Bio-diesel, Diesel, Electric vehicle, EV, Features, New trucks, Test Drive

Diving in at the deep end

Full disclosure: In the 18 years I have been playing with and writing about trucks, I have never driven a Volvo.

Not long after I’d gained my HC licence I was invited to go for a spin in a couple at the AARC Vehicle Proving Ground at Anglesea, Victoria but became ill on the morning of the drive and ended up at a local doctor’s surgery whilst the rest of the journalist corps had a fun day.

Since then, opportunity has not presented itself – until now. Recently I was invited to attend the RACQ Mobility Centre at Mt Cotton near Brisbane, where there was not one, not two, but a whole plethora of Volvos of varying size to hop behind the wheels of.

Talk about being spoiled for choice.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did we have the diesel range, there was also a bunch of fully electric trucks and to round things off, an HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). For those not in the know, HVO is a diesel-like fuel that can be produced without fossil resources by processing renewable waste lipids.

On the electric front, Volvo has jumped to the front of the queue in Australia by a big margin. At this point in time, we have Fuso with their (2nd generation) Canter range and SEA Electric with their Hino-based product. These are much smaller trucks. Recent entries into the smaller EV truck market also include Hyundai and Proton.

Mercedes is currently evaluating an electric version of the Actros in rigid form, but that is still a while away from seeing the light of day in this country.

Volvo has jumped in boots and all with an electric range from medium rigids to big prime movers. They are all available right here, right now, and from 2027 the company will start producing them out of their Wacol, Queensland factory. There’s no doubting that Volvo sees a solid future in EVs for first/last mile delivery.

The company is on a roll in Australia and have run second only to KW in the heavy truck market for a number of years. At the time of writing, they are only 26 sales behind the American-owned brand YTD.

Keep an eye on the left dial to maximise the range.

This day we are presented with the medium duty FL and FE electric rigids as well as the FH and FM heavy duty prime mover electrics.

On the diesel front we had a bunch of FH models – a 500 single, 500 B-double and a 540 single. Then there was that FH 500 HVO. So many trucks, so little time to play with them all, unfortunately.

Very few of you will have driven an electric truck so what does it feel like? With the smaller vehicles the best way to describe it is something just about all of you will have experienced – a dodgem car.

Go back to your youth and remember putting your foot down in one of those and the instant acceleration that resulted. That’s what you get in an electric truck.

Of course, Volvo was keen to put a bit of distance between each vehicle as it left the RACQ’s ‘launch pad’, to avoid the inevitable end that is the name of the game in those dodgem cars.

With maximum torque from zero revs, take-off is always smooth and linear. A case in point was pulling up the FH prime mover – with some 40 tonnes of ballast in the trailer – to a standstill on a decent gradient. Floor the pedal and she simply goes. No jerk, no shudder, no noise. It’s eerie in the extreme. It’s also going to leave a diesel-powered equivalent in its wake while it spools up into it torque band.

Floor the pedal and she simply goes: no jerk, no shudder, no noise.

The smaller FL Electric rigid, loaded to its maximum 16 tonne GVM has all of two gears, the lower to destress the drivetrain on take-off, and then only when needed such as the hill I’ve just mentioned. Now that truck really is reminiscent of the Dodgem cars.

Range? Volvo doesn’t like to quote specifics but rather point to interacting with prospective drivers and training them to get the best out of the batteries. Pressured, they indicate that 300km is achievable if treated correctly.

The dash of the FL does without a rev counter for obvious reasons, replacing it with a large plus, zero, minus dial instead. Your job is to keep the needle in the plus zone as much as possible to feed charge back into the battery.

Put your foot on the brake for instance and she pulls up like any other truck, but the first, maybe 60 per cent of pedal travel is feeding charge back to the battery before the actual brakes haul you up to a stop. You find yourself quickly playing the game with that dial.

In a presentation after the drive, they put up a photo of New York traffic in 1900 – all horse and cart. Another taken 15 years later was all cars. The point being that we can bet that 15 years from now the trucking landscape is going to look decidedly different. Volvo are certainly investing in a clean and different future.

Now that is not to say that they have disregarded the ubiquitous diesel – far from it. They realise that it will be around for some time and as a good corporate citizen they need to continue to refine their engines (and gearboxes) to gain more power and emit less pollution.

Enter I-Save on their D13TC engines which let you drive at lower revs and in a higher gear for extended periods of time. The result is a smoother, quieter drive and faster torque response from the powertrain.

Although not familiar with past Volvos, I can only concur in that the drive of both the FH 500 B-double and FH 540 single were all of the above.

The 13-litre does a sterling job of hauling both loads.

Thanks for the invitation Volvo. I’m hoping for an extended drive in your various models well before the next 18 years have passed me by.

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