Though 2020 has been a trying year for many manufacturers, Volta Trucks is yielding success unparalleled by most global players. The company’s latest triumph: the launch of the world’s first full-electric 16-tonne commercial vehicle, the Volta Zero.
The Volta Zero is designed specifically for inner-city parcel and freight distribution, and has already received orders from companies keen to secure their first models in 2022. Volta, a Swedish-UK company, has crafted the Volta Zero to comply with Transport for London’s five-star ‘Direct Vision Standard rating’, which ensures 200 degrees of direct driver vision around the vehicle during use. With inner-city safety at the forefront of the Volta Zero’s conception, Volta’s London pilot studies are set to launch in 2021.
Volta Zero: what makes it unique?
From design to realisation, the key themes running through Volta Zero’s vision are sustainability and safety. As the first of its kind, the Volta Zero will be powered by a lithium-ion phosphate battery suited specifically to large commercial vehicles. Whilst nickel cobalt manganese batteries are the norm in passenger cars, the Zero’s lithium technology is set to deliver a long cycle life, robust cell design, and good thermal stability.
Tucked between the vehicle’s chassis rails, the battery is protected from impact during accidents and provides added safety assurance through resistance to ignition in the unlikely event of cell puncture. In comparison, should nickel cobalt manganese battery cells be punctured, they can burn at very high temperatures.
In addition to increasing vehicle safety, Volta Zero’s battery also provides significant power. With a pure-electric range of 95-125 miles on a single charge, the Zero is easily capable of working a busy day in the city with a full payload, as validated by simulations in the design phase.
Containing no precious metals, the lithium-ion phosphate technology is also sourced with the environment in mind. This sustainable power will dramatically contribute towards depollution of cities. Rob Fowler, Volta Trucks’ Chief Executive Officer commented: “By 2025, we aim to have saved around 180,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – the equivalent annual CO2 usage of 24,000 houses – and improved inner-city air quality by emitting no pollutants”.
This technology may ultimately reshape how the public views large inner-city commercial vehicles; no longer a scourge on air quality, but a role model for sustainable business.
Body panel design
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. Developed by the Swiss supplier Bcomp in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the Flax weave is currently used in 16 of the world’s most competitive motor racing series.
Its benefit? The Flax fibre matting is fully natural, extremely lightweight, and importantly, carbon-neutral over its lifecycle. It also affords the Volta Zero extra safety points; should an accident occur, the Flax composite bends, reshapes and ultimately snaps, offering a flexible fracture behaviour without sharp edges. Whilst matching the stiffness and weight of carbon fibre, the Flax weave requires 75% less CO2 to produce.
At the end of their useful life, the Zero’s 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.
Driver and public safety
Compliance with Transport for London’s five-star Direct Vision Standard rating is just one of many innovative safety features incorporated in the Volta Zero.
Volta Trucks’ Founder, Carl-Magnus Norden, explains why Volta Zero’s technology is based so heavily on safety: “Safety is at the heart of the Volta brand for one simple reason. In London, as an example, 23% of pedestrian fatalities and 58% of cyclist deaths involve an HGV, yet large trucks only account for 4% of road miles. This is clearly unacceptable and must change. The Volta Zero completely reimagines the commercial vehicle, ensuring it can operate safely with all road users and become a friend of the zero-emission city”.
Pegged as the world’s safest commercial vehicle, the Volta Zero considers both driver and public safety equally in its concept. Firstly, drivers of the Zero sit far lower than in a conventional truck, with their eye-line at around 1.8 metres, mirroring the height of other road users and pedestrians nearby. This means that the driver can see those around them without straining, and visually communicate with others much more easily.
Traditional mirrors are also replaced by a 360-degree birds-eye camera, which provides comprehensive visualisation of surroundings, and detection of unseen vehicles at the sides of the truck using a blind-spot warning system.
By removing the traditional internal combustion engine that ordinarily sits at the front of a truck, Volta was able to completely rethink the layout and design of the Zero cab. Basing cab design on three priorities: safety, ease of entry/exit, and driver environment, the Volta Zero is uniquely structured.
To aid ingress and egress, the removal of the internal combustion means the driver sits in a central driving position with a swivel seat. Safety and comfort for the driver have been optimised 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. 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.
Moreover, the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) assists the driver in using the large vehicle. ADAS provides drivers with active steering, road sign assist, reversing assistant, lane assist, and lane departure warnings. Artificial intelligence is also employed to monitor the technical status of the vehicle’s systems, thus avoiding breakdowns and maximising uptime.
Sustainable and safe, but is it practical for business?
Importantly, the Volta Zero combines sustainability and safety with practicality for businesses. In the parcel and freight distribution sector, commercial vehicles are required to be affordable and offer enough internal space to store goods.
In terms of space, the Volta Zero is designed to accommodate 16 Euro pallets worth of commodities. A refrigerated cargo box will also be available, without reducing overall volume. Volta Trucks is integrating the use of the vehicle’s battery for the cooling and refrigeration unit of the cargo box that is normally diesel-powered, thus further reducing CO2 or particulate emissions from commercial vehicle operations.
With an overall volume of 37.7m3, the Zero has been designed to optimise its load-carrying capacity, minimising the number of vehicles on an operator’s fleet, and the consequent congestion on city streets.
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 is 9,460mm in length, 3,470mm high and 2,550mm wide, with a wheelbase of 4,800mm. Its Gross Vehicle Weight is 16,000kg and the vehicle is limited to a top speed of 56mph, which is adequate for inner-city use.
In terms of affordability, the Volta Zero is targeting the same Total Cost of Ownership as equivalent diesel-powered vehicles, thanks to its innovative design incorporating 90% less mechanical parts. This should hopefully make pure-electric vehicle technology more accessible to the sector.
The bottom line
Volta Trucks are certainly pioneers for electric-powered heavy vehicles. The Volta Zero, their latest reveal, is an exciting world first. Though weighing in at 16 tonnes, the Zero is surprisingly gracefully designed, bringing together sustainability, safety, and driver experience.
With online retailers selling more goods than ever, the Volta Zero is set to enter the parcel and freight distribution sector at an important time. Come 2022, when the Zero is planned to enter roads, commercial trucks could have a very different impact on inner-city life.
Whilst traditional combustion-powered trucks contribute to air pollution, congestion, and accidents, the Volta Zero is predicted to enter the market as a very different type of truck. Its vision captures safe, clean cities with efficacious distribution systems.