murickan: No, exactly. You would think if it’s quiet, you’ll hear all the other vibrations and stuff, but you’re not even hearing anything.

Jason Morgan: Right. Yeah.

Ashley Murickan: And that’s the special thing about Volvo. It’s the right quality, it’s really smooth. Quiet.

Jason Morgan: It is funny when some of these trucks are passing us that the trucks outside are louder than the one we’re sitting in. I hear them and there’s nothing to be heard here.

Ashley Murickan: So this is… Yeah, because of the rear axle ratio, it’s maxing out at 55 miles per hour, but you have the liberty to change the rear axle ratio to go faster.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. Very nice.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah. So you notice now that the needle is pointing to the right, showing that I’m using power. But when I do regenerative braking, it would move towards the plus sign. That gauge there.

Jason Morgan: Oh, okay.

Ashley Murickan: That’s the indicator of regenerative braking versus using power, so.

Jason Morgan: Nice. And what state of charge are we at?

Ashley Murickan: Now, we’re at 90% state of charge.

Jason Morgan: Well, okay. So we’ve…

Ashley Murickan: That’s showing right there that you got a few…

Jason Morgan: Yeah. I see.

Ashley Murickan: So we’re going to… Now that the gauge moved towards the plus sign it’s showing that it’s regenerator braking going on right now, so. And I can increase that… Three is off. I’ve increased the intensity. I’m not even using my service brakes now. You see it’s full regenerator braking.

Jason Morgan: Oh yeah. Okay. You just so… And you just took your foot off the accelerator.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah. Completely. So it’s regenerative brake. Now, I’m pressing the accelerator again, but I can try it again. I’ll show you, let go of the accelerator as region. I can increase the intensity by going to three. Now, it’s full region. So I’m not using the service brakes, which basically prolongs the life of the service brakes, right? Because you don’t use it as much, so.

Jason Morgan: Right. Right. Similar to the engine brake on the diesel.

Ashley Murickan: Exactly.

Jason Morgan: To use it in that regard.

Ashley Murickan: Same concept. Yeah. But this one is even more intense. So once you get used to driving with this, then you’ll start getting the hang of it.

Jason Morgan: Right. Right. Well, and it… Would it bring you down to a full stop or?

Ashley Murickan: Yeah, it’s bringing it down to a complete stop right now. This is region… I’m not pressing the brakes at all and it’s stopped.

Jason Morgan: And you never… You hadn’t touched the service brakes at all?

Ashley Murickan: No. No.

Jason Morgan: Oh wow. Okay. That’s cool. Well, and that’s different in some of the other vehicles that I’ve been in. Some of them don’t go down to a full zero. There’s a little… There are some operational nuance there that the drivers would want to be aware of too.

Ashley Murickan: Depends on the situation as well, right. Yeah. Right?

Jason Morgan: For sure.

Ashley Murickan: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: But yeah, as more come to the market, you get the… There are differences, that’s one of the other things where you might think of like, “Okay, well, it’s batteries and electric axle configuration, so how much difference can it be.” But there’s a good…

Jason Morgan: A good amount of variability on how you integrate these systems into your trucks and how they perform.

David Sickels: Wow. Okay. Jason, before we get to anything, how did you get back here so fast?

Jason Morgan: Oh yeah. Well, I was so Amped.

David Sickels: Yeah, of course, you were.

Jason Morgan: From the ride-along there I just ran the entire way. Yeah, range is not an anxiety issue for me. I just sped back here. I was like, I got to tell David this immediately. So glad to be back. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Just night and day. I think in terms of just drivability, some of the quiet you heard how quiet… I guess you don’t hear.

David Sickels: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: You do hear how quiet it is, but you don’t hear, you know what I mean? One of the cool things is, and I think I noted in there, is that you hear the traffic going by you as opposed to…

David Sickels: More so than the truck itself.

Jason Morgan: You don’t hear you. You hear all the traffic going. You hear those engines. So it’s definitely a different experience. Very comfortable.

David Sickels: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: Very cool. Very cool. Big shout out to Ashley Murickan, the product marketing manager at Volvo trucks that took me for a ride. We always have a blast. I appreciate it. Great info there.

David Sickels: Let me ask you a question about that quietness while we’re on that topic. Do you anticipate that could be a problem? It’s too quiet. Do you think the drivers are going to go out of their mind and with their own thoughts and they have nothing else to… You know, those quiet rooms where you go in there and you can hear your own heart beating. I don’t think it’s quite that bad, but…

Jason Morgan: Yeah, it’s not sensory deprivation. I’m not floating in like a dark tank.

David Sickels: You know what if you don’t realize that the truck is still running because you can’t hear it? Is that going to be an issue here?

Jason Morgan: No. Well, so first of all, I think… As you saw there, I think one of the disarming parts of it is that as you noted the initial, is it on? Because yeah, it’s on. So you just have to be, I guess, keenly aware.

David Sickels: You have to have that little green truck in there to help, but.

Jason Morgan: Exactly. You got to be keenly aware that it’s on because you don’t want to accidentally put it in gear and coming… And again, noting that it’s a transition, a very nice one to drive the electric trucks. It’s so enjoyable, but I don’t think it’s too quiet though. Something you do mention that is one of the standout things here that I’ve realized now, because I drove that truck on a test course when they launched it in February 2020 at their Lights, just before the pandemic, at their Lights project event.

David Sickels: Okay.

Jason Morgan: So I got to drive it, but since then I’ve been in a number of other brands, truck brands of electric trucks and you start to see how the difference is of them, right? So yeah, the VNR is really quiet. It’s nice. I don’t think it’s too quiet and all the manufacturers are putting out really great trucks.

Jason Morgan: I mean, really they’re just… All the new… They take the tried and true cabs and construction and put it there. But you will… Drivers that are keenly aware of maybe some of the operation might hear new noises that maybe even we don’t hear, but just you notice certain things because the engine doesn’t cover up any of the other noises. So if you have change in the cup holder, you’re going to hear it rattling the whole time, right. So you’re going to hear those. If you’ve got something loose in the back or you got something that just not… in your car, but even then it’s louder in the car. You’re going to notice it. You’re going to notice it. So even… It’s even just important in terms of trying out all the different manufacturers and finding the cab environment that’s right for you because you’re going to notice different levels of sound for sure.

David Sickels: Absolutely. Very interesting. So let me ask you this question. This model that you were riding along in and you had experienced to drive back in 2020, approximately 150 miles of range on a charge. Is that correct?

Jason Morgan: Yeah. Give or take, I mean again, depending on application and depending where you’re running it, right?

David Sickels: Now, depending on weather, depending on who knows what else.

Jason Morgan: Manufacturers are also very conservative on those numbers because they don’t want to… They’re setting expectations, right? So yeah, this one’s at about 150-ish.

David Sickels: And the next generation we’re talking 270, 275, something like that?

Jason Morgan: Yeah. So that’s the other part of the conversation I had when I was at Volvo is recently they announced their next generation VNR Electric, which increased the operational range by 85%. So we’re up in the 250-270 range and decreased the charging time. So they’re charging faster, right. And it’s interesting. It feels… I hate to say the cliche that the truck is a rolling smartphone because geez, that is tired. I mean, we’ve been hearing that forever, but now what’s interesting, now take that and say, “Okay, well now I got the VNR electric two,” right.

David Sickels: Right.

Jason Morgan: Oh, this one goes 270, 250, I want the two. I’m not going to have the one.

David Sickels: Yeah, exactly.

Jason Morgan: So that was a topic of conversation. I’m going to have a big interview with Peter Voorhoeve, their President who talks about one, the manufacturer, you got to start somewhere. Next, a year and a half from now, I don’t know anything again, Jason Morgan speculation, technology will probably advance and it’ll probably be even better and better and better and better, but you got to start somewhere.

Jason Morgan: The first generation 150-mile range was and is still great for specific applications. The Drayage, the Regional Haul, the one where you don’t really need the range.

David Sickels: Sure, sure.

Jason Morgan: And that is still true. The new, next gen VNR Electric… Yeah, it can go a little further, but even talking with Volvo’s team applications are still within the same Regional Haul world. It just might give either maybe those fleets where the application… They wanted a little more range buffer just to make sure it really addresses range anxiety. It’s still similar applications. Makes you sleep a little better at night knowing that you have that little bit of extra range and maybe opens up some further applications as well. But we’re taking… It’s just cool to see one, the next step and two, how quickly they could iterate on that base, right. Because there’s… And they do it in two ways. There are more batteries on that truck, but the density of them is also better. So it’s an example of, we always hear, well, battery technology will get better. Okay, well, here’s a good example. Yes, there are more of them on there, but it goes hand in hand with the density is also better on them, so.

David Sickels: So maybe you can explain this. In the year, year and a half, that it took to produce the next gen vehicle. Can we expect that same level of battery evolution, battery growth every year, year and a half from now until the end of time?

Jason Morgan: Yeah, I guess… Let me… In talking with Volvo’s team, one thing I do want to make clear is, to us it seemed like a year, but to them they’ve been working on it long. You know what I mean? The iteration like… The tail of this is much longer than we see on the product announcement side. To us it feels very quick.

David Sickels: Sure.

Jason Morgan: Like we’re like, holy smokes. We’re here. We’re getting… That was a one small step, the giant leap kind of a thing. But what you pose is an interesting question. I mean, you look at the diesel side of things and fuel efficiency continues to gain two, three up to 5% model year over model year of fuel efficiency. We’re going… This is a new technology. So again, my speculation, it’s going to increase a lot faster than a mature technology and diesel is going to increase.

Jason Morgan: Now, there’s still plenty to be gained from diesel fuel efficiency and still a role for diesel trucks in de-carbonization. But I believe this, again, just from everything that I’ve seen and witnessed and talking about things are going to start the pick up really pretty quick. Again, the challenges still remain for like a 500 range long haul because then you still… We’re getting into the infrastructure conversation, not really the equipment. And frankly, the equipment has been ahead of the game anyway.

David Sickels: You talk about region braking in the video that we saw there and how it feels different and how you have to get used to it. Can you explain to us a little bit, what does that feel like?

Jason Morgan: Yeah, it feels a little bit more… Like a little bit more powerful engine brake. So for trucks, open the engine brake, the levels are a little, can be a little more intense. So like when I’ve gotten the opportunity to drive an electric truck, I’m always a car’s length back from where I wanted to be. But I will say what’s interesting now is, and again, going back to being able to drive and experience a lot of the different manufacturers, they’re just subtle nuances that are… I mean, it’s not either bad or good. It’s just different that you have to be aware of.

Jason Morgan: For example, in the Volvo, the region brake and you take your foot off the pedal, the region braking will bring you to a stop. And some other trucks that I’ve been in, the region braking will bring you down to a crawl, like a two-mile per hour thing. And it’s just that little different… I don’t… You know what I mean?

David Sickels: Yeah.

Jason Morgan: So you got to, again, the driver’s aware, they’re alert. They have to know, I got to touch the service brake, whereas on the Volvo, the VNR Electric, it’ll bring you down to a complete stop. And again, starting to… What’s cool is starting to see those little operational nuances across the name plates has been really interesting.

David Sickels: So for our audience who aren’t Jason Morgan and haven’t had the experience of driving both an electric semi and an electric car, what’s the difference there? Does it feel any different?

Jason Morgan: Well, I think what’s interesting on the truck. I guess, I won’t equate it to a car, but let me equate it to a truck with an AMT, which a lot of… At least on the commercial side, it’s the majority of the on highway build now. I never had to… And I couldn’t, full disclosure, drive a full manual truck. Just it’s not going to happen. It’s not manual. It’s not going to… I jump in-

David Sickels: It’s harder than it seems.

Jason Morgan: I jump… Oh, I mean, it’s that drivers are really doing a really difficult job and that’s why…

David Sickels: They do not get enough credit.

Jason Morgan: It takes out some of the fatigue. But when AMTs were really coming up and starting to see a lot of adoption, you didn’t feel the load as much. Like you just went. I mean, you still knew it was bang there. Electric trucks with the amount of torque that’s variable at any time is like all of us. It’s a lot like driving a sports car. You’re up at 60 real quick. And you did not know… You look down and you go, “Oh, wow. Okay, I’m at 60.” You don’t feel it. You don’t feel the load as you’re going down there. So it’s like just a more advanced feeling as the AMTs. I think the AMTs brought us a long way in drivability and comfort. Now this is again, hand in hand with the quietness, but you have to be aware of your speed, because I feel like you can get up to speed very, very quickly.

David Sickels: Yeah. Yeah. AMT. You’re referring to the transmission.

Jason Morgan: Yes. Sorry. Sorry for those not in the commercial world, I do tend to slip in the acronyms very quickly. Automated manual transmissions. So in the heavy truck world, we also have automatic transmissions, but a bulk of the on highway, class eight are these automated manual transmissions where it’s still… Gosh, they’ve gotten so advanced now, but it’s a manual transmission at heart, but it operates from a driver point of view. You can kind of feel the automatic. So it’s an automated manual.

David Sickels: So one last question for you. When you were learning about the next generation of this Volvo VNR, were there any features that you learned about that you can share with us? Is there anything really cool about this? When you’re talking about iPhone 10 to iPhone 11, what is the big features that they’re trying to sell you on?

Jason Morgan: Yeah, so it’s a good question. I think really quickly though, one of the things to point out would be the power train technology and battery technology is new. The cab is not. And I mean, this already happens in the commercial world where they’ll upgrade transmissions and engines and then every so often upgrade the cab. So I feel like it was… Gosh, maybe four years ago or so now that a lot of the manufacturers were launching their new trucks, right. Like their new cabs and how they’re designed.

Jason Morgan: So when they release a next gen VNR Electric that you see it in the power train. It’s still the tried and true established VNR truck that you’re getting in out of the cab that you are interfacing with. It’s all VNR. So you see it more on that power train side. And that’s where you’re going to see a lot of that. So as far as feature goes, it’s really showing up in the range. It’s really showing up in the reduced charging time that it takes to get you to that battery capacity. Stepping into the truck, you’re going to feel like you did when you stepped into a VNR, even just a diesel one. Except for the operational differences, of course.

David Sickels: Okay. Well, Jason, I’m glad you had the opportunity. Thanks for sharing the details with us. Bring me next time.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. No, you’ll get the next trip for sure.

David Sickels: I can’t wait.

Jason Morgan: Very cool.

David Sickels: Well, thanks a lot. Thank you all. Thank you all. And we’ll see you next time.

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