Volvo Hits Milestones for Autonomous Trucks and Electrified Off-Highway Machine

Volvo unveils VNL Autonomous and availability of EC230 electric excavator at ACT Expo 2024.

Volvo states that the VNL Autonomous will enable the use of its in-house developed virtual driver for additional applications. (Volvo)

Volvo made several key announcements at the 2024 ACT Expo in Las Vegas. The company also reaffirmed its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions with a 100% fossil-free fleet of trucks and off-highway machines by 2040.

“The sustainable future is not only about electric trucks, though they do play a very important role,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America. “It’s about all the things that we transport. For a sustainable future, there is not one silver bullet. We will have different technologies that all enable zero-emissions trucks. This will include electric drivelines, hydrogen fuel cells, and internal combustion engines.”

Volvo announced that the EC230 electric excavator is now commercially available in North America. (Volvo)

Volvo’s plan to decarbonize will involve BEVs as well as renewable diesel and other fossil-free fuels. “One partnership with Westport demonstrates this commitment to sustainability,” Voorhoeve said. “Together with Westport, we will develop engines that will be able to burn liquid biofuel or hydrogen.”

Volvo is also reducing its own carbon footprint by filling trucks with renewable diesel fuel as they come off the factory line. “We don’t use [fossil] diesel at our factories anymore,” Voorhoeve said. “We use HVO. By doing this, we will, on a yearly basis, move from 1.1-million gallons of traditional diesel to 1.1-million gallons of HVO. This has an immediate impact on the CO2 output of our factory by about 85%.”

Autonomy announced

Volvo Autonomous Solutions unveiled its first production-ready autonomous truck, the VNL Autonomous, at ACT Expo. The truck features the Aurora Driver system from Aurora Innovation. Volvo and Aurora’s engineering teams collaborated to integrate the system and create an SAE level four automated system. The Volvo VNL Autonomous will be assembled at Volvo's New River Valley (NRV) plant in Dublin, Virginia.

Volvo announced that the EC230 electric excavator is now commercially available in North America. (Volvo)

"This truck is the first of our standardized global autonomous technology platform, which will enable us to introduce additional models in the future, bringing autonomy to all Volvo Group truck brands,” said Nils Jaeger, president of Volvo Autonomous Solutions.

The Aurora Driver consists of Al software, dual computers, proprietary Iidar sensors that can detect objects more than 400 meters (1,300 ft.) away, high-resolution cameras, imaging radar and additional sensors. Volvo states that the platform-based design approach of the VNL Autonomous will enable the use of its in-house developed virtual driver for trucks and machines working within confined applications.

"Our platform engineering approach prioritizes safety by incorporating high-assurance redundancy systems designed to mitigate potential emergency situations," said Shahrukh Kazmi, chief product officer at Volvo Autonomous Solutions. "We built the Volvo VNL Autonomous from the ground up, integrating these redundancy systems to ensure that every safety-critical component is intentionally duplicated.”

Now on demand

Volvo Trucks also announced Volvo on Demand at ACT Expo, an initiative that provides a Truck-as-a-Service (TaaS) business model to increase the adoption rate of electrified trucks.

“Volvo on Demand is the easiest way for customers to add a battery-electric truck to their fleet by providing the ability to test the technology and understand the requirements to operate an electric fleet without a substantial upfront investment,” said Charles Carter, vice president, services and solutions.

Volvo’s on demand program will utilize 25 Class 8 VNR Electric trucks. (Volvo)

The program will use 25 Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric trucks, including 20 6x4 tractors with the six-battery configuration and five 4x2 tractors with the four-battery configuration. The program will reportedly provide customers with flexible term options as short as 12 months.

“Today, we have customers who’ve successfully deployed the VNR Electric and are continuing to seek ways to scale their operations,” said Jared Ruiz, regional VP of Volvo Trucks. “We have a number of customers who have expressed interest in adding the VNR Electric to their operation but want to understand how it will fit within their specific applications.”

Volvo currently has 470 electric VNR trucks on the road with 57 different customers. “An electric truck is the same as an ICE truck in that it is an asset that is meant for transportation, which is why we want to have an uptime of 95% for our battery-electric trucks,” Voorhoeve said.

Electrified excavation

Ray Gallant, VP sustainability and productivity services, provided an update on Volvo CE’s sustainability efforts and the results of several trial programs that the company has run using electric excavators. “It’s an exciting time in the off-road segment as this transformation starts to gain traction,” Gallant said. “Collaborating with our on-road-focused colleagues has helped us accelerate the transition in thoughtful and significant ways.”

Gallant outlined Volvo CE’s broad strategy for gaining adoption of the firm’s electrified offerings.

“You don’t achieve sustainability, you’re always working to be more sustainable throughout the lifecycle of your products,” he said. “There are three key steps to creating that sustainability. First, you have to prove that the new equipment and sustainable power sources will perform at least as well as the machines they’re replacing. If we can’t do that, it’s very hard to convince customers to make the switch to new equipment.

“The second step is that we have to prove and ensure as OEMs that there is a charging infrastructure for these new sustainable power systems, be it electric, hydrogen or alternate fuels. We have to make sure that customers can refuel and run their machines continually. The third is probably most important. Once we have the product and charging or refueling proven, then we can work with our customers to find new applications that the sustainable machines can do better than the ones they’re replacing.”

Volvo introduced its first battery electric off-highway machines (three small excavators and two small compact loaders) in 2019 and first brought them into the U.S. in 2021. During its press conference at ACT Expo this year, Volvo announced that the EC230 electric excavator is now commercially available in North America with two new charging units. The EC230 is a 23-ton unit that represents a new high watermark for electrified excavators. According to Volvo, most electric-only machines currently on the market are compact models.

Volvo has run several pilot programs with the EC230 in locations such as Los Angeles, Stockholm, and British Columbia in a variety of applications. One program participant was Coastal Waste & Recycling in Florida, which reportedly used an EC230 to process up to 100 tons of construction and demolition debris and green waste per hour. The machine was used for a morning shift, charged during lunch and then used again for the afternoon, allowing the company to get eight hours of work from the machine each day.

“This project demonstrated that, even though production of the machine has a higher carbon footprint in comparison to its diesel equivalent, the fuel savings and carbon reduction offset that in just over 800 hours of use,” said Gallant. “The cost savings are just as important because if these solutions don’t make financial sense in addition to the emissions reduction, adoption will lag.”

Volvo CE has also announced two new partnerships on charging products. One with Portable Electric for a Level 2 portable charging unit for compact equipment and the other with Utility Innovation Group (UIG) for high-power DC portable charging. Those units were on display at the show, along with the EC230.

“The most prominent benefits of electric machines are the elimination of emissions and the significant reduction in noise and vibration,” said Gallant. “We are seeing this equipment do well in a wide variety of applications where these benefits are really appreciated. Early adopters have brought us many unique opportunities and solutions.”