Volvo launches heavy electric trucks

Volvo adds heavyweight series to its electric range. FM, FMX and FH Electric will be available from 4x2 to 8x4 by the beginning of 2023.

Volvo adds heavyweight series to its electric range. FM, FMX and FH Electric will be available from 4x2 to 8x4 by the beginning of 2023.

From 2022, the heavy FM (distribution transport), FMX (construction transport) and FH Electric (regional long-distance transport) ranges will be available and can be ordered immediately. The start of series production is planned for the second half of the year in Tuve/Gothenburg, with further plants to follow. The timetable initially includes 4x2 and 6x2 semitrailer tractors for up to 44 tons of towing weight, with chassis up to 8x4 expected from the beginning of 2023.

Volvo has provided an FH with a two-axle semitrailer and an FMX as a tridem four-axle with a loading crane, loaded to around 36 and 27 tons respectively, for the first electric test drives. The fact that these are pre-production vehicles becomes clear at first glance at the instruments, which almost completely still correspond to the diesel. For example, the consumption displays (kWh/100 km and kWh/h) are there, but they have not been filled with life, and the battery charge level and remaining range data is rather volatile and needs to be treated with caution. Specific information on power consumption and energy recuperation will still be on the agenda right up to the start of production.

All the same, the powertrain corresponds to the later series. Both vehicles boast a maximum power storage capacity of 540 kWh, and the combined power output of 490 kW from three electric motors is transmitted via an I-Shift gearbox to the rear axles with a ratio of 3.08 (FH) and 3.09 (FMX). You cannot fail to be amazed when the vehicle starts up: despite its load, the vehicle starts in seventh gear on the flat. The electronic system generally only uses the large group, while the lower gears are reserved for extreme situations, such as starting on steep inclines.

Audible warning signals for pedestrians and cyclists

From the get-go, both vehicles start up almost silently, and even when they get going there is hardly any noise to be heard apart from the wind and tire noise. As creep speed can be treacherous, especially in urban traffic, Volvo has developed special warning signals especially for pedestrians and cyclists (since July 2021, all new electric vehicles in the EU have had to emit a certain sound level at speeds below 20 km/h). The corresponding Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) is automatically activated when the vehicle starts with four sounds, with different sounds and frequencies when the vehicle is stationary, starting/accelerating, decelerating and reversing. The acoustic alert system was not yet installed on the test vehicles, although samples of the sounds are available on Internet platforms, including the Volvo Trucks YouTube channel.

After 20 years of production, the I-Shift transmission is already one of the most gentle and fastest gear shifts on the market with the diesel Volvo – of course, its convenience is further enhanced with the electric models. Both the four-axle and the semitrailer move smoothly in town and in the country, with the shifting processes barely noticeable. The assistance systems and their operation are also largely the same as with the combustion engines, with the I-Shift program selector either on the driver’s seat (as in the FMX) or on the dashboard (in the FH). The biggest difference from the diesel is the use of the engine brake lever, which also heralds in brake energy recovery (recuperation) when the vehicle is decelerating. In the zero position, the vehicle coasts to a standstill without energy recovery. In positions 1 to 3 the electric motors, acting as retarders, brake the vehicle as soon as the driver’s foot is lifted off the accelerator pedal.

The three electric motors in the FMX and FH are standard, as is a specially adapted version of the I-Shift gearbox. Three possible auxiliary drive options are available: an electric one with 40 kW, an electromechanical one with 70 kW and, typically for a loading crane as on the FMX we drove, a transmission-side auxiliary drive producing 150 kW.

Volvo builds the lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 90 kWh and weighing 500 kilograms in its plant in Ghent. As standard, the FM, FMX and FH have five or six battery packs producing 450 or 540 kWh. The vehicles come with AC charging with up to 43 kW and DC charging with up to 250 kW. In the latter case, according to Volvo, up to 80 percent of the battery capacity can be charged in less than 90 minutes. With 250 kW, it takes just under two hours to go from 0 to 100 battery charge, while it can easily take ten hours with AC charging.

Nach mittlerweile 20 Produktionsjahren darf das I-Shift-Getriebe schon bei den Diesel-Volvo zu den sanftesten und schnellsten Schaltungen auf dem Markt zählen – bei den Elektromodellen wird der Komfort freilich noch getoppt. Sowohl mit dem Vierachser als auch mit dem Sattelzug geht es extrem geschmeidig durch die Stadt und übers Land, die Schaltvorgänge sind kaum zu spüren. Dabei entsprechen auch die Assistenzsysteme und die Bedienung weitgehend den Verbrennern, mit der I-Shift-Programmwahl entweder am Fahrersitz (exemplarisch im FMX) oder im Armaturenbrett (im FH). Den größten Unterschied zum Diesel markiert das Hantieren mit dem Motorbremshebel, der mit der Verzögerung auch die Bremsenergierückgewinnung (Rekuperation) einläutet. In der Nullstellung wird ohne Rekuperation maximal ausgerollt, in den Stellungen 1 bis 3 schon beim Lösen des Gaspedals mit den als Retarder wirkenden E-Motoren gebremst.

Die jeweils drei E-Motoren im FMX und FH sind Serie, ebenso das I-Shift-Getriebe in eigens angepasster Elektroversion. Für einen eventuellen Nebenantrieb stehen drei Optionen zur Wahl: eine elektrische mit 40, eine elektromechanische mit 70 und, typischerweise für einen Ladekran wie am gefahrenen FMX, eine getriebeseitige mit 150 kW.

Die Lithium-Ionen-Batterien mit einer Kapazität von 90 kWh und 500 Kilogramm Stückgewicht baut Volvo im Werk Gent. Standardmäßig sind an den FM, FMX und FH fünf oder sechs Batteriepakete mit 450 oder 540 kWh installiert. Möglich sind eine AC-Aufladung mit bis zu 43 kW und eine DC-Aufladung mit bis zu 250 kW. Im zweiten Fall lassen sich laut Volvo bis zu 80 Prozent der Batteriekapazität in weniger als 90 Minuten laden. Von 0 auf 100, bezogen auf die Batterieladung, geht es mit 250 kW in knapp zwei Stunden, mit Wechselstrom kann es locker zehn Stunden dauern.

The FMX Electric now provides electric trucks for construction sites too. Photo: Volvo

Only trucks with alternative drive will be available from 2040

Volvo plans to achieve half of its turnover from electric commercial vehicles by 2030. From 2040, the Swedes will only be selling trucks with alternative drive systems, that is battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles, as well as combustion engines powered by electric fuels, HVO, biodiesel, bio-LNG and possibly also hydrogen.

The path is already being paved with partners: some 1,700 public truck charging stations are to be built in Europe in conjunction with Daimler and the Traton Group. Volvo is already working with Daimler on fuel cells and the launch of Cellcentric, its joint fuel cell, was announced in March 2021. Volvo is also looking at niche and special applications beyond its (large) series, for example with a stake in Designwerk, the Swiss electric truck conversion company, by the Volvo-based brand Futuricum.