Torque of the town: Volvo’s first electric truck in the flesh


ATN got the chance to see and experience Volvo’s new electric truck models in Sweden recently and they created quite the buzz. Cobey Bartels writes

 

The new FE Electric looks and operates just like a convetional truck, but it's clean and quiet!

Volvo Trucks launched its first all-electric trucks in April, the FE and FL models, cementing themselves as a front runner in the commercial electro-mobility race.

At this point the electric truck models are aimed at inner-city use, in particular the refuse collection and urban distribution areas, make the 200-300km range these vehicles offer suitable.

"We’re immensely proud to present the first in a range of fully electrically-powered Volvo trucks ready for regular traffic," says Volvo Trucks President, Claes Nilsson.

Volvo drew off its experience building electric buses when designing the drivetrain for the two new trucks, opting for a modular unit that can be retrofitted to existing models.

"In the middle of the chassis we have the driveline, on the sides of the chassis we have installed the batteries, and under the cab we have connected a lot of electronics in the shape of a diesel engine so in production it’s easy to mount the modular powertrain," Explains Volvo Trucks Product Manager Electromobility, Anna Thordén.

"We use the same driveline for Volvo electric buses, and electric buses have been in operation since 2015 so we have many thousands of kilometres already with these drivelines."

Volvo Trucks Product Manager Electromobility, Anna Thordén, explaining how the electric drivetrains were designed

The FL model features a 185kW/425Nm electric motor providing drive through a Volvo-designed 2-speed transmission, while the heavier duty FE model scores two of the motors putting out a combined 370kW/850Nm.

Doubling the horsepower of the FE presented a unique driveline challenge, but Volvo decided to mount two of the same electric motor to the one gearbox.

"We think it’s an elegant solution, we took the driveline and just adapted it so it could fit two motors," Thordén says.

"Since it has two electric motors, we have the power shift functionality, so one motor is always engaged and the second one is shifted so you never get the torque interruption when you shift."

Range varies on both models depending on spec but the FE, producing twice the horsepower, tops out at a 200km driving range while the FL is capable of up to 300km’s.

Despite range concerns, a fast charge of one to two hours will provide enough juice to in many urban scenarios see out the day’s duties.


READ: Volvo brings us second eletrifying model


Volvo The weight of the battery packs is a big factor and they’re expensive, but Thordén explains Volvo’s focus is about offering customers the right power and battery combination.

"Each battery pack has a total energy of 50kWh and each battery weighs 520kg, so they’re quite heavy," she says.

"Volvo doesn’t want our customers to install more batteries than they need.

"When you invest in an electric truck, you must consider much more than just the range.

"We have developed a very flexible system, for FL you can choose from two all the way up to six batteries and on the FE you can choose from four to six batteries."

We got the chance to see two FL trucks in operation at the Volvo Ocean Race Village in the harbour of Gothenburg, spending some time inside the cab.

While we weren’t able to drive them, we were taken for ride alongs through a course that both simulated day-to-day operation but also entered real roads to give us a feel of how it performs.

The refuse FL Electric being put through its paces at the Volvo Ocean Race Village

The first thing that’s evident, of course, is the complete lack of sound prior to take off.

It’s dead silent, then suddenly you’re being propelled forward at a rate normally reserved for passenger cars as the whir of the electric motors fills tricks your brain.

Bearing in mind, this is the FL and it only has 185kW and 425Nm, but it’s all about the power delivery.

These trucks are rapid thanks to making all of their torque from the get go and the lack of engine noise and vibration ultimately makes them a more comfortable place to be.

Power delivery is smooth and the two-speed transmission seems to offer enough in the way of ratios to perform well at a range of speeds, especially during stop-start operation.

Inside the cab, where you’d traditionally find an RPM gauge, there’s a unique electric power-use gauge that displays a minus on one side and a plus on the other.

A tacho needle swings to the minus side when you’re using energy, and thanks to regenerative braking the taco swings to the plus side when you’re on the anchors adding energy back into the system.

The first FL models are being operated in Gothenburg, Sweden, by waste management company Renova and haulage firm TGM, while the first FE Electric will begin operation in Hamburg, Germany next year.

Volvo has confirmed that series production and sales will commence in Europe in 2019, but a date has not yet been given for introduction into the Australian market.

One thing we do know, though, is that this technology is improving at a rate of knots and it’s becoming difficult to envision a future that isn’t electric.  

Not your typical fuel bowser, and one that provides a different kind of juice

Volvo FE Electric Specifications

  • Fully electrically-powered truck for distribution, refuse collection and other applications in urban conditions, GVW 27 tonnes
  • Driveline: Two electric motors with 370 kW max power (260 kW cont. power) with a Volvo 2-speed transmission. Max torque electric motors 850 Nm. Max torque rear axle 28 kNm
  • Energy storage: Lithium-ion batteries, 200–300 kWh
  • Range: Up to 200 km
  • Charging: Two different charging systems are available. CCS2: Maximum charge power 150 kW  DC. Low Power Charging: Maximum charge power 22 kW AC
  • Charging time: From empty to fully charged batteries (300 kWh): CCS2 150 kW appr. 1.5 hours, Low power charging appr.10 hours

Volvo FL Electric Specifications

  • Fully electrically-powered truck for distribution, refuse collection and other applications in urban conditions, GVW 16 tonnes
  • Driveline: Electric motor with 185 kW max power (130 kW cont. power) with a Volvo 2-speed transmission. Max torque electric motor 425 Nm. Max torque rear axle 16 kNm
  • Energy storage: Lithium-ion batteries, totalling 100–300 kWh
  • Range: Up to 300 km
  • Charging: Two different charging systems are available. CCS2: Maximum charge power 150 kW  DC. Low Power Charging: Maximum charge power 22 kW AC
  • Charging time: From empty to fully charged batteries: fast charge 1-2 hours (DC charging), night charge up to 10 hours (AC charging) with maximum battery capacity of 300 kWh.

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