Lessons from two years of electric truck operation with Volvo Trucks

Live blog: Lessons learned from two years of electric truck operation with Volvo Trucks

February 2020. Volvo Trucks was poised to bring change to trucking in California with the unveiling of the VNR Electric and the development of a holistic electric truck strategy to make them a reality. And then the world changed a month later. But the innovation didn’t stop. The Volvo LIGHTS project rolled forward. Volvo Trucks opened VNR Electric truck orders in November of 2020, and battery electric heavy-duty trucks have been in hard-working applications ever since.

Two-and-a-half years later, the world is different, and what we know about electric truck operation has grown by leaps and bounds. Volvo Trucks North America held an event in Ontario, California, to provide an update in how electric trucks are being used, how infrastructure is being developed and open the door to NFI’s Chino, California, location for an behind-the-scenes look at an increasingly electric fleet operation.

‘Partnership’ is the new ‘leadership’

Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America, took to the stage to kick off the event and set the stage for Volvo’s electric vehicle developments. Watch his remarks below.

The Volvo LIGHTS project was led by Volvo Group North America and California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD), and included NFI Industries (NFI), Dependable Highway Express (DHE), TEC Equipment, Shell Recharge Solutions (formerly Greenlots), Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, Southern California Edison (SCE), CALSTART, University of California, Riverside CE-CERT, Reach Out, Rio Hondo College, and San Bernardino Valley College.

NFI’s electric truck operation

The Volvo LIGHTS Project got a glimpse behind the fleet yard fence at NFI’s Chino, Calif., location to talk with the fleet managers and drivers who operate the electric trucks day in and day out. Check out these pics, and then stay tuned for a video with an in-depth look.


Real-world experience with heavy-duty battery electric vehicles

Keith Brandis took the stage to moderate several panels. The first panel was focused on the real-world experiences of putting battery electric trucks into operation in California under the LIGHTS project. On stage was:

• Larkin Williams, general manager, Quality Custom Distribution (QCD), Los Angeles facility
• Jeff Pals, executive vice president, fleet maintenance 10 Roads Express.
• Justine Chao, senior project manager, Charge Ready Transport, Southern California Edison
• Tom Ashley, vice president, policy and market development, Shell Recharge Solutions

Here were a few of the quotable takeaways:

Williams: We currently run under 50 routes a day. We have 30 electric vehicles that are going to come in next year. Our routes run overnight, so we’re looking forward to the quietness of the fleet. But one of the challenges is: What’s the range? Our routes tend to be around 100 miles or so, but that’s a lot of start-stops. The fleet we have coming in has a range 250 miles, so we’re fine. We’re also running a micro grid that consists of solar panels, natural gas generator and battery bank to store the energy. So we can avoid some of the high-demand times.

Pals: We all have a social responsibility to lower our carbon footprint, but our customer is also focused on sustainability. We place a high priority on it. … As far as the charging network, we have one truck as a part of the LIGHTS program. Because we’re still scaling up, we have a mobile 50 kW charger and that has served our needs. Going forward, it’s important to have an expert at the utility company to engage with. It’s a complicated process.

Chao: We recognize that having on-route charging options is important to enable long-haul trucking, but also operators in drayage application. As a company, we’re thinking about it. We view public charging as very important. We’ve learned a lot about electric vehicle operations. We’re incorporating all of these learnings to deploy infrastructure.

Ashley: It’s not hard to electrify, but there are a lot of components and putting all of those together can be more art than science. Our work in the LIGHTS Project helped guide with what we do going forward in our innovation lab in Los Angeles. Before this, we were focused on hardware and software–and it sounds simple now–but we weren’t testing the hardware, the vehicle and the software together. Now we do that. It sounds so simple, but it wasn’t happening in the industry back then. Now we don’t deploy hardware before testing with vehicles.

Here’s Jeff Pals on the maintenance impact electric trucks have:

Here’s Justine Chao talking about the importance of charging infrastructure incentives:

The community benefits of electric vehicles

The panel on stage talked workforce development, reduced noise and reduced air pollution. Here’s who’s on stage (left to right):

• Kenny Melancon, faculty chair and associate professor, San Bernardino Valley College
• Diana Fox, executive director, Reach Out
• Greg Ham, service manager, TEC Equipment Fontana
• Dawn Fenton, vice president, government relations and public affairs, Volvo Group North America

The panel discussed the surprises they came across during the Volvo LIGHTS Project, as well as the way electric trucks have changed technician duties and student technician curriculum. Listen to their experiences in the video below:

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