A Volvo renderng of a future electric truck. Picture: Volvo Trucks

Stockholm, Sweden - It’s a crazy situation, really. During the day every major city’s roads are clogged with traffic, not least heavy trucks battling to get through the gridlock to deliver the goods we buy to the shops we buy them from.

And then, once the sun goes down, the roads are empty - but the logistics companies can’t deliver at night because the big diesel engines in their trucks keep inner-city dwellers awake. And it’s only going to get worse; the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030 (that’s just 12 years away) 60 percent of the planet's population - about five billion people - will live in cities, an increase of more than a billion on today’s urban population.

Which is why Volvo Trucks is going to start selling electric trucks in Europe in 2019, with real-world test units going into service with selected customers this year already. Electric trucks, says company president Claes Nilsson, not only drastically reduce emissions, they also open up new ways to manage logistics.

Electric trucks can deliver at night - which means fewer trucks competing for space on the roads during rush hour - and they’re allowed to go anywhere, even the diesel-free zones that are now common in European cities.

There’s an added advantage: A recent project called Off Peak City Distribution, carried out by the City of Stockholm and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, showed that running on nearly empty streets cut delivery trip times by two-thirds - which meant that the same number of drivers could deliver three times the payload in the same time, under less stressful driving conditions.

Nilsson sees another benefit: With improved logistics, he said, it becomes possible to replace several small vans with a larger distribution truck, which (provided it’s correctly packed at the depot) could drop off goods at the same number of customers as the smaller vans do now, because it spends so much less time battling through traffic between deliveries.

And having fewer vehicles on the road further reduces noise levels (electric are quiet but they’re not silent) and significantly reduces the risk of crashes.

Complex issue

It’s not all win-win, admits Volvo Trucks head of product strategy for medium duty vehicles Jonas Odermalm.

“The technology in the electric trucks is based on proven commercial solutions already in use on electric buses and on hybrid trucks as far back as 2010,“ he said. “But the vehicles are only one part of what is needed for large-scale electrification to succeed.

“It’s a complex issue that requires close cooperation with customers, cities and suppliers of charging infrastructure to create the necessary framework for electric trucks."

But his boss, Claes Nilsson, insists: "We believe in electrification of urban distribution as a first step - and we’re working on electrification for other transport applications - this is only the beginning."

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