Volvo Charts Its Path Towards Zero Emissions

Volvo Trucks is leading the charge to net zero emissions by 2050, but will other OEMs follow?

The FH16 is one of the trucks that features Volvo’s new D17 engine. (Volvo)

Volvo Trucks is betting on themselves to reach the aggressive goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The company is taking an almost fanatical approach to its emissions reduction targets in hopes that other OEMs will follow their lead. Volvo refers to this approach as “The Road to Net Zero.”

Inside the Volvo Trucks assembly plant in Gothenburg, Sweeden. (Volvo)

SAE Media was invited to Gothenburg, Sweeden, to tour many of Volvo’s facilities and experience its latest truck offerings at its proving grounds. In addition to touring the newly christened World of Volvo, the company’s new experience center located in the heart of Gothenburg, our group of select journalists was provided unfettered access to company engineers and executives to glean how the company plans to achieve its ambitious targets.

“We are not doing this simply because we have to,” said Roger Alm, executive VP of Volvo Group and president of Volvo Trucks. “We are taking this approach because we believe it is the right thing to do to preserve the environment for future generations.”

A multifaceted approach

The D17 is Volvo’s latest 17-liter architecture with power outputs ranging from 600 to 780 hp (447 to 582 kW). (Volvo)

Like most OEMs, Volvo is taking a multi-pronged approach to achieving net-zero emissions. The company has invested heavily in engineering and R&D for multiple propulsion systems and technologies. Though battery-electric trucks are certainly part of the picture in Volvo’s projection for the heavy-duty sector, they do not represent a solution for all markets and customers in the company’s view.

Volvo projects that battery and fuel-cell electric trucks will begin to take over share of the truck market in the coming decades. (Volvo)

“Too many politicians across the globe are a little bit too trigger-happy and want to ban technologies instead of telling us what they want to achieve,” said Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer of Volvo Group. “We don’t want governments to ban technologies, we want them to ask us what it is they want to accomplish, then let our engineers accomplish that goal.”

Nowhere is the commitment to this approach more apparent than on the shop floor at Volvo Trucks’ main assembly plant in Gothenburg, where traditional ICE trucks are built in series with its electric units. The assembly line is a fishbone layout, where trucks come down individual lines, but then converge into a single line to form the spine of the plant.

Volvo has invested heavily in engineering and R&D for multiple propulsion systems and technologies. (Volvo)

During the plant tour, SAE Media witnessed the marriage of both ICE and electric powertrains to their respective chassis, including the installation of Volvo’s new flagship D17 diesel engine. In addition to investing large sums into its R&D center for continued development of ICE and BEV powertrain technologies, Volvo also laid out plans for its new European battery factory in the Skaraborg region in Sweden.

Volvo FH and FM heavy-duty trucks use NCA lithium-ion batteries supplied by Samsung SDI. (Ryan Gehm)

According to Volvo executives, the proposed site in the municipality of Mariestad was selected in part due to its proximity to Volvo Group’s current main powertrain plant in Skövde. The proposed site sits roughly two hours from Volvo Group’s R&D centers and headquarters in Gothenburg.

During our stay in Gothenburg, Volvo executives detailed the purchase of and plans for Proterra, which was acquired by Volvo in the first quarter of this year. Volvo’s acquisition included all business assets of Proterra Inc. as well as the Proterra Operating Company. The firm was acquired for a reported sum of 210 million USD and included Proterra’s development center for battery modules and packs in California as well as its assembly factory in Greer, South Carolina.

“These assets and the skills and competence of the Proterra team are a great complement to our current footprint and enables us to accelerate our battery-electric roadmap even further,” Stenqvist said in a statement. Volvo reportedly plans to operate Proterra as a supplier and deliver battery packs to selected customers.

Mean and green ICE

Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer of Volvo Group. (Volvo)

On the other end of the propulsion spectrum, Volvo’s new D17 engine is powering some of the most powerful trucks currently on sale in the EU. SAE Media was able to experience this engine from behind the wheel in an FH16 truck at Volvo’s proving grounds in Gothenburg. Though the tandem trailers that were hitched to our test vehicle were unladen, the ease with which the truck moved them up grades was impressive, and it was apparent that there was plenty of power in reserve.

The D17 is Volvo’s latest 17-liter architecture with power outputs ranging from 600 to 780 hp (447 to 582 kW). Torque output ranges from 3000 to 3800 Nm (2212 to 2802 lb-ft). The D17 is outfitted with a single turbocharger as well as Volvo’s patented wave piston design that optimizes combustion and reduces emissions. The design is also shared with the D13 engine in the recently announced VNL for North America.

Volvo states that the new D17 is certified to run on HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) in all power ratings. The 700-hp version is also certified to run on 100% biodiesel (B100). Sales of the Volvo FH16 with the new D17 engine will reportedly begin in mid-2024, with production slated to begin in the second half of this year.

The big picture

So how do these strategies converge? Investing in the production of electric trucks (as well as fuel cells) while also producing the company’s largest and most powerful IC engine ever may seem counterintuitive to Volvo’s goal of net-zero emissions on the surface. But there is a method — and science — to this Scandinavian brand of madness.

Regulations that on one hand appear to be squeezing ICE out of the picture have opened opportunities for behemoths like the D17. For example, the Swedish government recently enacted new length and weight regulations for Class 8 trucks. These regs, which went into effect in December of last year, permit the use of combination trailers of up to 113 feet (34.5 meters) long with a GCW of up to 100 tons on specific Swedish highways.

According to statistics presented by Volvo from the Swedish government, it is estimated that utilizing these longer and heavier trailers reduces energy consumption by up to 30% for individual routes and by 4-6% when extrapolated across the transport industry. These figures also reportedly apply to other propulsion systems such as BEVs and hydrogen fuel cells. Volvo estimates that one 34.5-m tractor-trailer can carry the same freight as two or three conventional trucks.

That said, Volvo projects that battery and fuel-cell electric trucks will begin to take over share of the truck market in the coming decades. According to company projections, battery and fuel-cell trucks will overtake sales of ICE units sometime between 2030 and 2040, with market share between the three propulsion systems stabilizing around 2040.

“We are committed to our emissions goals: 50% of our new trucks will be zero-emission vehicles by 2030. And 100% of our new trucks will be zero emission by 2040,” Alm said. “Our entire global population of new trucks will be zero-emission vehicles by 2050.”