Electrification is the name of the game in Europe where sales of new internal combustion-engined (ICE) cars and vans in Britain will stop by 2030 and diesel-powered vehicles will be gone from much of Europe by 2040.
While plans are being quickly formulated by established vehicle makers, British start-up truck maker Volta has emerged as a true disruptor, pushing hard into the commercial sector with its revolutionary new ‘Zero’ mid-sized electric truck.
Not only is the mid-sizer turning heads, it is also capturing industry attention and filling the company’s order books.
Touted as the first 16-tonne, zero-emission commercial vehicle designed specifically for urban deliveries and operations Zero, which starts user-trials this year ahead of full production next year, is claimed to be the world’s first purpose-built, full-electric truck designed specifically for inner-city work.
A pure battery electric vehicle (BEV), Zero has a claimed operating range of up to 200 kilometres and will, according to Volta, eliminate an estimated 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2025 (based on the expected number of diesel-engined trucks it will replace).
A cleansheet design means Volta has completely reimagined every aspect of the truck’s appearance, materials, safety and design concepts.
For example, vehicle safety has been addressed with a glasshouse-style cab featuring a low, central seating position made possible by removing the reciprocating engine, giving easy entry and exit and an unprecedented 220-degrees of visibility, reducing blind spots.
An eyeline height of around 1.8 metres also puts drivers and vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists at an equal level for improved non-verbal communications.
Rear-view cameras replace traditional mirrors and visibility is further enhanced with a 360-degree ‘birds-eye’ camera showing the truck’s full surroundings. A blind spot warning system also detects objects along the vehicle’s sides.
Inside, a futuristic, uncluttered dashboard featuring a central display system showing critical information acts as a driver information interface and touchscreens either side control lights, air-conditioning, navigation, communication and in-cab media functions.
Zero also boasts the latest Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), enhancing overall safety by helping drivers manoeuvre and park.
Other safety support systems helping operations in tight city confines include Active Steering, Road Sign Assist and Reversing Assist with reversing camera. On the road, Lane Change Assist and Lane Departure Warning systems ensure safe operations.
Drivers also benefit from an artificial intelligence-based technical status monitoring system to help avoid breakdowns and maximise vehicle uptime.
Structurally, Zero pioneers hybrid cabin construction by combining a light, strong carbon fibre windscreen surround and metal spaceframe with the cab’s external body panels attached.
Those panels are made from a strong, sustainable natural flax fibre and biodegradable resin composite, a high-tech material developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency and boasting the same crash and safety performance as conventional panels.
Importantly for an electric vehicle, the flax composite is non-conductive, reducing short circuit issues in the event of a crash. It also has up to three times better vibration damping.
Volta Trucks CEO Rob Fowler says while trucks have to operate in cities for commerce to exist the environmental damage they do is not acceptable.
Fowler, who is disappointed the UK’s ICE ban does not extend to large commercial vehicles, said when the Zero was launched it showed a pent-up demand for the electrification of trucks.
“The unprecedented reaction from our customers, decarbonising their fleets to meet forthcoming (European) legislation and improving the environment for everyone has more than validated our expectations,” he said.
“Society needs goods vehicles but it also needs good vehicles; vehicles that are zero emissions.”
Showing the strength of the desire for vehicle electrification, Europe’s leading refrigerated truck rental company, the Petit Forestier Group which runs more than 58,500 diesel trucks, has already ordered 1,000 Volta electrics for its fleet.
London-based soft drink maker Drinks Cubed has also signed a multi-million dollar deal with Volta for a fleet of Zero trucks.
At this stage there is no indication that Volta will try to break into the Australian truck market.