Even if you’ve been to an ACT Expo at some point in the last dozen or so years, the 2023 Advanced Clean Transportation show in Anaheim, California, this week was almost unrecognizable. Gone are the niche sensibility and future-looking concepts, replaced with packed activations loaded with high-tech electric and hydrogen-fueled fleet solutions that are, if not ready today, coming in a matter of months.
One company that’s been “Leading the Shift” to more sustainable trucking, though, is Volvo, which sponsored the ACT media room and was kind enough to grant me an audience with some of its heavy hitters.
Fredy Daza, director of Volvo’s Innovation Lab in Mountain View, California, was one of them. “The Innovation Lab enables co-creation with startups and partners to uncover new value pools for Volvo products,” he began, by way of explaining what Volvo’s Innovation Lab is all about. “We are looking at all the connected solutions in our products, the entire digital experience, and optimizing for both sustainability and safety.”
Volvo, of course, is all about safety, but some of the safety tech it is working on in its California incubator goes a step beyond the kind of crash test safety you’re probably thinking of. “It is not only tracking who is driving which vehicle,” says Daza, “but securing that the operator has the correct licensing to drive the vehicle. Our “Smart Access” initiative is a good example, where we co-created technology with partners to ensure that everyone moving these vehicles has the proper training.”
That’s just one example of the kind of tech being developed there. “Every pain point and challenge our customers face, from route planning to quantifying total emissions by SKU, we try to enable and get value back from the data being generated.”
Volvo Group, by building its Innovation Lab in the heart of Silicon Valley, hopes to leverage the vibrant startup ecosystem to co-develop technology that can be disruptive and drive real progress towards a zero-emission future. When I asked about the motivations behind the Innovation Lab, which didn’t seem to have a direct connection to big semis and construction equipment that I could see, I got an answer I didn’t expect.
“We have a mantra at Volvo,” said Daza, “that partnership is the new leadership. We feel that by partnering with startups and innovators they will help get us there. We are walking that path.”
These ideas are echoed by Gustavo Guerra, the copmany’s Vice President of Strategic Product Planning. Gustavo’s background is in design — he’s a creative, not the typical CFO or actuarial money guy that usually runs a product planning division at an established brand. I asked him about that, implying just a little bit that Volvo had, perhaps, gone a bit mad.
“Yes, it’s funny,” Guerra said, smiling. “In a stable market, like we have had in diesel trucks and equipment for many decades, you want a numbers guy! But in today’s market? No one knows what 2040 is going to look like — no one knows what 2030 will look like! So you cannot look at trends or numbers only, you need to be able to anticipate the style and the demands and the priorities of the customers, and that is not just numbers.”
We spoke a bit more about the growth of the sustainable transport market, and I made a comment that, even here at ACT, it seemed like “climate change” was a dirty word. “‘Sustainability’ it seems like people can say,” I said. “But ‘climate change’? Nobody is talking about that.”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Guerra. “For sure we are talking about climate change. For sure the planet has limits — that science is irrefutable. Dana, in their presentation, talks about this as well.”
I missed Dana’s presentation (there is, without question, too much to cover at ACT for one guy), but there’s no question that Volvo is the most vocal about climate change — but that should come as no surprise.
“Since 1992, we have had sustainability listed as a value in our annuals,” says Guerra. “When it is part of the lingo, it adds credibility and becomes a common topic throughout the organization. It helps to build intent the right way.”
I asked about Volvo rolling out its second generation electric semi and Class 8 HD trucks last year, and how it is already talking about a Gen 3 BEV that increases power density, range, and overall capacity. I specifically tried to get him to throw some shade over at Tesla’s perpetually delayed semis at the show, still in Frito-Lay livery, and presumably fresh from delivering a load of Lay’s potato chips to the show’s concession stands.
Guerra didn’t take the bait, but did give me a bit of a wink as he said, “I hope it is clear that we are leading the shift.”
Volvo Group — along with Volvo Cars, which is a separate company — has a stated goal of being truly net zero carbon by 2040, with “truly” meaning that it won’t be relying on, or participating in the carbon credit markets to make it happen. The companies will rely on carbon-free steel, circular material economies, and more to help make that happen.
“If we wouldn’t do that,” says Guerra, “it won’t happen.”
Original content from CleanTechnica, with special thanks to Volvo Group for hosting us.
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