There have been some exciting announcements this week in the South African electric mobility sector. One of the really exciting ones was the announcement from Volvo Cars South Africa that the new electric Volvo EX30 compact SUV is coming to South Africa early next year at a very attractive price. The electric car market in South Africa is starting to get some traction, with sales up 106% in the first four months of the year compared to the same period last year.
Now, in another exciting development, Volvo Trucks South Africa has officially launched its electric truck range in South Africa. The company is offering its most popular extra heavy trucks in its electric lineup: the Volvo FH, the Volvo FM, and the Volvo FMX. They will be available in truck tractor or rigid configurations, from 4×2 to 8×4, meaning this will be the industry’s most extensive portfolio of zero-exhaust emission trucks.
The Swedish truck manufacturer has sold almost 5,000 electric trucks since 2019 in about 40 countries and is now getting some good traction in South Africa. Waldemar Christensen, managing director of Volvo Trucks South Africa, says the company was pleasantly surprised by the amount of local interest in its electric trucks, and that the first movers in South Africa are companies that value their environmental impact and already have programs to reduce emissions.
“The size of the company is largely irrelevant. Transporters can see that electric drivelines are going to play a bigger role in our near future, and many want to get early exposure on how the technology works in real operations, so they are positioned well for the shift,” commented Christensen. “There is also no single silver bullet transport solution that can address all the fleet owner’s requirements. Therefore, Volvo Trucks offers battery-electric, fuel-cell electric and internal combustion engine trucks running on renewable fuels under its three-pronged approach. We believe electrification will happen segment by segment and region by region.”
Volvo Trucks South Africa’s first electric FM 4X2 tractor was presented to one of Volvo Trucks South Africa’s customers, KDG Logistics, earlier this week. The company will use the truck in its operations to move new passenger vehicles between factories/storage facilities and the Durban Port.
“Our move to electric trucks was driven by our objective to be more efficient in every aspect of our business,” said Abdool Kamdar, KDG Logistics’ manager of Decarbonization and Net Zero. “We believe what sets us apart from our competitors is the fact that we focus on operational and environmental efficiencies in our business, which includes steps to lessen our impact on the environment and enhance safety for all road users.”
Kamdar explained that the company wanted to be one of the first movers on battery electric trucks to gain experience, knowledge, and operational miles in the first generation of these units, to fully understand and take advantage of future efficiencies as the technology develops and expands. KDG Group has a longstanding relationship with Volvo Trucks and has 175 diesel units in its fleet already.
“We have been a 100% Volvo Trucks fleet since 2015, and that is because we believe that the trucks are inherently designed to be the safest possible trucks on the road, but at the same time they are the most operationally efficient from a reliability and fuel consumption point of view,” explained Kamdar. “So, it comes down to understanding what the brand can deliver from past experiences and building on that for a more sustainable future, and to bring our customers more value mile after mile.”
Eric Parry, Volvo Trucks SA’s sustainable solutions manager, said the trucks have been designed, developed, and built to handle any major commercial operation that South African companies need to deal with.
“Our trucks are designed to handle high temperature ranges and a variety of operational conditions. With a driveline that has 490kW or power and 2400Nm of torque, it will not struggle on the hills,” explained Parry. “One of the main advantages of going electric is that it provides drivers with a silent and vibration-free ride while delivering smooth and massive power.”
Depending on the model, two or three electric motors combined with an I-Shift gearbox adapted for electromobility provide a smooth and powerful driving experience. The massive power of up to 490 kW/665 hp is handled by a unique traction control system also developed to master slippery surfaces. Different drive modes are available to set the desired performance, comfort, and energy usage levels. When fitted with six battery packs, depending on the application, it has 378 kWh of energy, ensuring sufficient range for most regional haul assignments.
Volvo says the electric trucks are just as flexible as their diesel equivalents and can be built for virtually any task. And the absence of noise and emissions makes them perfect for nighttime assignments. Volvo’s electric trucks also meet the same high crash safety standards as the company’s other trucks and offer the same safety systems as the diesel models.
“So, no adaptations were necessary before introducing the vehicles in SA. They have been homologated and continuously tested in real-life operations and we are happy to say that so far, all is going well,” said Parry.
Staff have already been trained in the new technologies and tools and equipment required to support electric truck customers every step of the way. “Having this in place was a pre-requisite before any one of the vehicles touched rubber on our shores, for the ultimate benefit of our customers,” stated Christensen. The batteries and the overall condition of the trucks are constantly monitored to allow any measures that need to be taken during the next service visit to be identified in good time.
Volvo says the electric trucks will need to be serviced only once a year, so fleet downtime will be kept to a minimum. The company has also installed 120 kW DC fast chargers at each of its main dealerships, primarily as a workshop tool, but also to support demo vehicles if needed. When approached by customers who want to make the move to electric trucks, Volvo Trucks uses specialized simulation tools to model a fleet’s operations and then advises them on whether the proposed route or application is feasible.
“We also use this to advise on ideal charging locations, route planning, traffic information, topography and more. We are also making a customer version of this available within Volvo Connect that will allow customers to check the feasibility and challenges of routes on their own,” explained Parry. “With us, going electric can be a straightforward process. We’ll look through your objectives, needs and routines and help you turn them into a transport solution. As well as defining the best charging setup, we’re on hand to make sure that you get exactly the right trucks and services to match your requirements for productivity and performance through to the day-to-day planning and administration of your business.”
Volvo says the electric truck’s range is up to 300 km, enough for most city and regional applications. However, the trucks can cover up to 500 km during a normal workday if a top-up charge is added, for example during the lunch break.
Volvo’s electric trucks can be charged with an AC charger at up to 43 kW and with a DC system with a capacity of up to 250 kW. Using a 43 kW AC charger, it takes around nine hours to fully charge the batteries. With a 250 kW DC charger, the charging time is reduced to approximately two hours. The battery can be charged more quickly up to 80% capacity, in just the same way as a smartphone, because the charger slows down towards the end of the process to protect the battery cells.
The electric trucks use lithium-ion batteries produced at the Volvo battery assembly plant in Ghent, Belgium. The extra heavy electric trucks will initially be offered with five or six battery packs. Each battery pack has a total energy of 90 kWh, which means either 450 kWh or 540 kWh of total energy. Each battery weighs approximately 500 kg.
Parry explained that at this stage, the electric trucks are mostly aimed at regional distribution customers. In most of those cases, they return to a home base at some point in the day. This is usually the point where charging makes the most sense. So public charging is not as relevant for these operations. Having control of their own charging allows customers to fix their costs of energy.
“As a company, we are not bringing a specific charging solution but are working with locally based suppliers who can install, maintain, and manage chargers. We are going to be able to offer charger financing through Volvo Financial Services if required,” said Parry.
According to Christensen, South Africa is expected to be a low-volume market at the start. “We need to get the necessary support from the government to help customers transition to electromobility, both in a reduction in import duties and in terms of technical allowances for carrying more weight. Until that happens, we are not going to see mass adoption,” said Christensen. “Ultimately, we hope to assemble electric trucks locally at our Durban plant. This will be heavily influenced by the regulatory environment. If we can get the necessary support to help drive uptake, then we can have a market big enough to support the economies of scale to justify further investments to assemble locally.”
Images courtesy of Volvo Trucks South Africa
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