Volvo Trucks has recently revealed its plans to push toward a zero-emissions future for trucking by 2050. At the same time, Volvo Cars is committed to becoming fully electric by 2030.
Understanding the diverse needs of its customer base and the wide range of operating environments worldwide, Volvo has devised a Three-Pillar Plan. This strategy involves the replacement of over 1.2 million trucks with three different types: battery-electric trucks, hydrogen fuel cell trucks, and trucks with internal combustion engines running on clean or renewable fuels.
“Obviously, one size will not fit all, given those demands,” said Jessica Sandström, senior vice president of product management for Volvo Trucks.
“Which is why we feel a three-part strategy is the best solution to deliver trucks that perform, no matter where in the world they are.”
For the cars, the company will end production of all remaining diesel models in the Volvo Cars lineup by early 2024 and build a new battery plant in Sweden. These moves come in response to significant shifts in European Volvo car sales trends.
In 2019, diesel vehicles dominated the market, but by 2022, they had dwindled to just 8.9 percent of sales. Notably, in August 2023, fully electric or hybrid vehicles accounted for 33 percent of Volvo’s total sales.
Alternative Fuels for Trucks
While battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks often steal the spotlight, Volvo Trucks recognizes the significant role of internal combustion engines (ICE) in the green future of trucking.
According to Sandström, the company is actively developing promising alternative fuel technologies for ICEs. This includes biofuels and renewable natural gas, like hydrogen. She also said there is potential for hydrogen to fuel both fuel cell and ICE vehicles.
However, Sandström highlighted the importance of green hydrogen as a fuel source, not only to achieve net-zero emissions from trucks and the fuel production process itself.
Volvo is currently testing hydrogen fuel cell trucks in various operating conditions and climates. This is to assess whether they are a viable option for long-distance transport. To develop these fuel cells, Volvo Trucks is collaborating with competitor Daimler Trucks.
“We are putting trucking’s transition in front by taking unconventional measures to cooperate on the development of this technology,” Sandström said.
Along with alt-fuel ICEs and fuel-cell electric trucks, Volvo is introducing a new model lineup for battery-electric vehicles with a new electric axle system. The system allows “both the electric motors and the transmission to be mounted directly on the rear axle assembly.” As a result, the company can increase the battery capacity, consequently extending the trucks’ range.
Volvo’s strategic focus on battery-electric vehicles stems from the belief that they will eventually capture the largest market share. These vehicles are already widely accessible and represent the most efficient solution for achieving zero-emission trucking. Moreover, battery-electric trucks provide multiple advantages for fleets and drivers, including reduced vibrations and silent operation.
Today, some of Volvo’s widely available zero-emission trucks are the battery-electric FM and FH models, fuel-cell-electric FH models, and liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered FH models.
Green Ambitions Beyond Emissions
Volvo Trucks’ commitment to sustainability is beyond reducing emissions. The company is rethinking to source materials responsibly, reduce waste, and design trucks for a circular economy. As revealed by environment and innovation director Lars Martensson, this is more than about climate — it is also about electromobility and circularity.
Instead of scrapping trucks at the end of their service life, Volvo considers reusing, remanufacturing, or repurposing the individual parts. This is a more sustainable approach that reduces waste and conserves resources. The company estimates that up to 95 percent of a VNR Electric truck can be recycled.
According to The World Economic Forum, humans are using 1.7 times more resources than the planet can provide. The Global Circularity Gap Report also revealed that only 7.2 percent of these extracted materials are recycled.
This is why governments are pressuring truck manufacturers to recycle more parts. The European Union’s new End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) regulations and ambitious targets for recycled content are examples.
“We don’t see it as waste,” Martensson said. “We see it as a potential for something more.”
Volvo is also working to produce trucks that use renewable resources in their production. Last year, the company announced the production of a truck with frame rails made of steel produced with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. This type of steel is uncommon and requires collaboration between suppliers and producers of fossil-free materials.
EV Sales Trends Support Volvo’s All-Electric Shift
Volvo’s developmental plans align with the broader trend in Europe. Fully electric car sales in the EU more than doubled in August 2023, accounting for 21 percent or one in five cars of all sales. This figure is an increase of 118.1 percent compared to the units sold in August 2022.
This is the first time these products have exceeded one-fifth of the market. From January to August, nearly 1 million fully-electric cars were sold. Only less than half of new cars sold were ICE cars, while plug-in and full hybrids made up 7.4 percent and 23.9 percent of sales, respectively.
Electric cars are selling more, but batteries are getting cheaper. In turn, electric cars get more affordable. According to a new study from RMI, many electric cars are reaching price parity if the total cost of ownership, including fuel and maintenance, is considered. Europe’s first electric cars could reach price parity in just a year or two.
The study also found that electric car sales can grow exponentially, with Northern Europe and China leading the way. In these countries, electric cars took about six years to go from 1 to 10 percent of new car sales. The next step is expected to be even faster, with leading countries reaching 80 percent of electric car sales within six years.
This study backs Volvo’s decision to switch to an all-electric vehicle manufacturer as the market leans toward EVs. Although rival brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Toyota are playing safe and will decide their EV production as the market allows, Volvo will have an all-electric lineup globally in seven years.
This year, the company debuted a small EX30 crossover and XC40 Recharge as the first steps of its fully electric plan. Reports revealed that the Geely-owned automaker will launch at least five new electric vehicles by 2026. This includes a luxury electric minivan for the Asian market and battery-powered versions of the S60 and S90 sedans.