Volta Trucks, the start-up electric vehicle manufacturer, has revealed the new Volta Zero – its first vehicle and the world’s first purpose-built full-electric 16-tonne commercial vehicle designed specifically for inner-city parcel and freight distribution.
The Volta Zero will start undertaking operator trials with some of Europe’s largest parcel delivery and logistics companies in H1-2021. Orders have already been taken from companies wanting to secure the first customer-specification vehicles, which are due to be delivered when production starts in 2022.
“Commercial vehicles form the lifeblood of commerce and livelihoods in cities, but today’s large trucks dangerously impose themselves on our streets and dominate their surroundings. With the launch of the Volta Zero, we are changing the face of road transport. Volta Trucks is redefining the perception of the large commercial vehicle, and how it operates in and integrates with, the zero-emission towns and cities of the future. This is made possible by the three pillars that define both Volta Trucks as a business and the Volta Zero – safety, sustainability, and electrification. Add to that our unique Truck as a Service proposition that reimagines a fleet manager’s business model. At Volta Trucks, we are directly contributing to society’s migration towards an electrified future,” said Rob Fowler, Chief Executive Officer of Volta Trucks.
Designed from a blank sheet of paper to be the safest commercial vehicle
The removal of the traditional internal combustion engine enabled the designers and engineers of the Volta Zero to completely rethink how a truck has always been designed. The driver of a Volta Zero has a wide 220-degrees of direct vision around the vehicle. This panoramic view of the surroundings through a glasshouse-style cab is designed to deliver a Transport for London five-star Direct Vision Standard rating for optimum visibility and the reduction of blind spots. The protection of vulnerable road users is also enhanced by the use of rear-view cameras that replace traditional mirrors, a 360-degree birds-eye camera showing the driver their complete surroundings, and blind-sport warning systems that detect objects down the sides of the vehicle.
The driver of a Volta Zero sits far lower than in a conventional truck, with their eye-line at around 1.8 meters. This mirrors the height of pedestrians and other road users nearby for easy visual communication between the driver and others around.
Safety and comfort for the driver have been optimized by minimising cognitive overload. The design of the cabin is contemporary, spacious, and light, with intuitive user interfaces. The central display conveys critical information while touch screens on each side are used for lights, climate control, navigation and trip planning, communication, and in-cab media. A natural pallet of colours, materials, and finishes give a comfortable yet elegant interior that will appeal to a wide demographic of potential drivers. With the Volta Zero, Volta Trucks is changing the experience and workspace for drivers, offering them an environment more akin to a premium car than today’s perception of a traditional commercial vehicle.
To aid ingress and egress, the removal of the internal combustion means the driver sits in a central driving position with a swivel seat. They have easy access through fast opening sliding doors on either side of the cabin to enter or exit either side of the vehicle into the busy or narrow streets.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
The Volta Zero will offer the latest Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). ADAS electronic systems help driving, safety, manoeuvring, and parking, and make a significant contribution to the safe operation of larger vehicles.
The driver of a Volta Zero will benefit from technologies such as Active Steering, Road Sign Assist, and Reversing Assistant with reversing camera, ensuring they have the latest safety support systems when operating in the confines of the city centre. While on the move, Lane Change Assist and Lane Departure Warning systems ensure that the truck operates as safely as possible. The vehicle’s operator also benefits from a technical status monitoring system, based on artificial intelligence, that avoids breakdowns and maximises the uptime of the vehicle.
Sustainability – more than just tailpipe emissions
The Volta Zero will be the first road vehicle to use a sustainably sourced natural Flax material and biodegradable resin in the construction of exterior body panels, with the cab’s dark body panels and many interior trims constructed from the natural material. The high-tech Flax weave was developed by Volta’s world-leading supplier, Bcomp of Switzerland, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, and is currently used in 16 of the world’s most competitive motor racing series.
The Flax weave is reinforced with Bcomp’s patented powerRibs™ grid technology. The result is a fully natural, extremely lightweight, high-performance fibre matting that is almost CO2 neutral over its lifecycle. It also matches the stiffness and weight of carbon fibre but uses 75% less CO2 to produce. The Flax matting is combined with a biodegradable resin by world-class composites manufacturer, Bamd in the UK, to produce the body panels for the Volta Zero. The fully bio-based resin, derived from Rape Seed oil, creates a naturally brown coloured matting and a black natural pigment dye is added to complete its darker, technical appearance.
At the end of their useful life, the Flax composite parts can be burnt within the standard waste management system and used for thermal energy recovery, unlike alternative composite materials that are usually sent to landfill.
This world-first natural composite is not just sustainable but is also safer for vehicles operating in inner-city environments. Should an accident occur, the Flax composite bends, reshapes and ultimately snaps, offering a flexible fracture behaviour without sharp edges. This reduces the risk of sharp debris that can injure people or cause further accidents through punctures.
Should an incident occur, thanks to the cab’s inner metal spaceframe structure, simulations have shown that this pioneering hybrid use of composite body panels has the same crash and safety performance as conventional steel material.
Built for purpose – built for electric
With its deep knowledge of the logistics industry, Volta Trucks understands that the real-world operating range of an electric commercial vehicle is a make-or-break decision in its effectiveness on an operator’s fleet. When the Pilot fleet vehicles are driving on the streets of the world’s largest metropolitan cities during 2021, the Volta Zero will offer a pure-electric range of 150 – 200 kms (95 – 125 miles). This is more than sufficient for the daily use of a ‘last-mile’ delivery vehicle and has been validated using simulations with a full payload.
Innovation in electric motors
At launch, Volta Trucks will be the first full-electric large commercial vehicle manufacturer in Europe to use an innovative e-Axle to drive the rear wheels, rather than the conventional electric motor and driveshaft set up used by the small number of other electric truck manufacturers. The single electric motor, transmission, and axle of the Volta Zero are contained in a lightweight and compact e-Axle unit that’s lighter and more efficient, delivering an increased range as a result. It also provides packaging benefits by freeing up space between the chassis rails. This is where Volta Trucks fits the battery of the vehicle – the safest possible location.
Safe and sustainable battery technology
The Volta Zero will use 160 – 200 kWh of battery power, and Volta Trucks has selected to fit the vehicle with Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries instead of a Nickel Cobalt Manganese set up used in most passenger cars. The Lithium Iron Phosphate battery will be highly modular, enabling Volta Trucks to adapt the vehicle to an operator’s specific requirements.
The Lithium Iron Phosphate battery technology is well suited to large commercial vehicle use. It delivers a long cycle life, robust cell design, and good thermal stability, enhancing safety. Located between the chassis rails, the battery is as far away from an accident as possible. Should the vehicle be involved in a significant accident that punctures a battery cell, the Lithium Iron Phosphate battery is very stable and does not ignite. By contrast, should a Nickel Cobalt Manganese battery cell be punctured, they can burn at extremely high temperatures. With commercial vehicles operating within public and depot environments, the use of Lithium Iron Phosphate negates these significant safety and insurance challenges.
Volta Trucks’ sustainability ambitions are also carried over into the battery technology and supply chain sourcing selection. Importantly, unlike the Nickel Cobalt Manganese battery, the Lithium Iron Phosphate battery contains no precious metals, eliminating the associated sourcing issues of those materials. And at the end of life of a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, it can be recycled and reused as an energy storage device.
Volta Zero – the truck
The Volta Zero has been designed to optimise its load-carrying capacity, thus minimising the number of vehicles on an operator’s fleet, and the consequent congestion on city streets. The principle is that thanks to its overall design, the Volta Zero can operate in narrow city streets and undertake the role that three or four 3.5-tonne vehicles would ordinarily do.
The Volta Zero offers a payload of 8,600kgs, with an overall volume of 37.7m3 and is designed to accommodate 16 Euro pallets. A refrigerated cargo box will also be available, without reducing overall volume as a result of the vehicle design. Volta Trucks is integrating the use of the vehicle’s battery for the cooling and refrigeration unit of the cargo box that’s normally diesel-powered, thus further reducing CO2 or particulate emissions from commercial vehicle operations.
The Volta Zero is 9,460mm in length, 3,470mm high and 2,550mm wide, with a wheelbase of 4,800mm. Its Gross Vehicle Weight is 16,000kgs and the vehicle is limited to a top speed of 90km/h (56mph).
Unique Truck as a Service offering for fleet managers
With the Volta Zero, Volta Trucks will introduce its innovative Truck as a Service offering that is set to revolutionise the finance and servicing of commercial vehicle fleets. Truck as a Service offers fleet managers a frictionless and hassle-free way to electrify their fleet of vehicles, and also provides a ‘helping hand’ to smaller operators with fewer vehicles who know they need to migrate to electric commercial vehicles, but might be daunted by the challenge. Truck as a Service will help them with every step by offering a single, affordable, monthly fee that provides access to a full-electric Volta Zero vehicle, and all of its servicing, maintenance, insurance and training requirements. It will even provide a replacement Volta Zero when needed, maximising the uptime and operational efficiency of the vehicle.
Due to its innovative electric powertrain, the Volta Zero has 90% less mechanical parts than an equivalent internal combustion engine vehicle. As a result, Volta Trucks is targetting the same Total Cost of Ownership as equivalent diesel-powered vehicles, providing a further incentive towards the migration to electric vehicles.
Manufacturing the Volta Zero.
To design and develop the Volta Zero launch vehicle, Volta Trucks worked with a number of world-leading design and engineering consultancies, with Prodrive and Astheimer in the UK working together to produce the launch vehicle.
In H1-2021, Volta Trucks will embark on the next stage of development, being the production of 12 pilot fleet vehicles. These vehicles will be built in the UK and used for testing and evaluation with a number of Europe’s leading logistics companies to provide operator input and feedback on the final production specification.
Production of the Volta Zero is due to commence in 2022 and investigations are ongoing to secure a contract manufacturing partner to assist with production. Production is anticipated to be in the UK. By the end of 2022, Volta Trucks aims to have built around 500 customer-specification vehicles, rising to 5,000 vehicles a year by 2025, and increasing thereafter.