Volvo Trucks let us drive a VNR Class 8 electric truck

Volvo Trucks let us drive a VNR Class 8 electric truck

The best way to explain what it’s like to drive an electrified vehicle is to convince them to get behind the wheel, and that’s exactly what Volvo Trucks North America recently did for us during its Electromobility Summit in Dublin, Va. The one-pedal driving, the instant torque, the regen braking… we get the full experience – all while carrying a 79,000-lb. payload behind us.

The goal for Volvo Trucks was to host customers, dealers and the media to dive into the nitty gritty of electric truck acquisition and operation–going beyond the VNR Electric truck itself to also discuss financial support and services, infrastructure development and more. And, of course, we came with a stack of electric truck questions a mile high.

Thankfully, we had the ever-cheerful Andy Brown, product marketing manager, Volvo Trucks North America in the passenger seat to give us a rundown on the truck’s specs, how charging works, how truck drivers can manipulate regenerative braking while driving and all sorts of other topics.

By the way, you may remember that this isn’t the first time Volvo Trucks invited us to experience the VNR electric, but last time we were just riding along. This time we took the hot seat for ourselves.

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Here’s a transcript of the show:

David Sickels: Hello and welcome back to the Amped EV Podcast. My name is David Sickles. I am the editor for The Buzz, and we have a really special one for you here today because my co-host Jason Morgan, he is the Content Director for Fleet Equipment. He is actually right now, as we speak, behind the wheel of a Volvo VNR electric truck. Let’s hitch a ride and see what it’s like.

Jason Morgan: Hey David, great to talk with you. So I am behind the wheel of a Volvo VNR Electric. We are at the Volvo Customer Center. I have Andy Brown, Product Marketing Manager, Electromobility Volvo Trucks North America, here to answer any and all questions on your virtual drive. We’re glad you can join us in the cab here.

David Sickels: Absolutely. So Andy, I wanted to start out asking you just some of the configurations, the specs of this truck. What’s the battery configuration? What’s the expected range? Are there any applications that you’re specifically targeting here?

Andy Brown: Yeah, absolutely. So Volvo trucks, we’ve been in electromobility since we entered the market in North America since 2020 after the lights program. So I am really proud and happy to report that we have five different configurations, which gives us a really cool statement to say the largest electromobility class 8 truck portfolio that’s in production. And just to elaborate a little bit, it’s a 4×2, a 6×2 and a 6×4 tractor and a 4×2 and a 6×4 rigid truck configuration. That’s five total. And within your 6×4 rigid and your 6×2 and 6×4 tractors, we have the option of a four battery pack and the six battery pack.

David Sickels: What sorts of applications would those different configurations be targeting?

Andy Brown: Yeah, absolutely. So the applications where the VNR electric really shines is that local pickup and delivery. They’re regional hall applications, so types of segments like food and beverage, drayage, those types of applications is really where the VNR electric shines. I’ll elaborate on that a little bit more, because the electric is an electrified version of the VNR and that’s our regional haul tractor that’s been around since 2017. And with its short hood, excellent maneuverability and controllability, it makes the perfect last mile type application truck, especially when you electrify it.

David Sickels: Absolutely. And you’ve been running demo laps all day, I understand. What’s your charger set up there? Have you had to charge the truck in between laps at all?

Andy Brown: Yeah, so we’ve actually done two types of charging, okay? What we have on the track is two separate CCS-1 chargers at 180 kilowatts. Now our tractors can handle up to 250 kilowatts, but what we’ve done is at the end of the day, because we have four waves of customers coming through, at the end of the day we just plug up the two tractors, leave them overnight and in the morning, come in and unplug them and they’re ready to go. Now if we had a big wave and we wanted to introduce more tractors, we actually take advantage of what’s called opportunity charging. So we have a nice lunch period for an hour, and if we wanted just to top off our tractors, we’ll just plug them in, go eat lunch, come back down and they’ll be ready to go.

Jason Morgan: Andy. Real quick, David. I’m just going to jump in because I know you have the second generation of the VNR electric. Are we in the second generation? Is this a next gen or are we still on the first gen in this specific truck?

Andy Brown: So that’s a good clarity. We have next generations out on the track, but what you are driving, Jason is a first generation.

Jason Morgan: Okay.

Andy Brown: But what I want to emphasize is that you’re driving a customer truck, so this is a true production vehicle getting put to use. In fact, this truck supplies parts to our new River Valley plant that you can see across over there. And when we talk about a full sustainable journey for Volvo trucks, we have our parts delivered to our factory in a sustainable way. It’s a good example of practicing what we preach.

Jason Morgan: Right. Well, and I drove the new next generation. I drove that one earlier and I didn’t know like, operationally it’s still the same cool experience.

Andy Brown: Operationally, yeah. The only difference is a better battery design, so it’s the same battery footprint. We do offer up that six battery pack option, which didn’t exist before. And then, other diesel standard features like Volvo Dynamic Steering, it comes standard with your phase 2.

Jason Morgan: Okay, and sorry Dave, one more thing and then I’ll let you get back to it. But I just want to know, what are we loaded at here? Because we have a full trailer here. What are we loaded at?

Andy Brown: Yeah, absolutely. This tractor-trailer combination is 79,000 lbs.

Jason Morgan: Wow.

Andy Brown: Okay. So that’s 3,000 lbs. less than the 82 gross combination weight that we’re allowed federally.

Jason Morgan: Right.

Andy Brown: In fact, Jason, I want you to accelerate on this straightaway and you tell me whether this feels loaded or not.

Jason Morgan: Okay. Yeah, I can’t even feel it honestly. I mean, I’m not a CVL driver. I’ve been in a number of trucks, but you don’t even feel it. Well, I assume you have to keep an eye on, it’s almost like a sports car experience, where all of a sudden, I’m 10 miles over what I expected to be at because the torque and power it’s a lot of fun.

Andy Brown: Well, let me clarify that, right? I mean it’s 455 HP and 4,051 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s what you get with an electric motor.

Jason Morgan: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Andy Brown: And I hope… You probably didn’t notice, but your truck is shifting and it’s a smooth acceleration from dead stop all the way to highway speeds thanks to that two speed I-shift transmission.

Jason Morgan: Right. Very cool. All right, David.

David Sickels: Andy, what kind of range can you expect to get with that kind of load in that vehicle?

Andy Brown: Yes, so with the six battery pack, we’re looking at up to 275 miles of range. With your four battery pack, you could predict up to 175 miles of range. It’s one thing to say up to those numbers. I will clarify for the audience, the same environmental impacts that affect fuel economy will also impact your range. So if you’re doing a lot of highway speeds or if you have high elevations and steep grades and things of that sort, traffic even, right? Weather conditions, all of those environmental impacts, unfortunately, electric isn’t resistant to those. I just think that’s an important education piece when I start to clarify these types of ranges that customers can get.

Jason Morgan:

Right. I’m going to jump in here. One more thing to clarify that because it’s something that I learned too, and correct me if I’m wrong, but for the next gen VNR electric, even with the four pack battery, you’re getting more range because of the new thermal management system and other design features that you have in the next generation. So it’s not as if the next generation is just more batteries, so here’s more range.

Andy Brown: Yeah, yeah.

Jason Morgan: You know, apples to apples. First generation to second generation. Same battery size. You’re getting more range out of the next generation.

Andy Brown: Good point.

Jason Morgan: Is that accurate?

Andy Brown: So I’ll piggyback that. A little battery 101 for you. You can think of batteries as humans. They like that ambient temperature, that 74 degrees. Well, these tractors have been put through the hot summers of California, the cold winters of New York. And one of those largest improvement items is that BTMS or that battery thermal management system, which is proactive heating and cooling to make sure that ambient temperature of those batteries really have a consistent performance that our customers absolutely need when they start to implement these in their operations.

Jason Morgan: Right. For sure.

David Sickels: Jason, I have a question for you. You had mentioned that this almost feels more like a sports car while you’re driving it. What other differences are you experiencing when you’re behind the wheel?

Jason Morgan: Yeah, I think one of the biggest ones, and something that we talked a lot about today as we’ve talked with the entire Volvo team, is the regen braking. I know we’ve talked about it before, David. But in operation here, you really feel… It’s very comparable to an engine brake on a diesel. The one cool thing is though, you don’t have the engine brake noise, and so there is none of that diesel engine brake noise. You get the same amount of stopping power or it feels very similar. And Andy, if you want to walk us through, cause we have a number of different regen options here on the stem.

Andy Brown: All right, David, this is really good timing of the questions. So I’m going to have Jason go ahead and put the accelerator down to the floor. Okay. Jason, you’re going to accelerate.

Jason Morgan: Okay, okay, okay.

Andy Brown: We’re going to get some good speed here. So just to give you the lay of the land, we’re on a straightaway. We’re about to hit a curve, a rather steep curve, kind of like a U-turn here. We’re at a level three region. All right. So I’m going to have-

Jason Morgan: I backed off.

Andy Brown: Keep going. Keep going.

Jason Morgan: I backed off! I got nervous.

Andy Brown: So as we start to approach this, I’m going to tell Jason to let off the accelerator. Right now. Okay. And that the engine brake’s going to kick in. Okay. We’re going to take this curve nice and easy. There you go. All right, so we’ll-

Jason Morgan: We were about 45 MPH hour before you told me to take the foot off. It dropped me down to about 30, a little under 30. I did use the service break because I’m nervous. I’m a nervous man. But that was the first time on these loops we’ve been doing, the first time I’ve touched the service break.

Andy Brown: And that brings me up to the point of what the cool kids are calling one-pedal driving, right? Because of the region and you effectively using your accelerator pedal, you can approach these curves judging your right distance. And that just comes with comfortability, right?

Jason Morgan: That’s right.

Andy Brown: But when you don’t have to press the service breaks all the time, well, you’re eliminating repetitive movement of the driver. So repetition there. So your driver fatigue and your service breaks, it’s a wear item. So when you factor in the TCO or your total cost of ownership of this truck, those small factors play a big role when you look at the life cycle of these tractors.

Jason Morgan: Right, and I think the number today for regen braking and typical operation was anywhere from five to 15% range back to the battery during operation. Right?

Andy Brown: Well said.

Jason Morgan: That’s what attributed.

David Sickels: Wow. That’s not bad at all. Andy, earlier you had mentioned to Jason, that you had hit level three regenerative braking. Can you explain to a layman like me what that means?

Andy Brown: Yeah, absolutely. We have four different modes of regen on this tractor. We have automatic mode, level one, two, and three. Automatic mode, the way I’ve been able to describe it is if you took someone from a diesel tractor, put them in a BEV, they would operate similar, so if you let your foot off the accelerator, Jason. Right?

Jason Morgan: Yup.

Andy Brown: You can see it’s coasting like you would with a diesel, but at least with automatic you can capture some of that regen back.

Jason Morgan: Oh, I see. So it’s on automatic, I’m coasting, but there’s still some regen. It’s not just full-on open.

Andy Brown: Now, as we approach this curve, we’ll just notch it down one. You feel it going slower?

Jason Morgan: Yep.

Andy Brown: Notch it down two if we’re starting to get nervous, because I see his foot going on the service brake.

Jason Morgan: Yup. It was going there. I didn’t do it.

Andy Brown: He doesn’t need to do it.

Jason Morgan: I did not do it.

Andy Brown: And then, you can take this curve right here.

Jason Morgan: Yup. Perfect.

Andy Brown: So David, those one, two, and threes, those are the level of intensities of that regen. And like Jason started to say, it’s almost like that engine brake. Now as a driver becomes more comfortable, professional drivers become one with their tractors. There’re different scenarios when you would want to use your automatic versus your one, two, and three. If you’re doing a lot of highway driving, automatic’s going to be fine, because you don’t want to take your foot off that accelerator and lose that momentum for the sake of regen. You may need to take a break or just let your foot off the accelerator and not lose that momentum, right?

David Sickels: Sure.

Andy Brown: But if a car were to pull out in front of you or some kind of object or something like that, well you can go all the way down to three, reduce your speed and if absolutely necessary, tap into the service brakes as needed.

David Sickels: I see. I wanted to ask you about service as well. What are some of the big service differences on how you would service a truck like this versus one of your diesel alternatives?

Andy Brown: Yeah. There are a couple of ways to answer it. Big service differences, there aren’t that many, because you’re talking about less components, so in reality, service is actually less. There’s no engine oil that you have to replace or anything of that sort. These batteries are made to be for the life cycle of your tractor. I’ll answer it this way, the typical service that a customer can expect is the same as their diesel in terms of those wear items like tires, glass, and those other high-wear items. But we already talked about it and elaborate on it, but your service breaks, you won’t have to touch those if driven appropriately for a long time. And the other one was the engine oil and filters and things of that sort because well, there’s no engine in this tractor.

David Sickels: Absolutely, and of course you’ve been talking with a lot of customers today. This is a question for both of you. What have you been hearing from these customers who have been driving this tractor? What’s been their takeaway?

Andy Brown: Jason, I’ll let you go first.

Jason Morgan: Okay. I go first. Well, so one of my takeaways. David, I mean you know we live and breathe this stuff every day. We talk about a lot of electric trucks. We hang out with the Volvo crew quite a bit. But one of the great things about today was there was still just a ton of new info to talk about. You would think that, man, we’ve covered everything about electric trucks in the past year or two since Volvo had put it out. But there was still plenty to talk about today. Sorry, I’m going to plug Fleet Equipment, because we have a story up on Fleet. We’ve got a video that walks us through Volvo financial services, walked us through how to buy an electric truck, which is great. I mean, a look behind the scenes of here’s how you finance it, here’s the support you gain, here’s what you should expect from partners. The charging infrastructure.

Jason Morgan: During the charging infrastructure conversation, I was texting David with a bunch of ideas of here’s some follow up stories we need to do because these are cool topics that we were talking about. So there is still, as more trucks are coming to the market and electric trucks, fleets are operating them. The questions keep coming and they keep evolving and there is always something to talk about.

Andy Brown: I’ll add to that. What Jason’s really referring to, and the whole makeup of this whole agenda is the ecosystem that is electromobility. And often oftentimes, people who don’t live and breathe in this space, they see Volvo trucks and they see us as an OEM manufacturer, you just produce the VNR electric and that’s it, right? But it’s not that. And one of our main goals or missions of this customer summit was to educate them, but really show Volvo’s 360 approach.

Andy Brown: We are, I would say, very proactive in every element of the adoption journey of electrification that any customer can find themselves in, whether it be the acquisition. So Jason mentioned VFS. Whether they’re looking at creating their charging, what do I use public charging? Or do I need to invest in my own charging?

Andy Brown: Well, guess what? We have the lights project that will give you a step-by-step guide of what worked well in lights. We have charging specialists. We have Volvo Energy, and then of course we have the VNR electric truck. And then, last but not least, is the prep work. I always say electromobility rewards the prepared. And so with digital services like electric performance generators, EPG, these customers can plan their operations which reduces range anxiety, but also gives them the confidence to say, “Hey, electric. I can make it work in my operations.”

Andy Brown: And then the last thing to answer your question, so that’s one theme. The other theme is when you start to hear all these things… I’m a marketing guy, so I say, “Smooth acceleration from a dead stop to highway speeds.” I say, “This has just as much power as your diesel.” Well, I will tell you the overwhelming positive feedback from these customers when I tell them just what I did with Jason, “Put your accelerator down to the floor.”, and I tell them how much weight they’re pulling. I’ve had a couple of customers say, “No way. Roll up the trailer.” In which case, I had to roll up the trailer and show them that they are in fact pulling 79,000 pounds, so that has really been my punchline during this co-piloting experience, and it really seals the deal with our customers.

David Sickels: Yeah, I mean, these trucks are obviously new for a lot of fleets. When Jason and I talk with fleets, I think understandably, there tends to be a lot of hesitancy wanting to jump into electrified trucking at all. But it sounds like what you’re saying is this summit is really maybe changing some minds, opening up some opportunity with some of your fleet customers and really settling some of that hesitancy. Would that be safe to say?

Andy Brown: We hope so, and I will say that’s been mission success. There’s been conversations happening that have matured almost immediately as customers really start to say, “This was an idea for me. Now how do I make it happen? And what’s my tactical plan?”

David Sickels: Sure. Well, hey, thank you both for letting me ride along with you. This was a lot of fun for me, and I know I learned a lot. Yeah, just thanks for inviting me out. This has been great.

Jason Morgan: No problem, David. Seriously, next time you’re coming. I know didn’t the timing didn’t work out this time, but we will get you in an electric truck one of these days in real life-

David Sickels: All right. I’m holding you to that.

David Sickels: All right. Hey, what a great ride. I really learned a lot here. When we talk to fleets, fleets don’t know much about these trucks. Understandably. They’re new. We don’t know a lot about them either, and having an opportunity to actually drive one of these trucks and ask questions directly to the source, super helpful. Like Andy was saying, food and beverage, drayage routes. And then, like Jason was talking about, how to actually buy an electric truck, setting up this charging infrastructure. These are items that need to be addressed if this is the route you’re going to go. So these summits for fleets to actually have an opportunity to get in there, get behind the wheel themselves, just like Jason did, is super helpful. Thanks a lot for joining us today. We’ll see you next time.

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