Not far from Paris, we had the chance to get on board the Volta Zero from Volta Trucks. We’ll see the 16-tonne electric truck on European roads starting next year. The very first result of quite an ambitious project that we have spoken about many times, the Volta Zero is a truck conceived in an innovative and unconventional way and based on certain key components (electrified axle and transmission, as well as batteries above all, supplied by Meritor and Proterra respectively) that certainly make it unique.
The Volta Zero as the core of an innovative project
Volta Trucks, a Swedish flagship company but a de facto European one, has in recent years mostly thought about growing a structure around the electric truck project, coming to employ – we are told – one person every 22 hours and more than tenfold the initial active workforce. Founders Carl-Magnus Norden and Kjel Waloen, driven by the twin goals of putting the driver back at the heart of the vehicle and bringing zero-emission trucks to Europe’s major cities, have so far hit the roadmap announced in 2019 on the mark: in less than three years, they have gone from design to prototype, carried out a large number of road tests and identified the European production site in Steyr, Austria, where series production is expected to begin in early 2023. Pre-orders, then, are not lacking.
Before we even talk about the sales, after-sales and consultancy strategy envisioned by Volta Trucks, we owe you our impressions on board the truck. What stands out first of all is the shape of the cab, with a very low floor and two side doors, as if it were a bus. The driver is in the middle, and not just metaphorically: the seat, which is markedly lower than in traditional trucks, is exactly in the middle of the cab, with two passenger seats, one on the right and one on the left. There is no real dashboard but a screen that serves as the main display and gives information primarily on range and speed, two touch screens for lights, climate control, navigation and route planning, plus very few buttons for operating the vehicle and opening doors. There are no mirrors but mirror cams that return images of the vehicle’s exterior.
Between a bus and a truck
The Volta Zero could be defined, in a certain sense, as a hybrid between a truck and a bus also in terms of the visibility offered by a very wide windscreen that embraces the driver’s gaze almost to 220 degrees and offers (here we speak of advanced safety) a clear view down and to the sides. Anything that might obstruct the driver’s view was deleted within a vehicle conceived expressly to run in the city and share vital space with all those who live in the city centre, whether pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or drivers.
A vehicle that was born electric, the Volta Zero has a simplified architecture that is mainly due to the Meritor electrified axle that eliminates the need for a drive shaft and allows the battery packs supplied by Proterra (2 or 3 depending on the configuration, with a range of between 150 and 200 kilometres) to be installed between the frame rails, with the advantage of greater protection and safety. The 16-ton Volta Zero is 9,200 millimetres long, with a wheelbase of 4,800 millimetres. It has a turning radius of 14 metres and can accommodate 16 Euro pallets with a loading capacity of approximately 8 tonnes (and a volume of 37.7 cubic metres). From the inside, the acceleration is typical of electric trucks. Noise and vibrations are close to zero, even though we could tested the vehicle in a ‘protected’ environment such as a test track: we look forward to the road test to confirm our very first impressions.
Smaller versions are on the way
As already widely announced, the 16-tonne will only be the first of the Volta Zero trucks we will see on the road in Europe. Smaller versions (7.5 and 12-tonne) are planned for 2024 and there will also be an 18-tonne version. In all cases, the building philosophy does not change. The decision to start with the 16-tonne – in the words of Carl-Magnus Norden – is due to a market analysis and the desire to tackle the segment occupied in some cases by 3.5-tonne large vans with a larger truck. The philosophy is clear: fewer vehicles on the road reduces the urban distribution footprint in cities.
Europe first, then North America
Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany are indeed at the centre of Volta Trucks’ thoughts, before the announced approach to the North American market. With France in the front row, since the first hub has recently been inaugurated, as well as the first purely commercial ‘showcase’ in the centre of Paris. Back to hubs, these are equipped with a specialised workshop, administrative offices, showrooms, a training centre and a 24/7 call centre. This is a fundamental support to the TaaS (Truck-as-a-Service) strategy, in which Volta Trucks strongly believes, which is based on an all-in-one formula that includes, for a pre-established monthly fee, a series of services ranging from assistance to advice on electrifying the fleet, to training, telematics services, insurance and financing. The formula also includes a replacement Volta Zero vehicle where necessary.
A package that, to put it bluntly, can even include the planning and execution of civil work to lay the charging infrastructure in the depot. Volta Trucks aims to act as a one-stop shop for those wishing to electrify all or part of their fleet. The challenge is set, and Volta Trucks’ presence at the upcoming IAA will allow us to better position the Volta Zero in the plethora of solutions that the industry will offer the last mile market in the coming years.