Electric trucks pick up speed at Volvo’s Sweden factory

At Volvo's factory near Gothenburg, the global truck industry is undergoing a revolution.

Electric trucks pick up speed at Volvo's Sweden factory
A truck shortly before being fitted with its battery on the electric line at Volvo's factory in Gothenburg. Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP

Using a motorised arm, a worker at Volvo’s factory near Gothenburg slowly guides massive black blocks alongside a chassis, the three tonnes of batteries soon to power an electric truck.

“This is where the difference lies,” explains Sandra Finer, vice president of operations at the Swedish site.

On the assembly line, “we use the same people, the same equipment and the same process, (but)… when we build the electric truck we dock the electric module instead of an engine for the diesel trucks.”

Electric heavy trucks are now mass produced in Europe, North America and China and have been rolled out faster than expected — though it will still be a while before they overtake polluting diesel trucks in number.

“It is a really exciting moment we’re living in regarding electric trucks,” Felipe Rodriguez, an independent expert at analysis group International  Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), told AFP. “Just four or five years ago, people would have said ‘You’re crazy, that’s not going to happen. Diesel is king, it can’t be beaten’.”

Electric heavy trucks require massive amounts of energy to propel their heavy loads, raising questions about their range and recharging capabilities. They need charging terminals dozens of times more powerful than those made for electric cars.

The electric trucks are also more expensive, currently costing between two to three times more than a traditional diesel model, according to industry experts.

However, those prices are expected to go down and the higher up-front price can be offset by cheaper running costs using electricity, as well as different  country-specific incentives.

Race to launch

Spurred by increasingly strict EU regulations aimed at reducing CO2 emissions as well as massive Chinese state support for its national manufacturers, the sector is determined to press ahead.

There has been “a reckoning in the industry that they will not be able to hold on to their diesel engines forever,” Rodriguez said. “There is now a race to really develop and launch these electric trucks on the market.”

In 2022, electric trucks accounted for a tiny portion of heavy trucks on the world’s main markets — just one or two percent, with 40,000 to 50,000 units sold worldwide, most of them in China, according to data from trade experts.

But the main Western truck makers — Germany’s Daimler and Man, Sweden’s Volvo and its French subsidiary Renault Trucks, and the other Swedish manufacturer Scania — have invested heavily.

US manufacturer Tesla, which has been hugely successful with its electric cars, also aims to break into the e-trucks sector, with its “Semi” model promising a range of up to 800 kilometres (500 miles).

The global truck market is sizable, estimated at more than $200 billion per year with almost six million units sold.

“In 2030, 50 percent of the volume that we sell for Volvo Trucks should be zero emissions … and in 2040, everything that we sell should be zero emissions,” Roger Alm, head of Volvo Group’s trucks division, told AFP.

That more or less corresponds to the level necessary to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement to decarbonise road transport, according to the ICCT.

Diesel long-haul trucks emit around one kilo of CO2 per kilometre, the ICTT estimates.

With Europe’s current electricity mix, which still comprises a significant amount of coal and gas, the carbon footprint of an electric truck is two-thirds lower than that of a diesel truck.

Spreading around the world

Electric trucks are expected to account for 90 percent of the truck market by 2040, according to ICCT.

“It has started to really take off and grow in the Northern parts of Europe and in North America,” Alm said. “Now it’s moving into the southern parts of Europe and we also have new markets in Africa, for example, Australia, Brazil, so it’s expanding country by country.”

Together with other manufacturers, Volvo, the world’s second-biggest truck builder, has agreed to take part in a vast European project to increase the number of truck charging stations, currently one of the weak points holding back their adoption.

To recharge an electric truck quickly, a charging station must be up to 10 times more powerful than a charging station for an electric car.

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Large chunk of Swedish motorway collapses after landslide

A landslide tore apart a stretch of motorway in Sweden on Saturday, injuring three people, police and emergency services said.

Large chunk of Swedish motorway collapses after landslide

Whole sections of a motorway collapsed overnight between Gothenburg in Sweden and Norway’s capital Oslo, police confirmed on Saturday.

The landslide has caused major damage in both north and southbound directions on the E6, near the small Swedish town of Stenungsund.

It ripped up a petrol station car park, overturned lorries and caved in the roof of a Burger King restaurant.

The road is now completely closed in both directions, confirmed Lidia Bradaric, alarm and management operator at the emergency services in Greater Gothenburg on Saturday morning.

An aerial shot of the landslide’s devastation of the E6. Photo: Adam Ihse / TT

Police are investigating whether blasting works at an ongoing construction project nearby may have caused the landslide.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether there is any connection between construction works and the landslide.

Police have opened a probe into “aggravated public destruction” and will question staff at the building site, but said there was not a definitive link “between the blasting, the work on the site and the collapse”.

A Burger King restaurant is located in the same area and images from the site show that the roof of the restaurant has partially collapsed. Photo: Adam Ihse / TT

A drone image from the site shows that the road has suffered extensive damage in several places in both directions.

The greatest impact appears to have occurred at a petrol station, where a large crack runs across the landscape from one side of the road to the other. Several lorries in the area have been damaged and overturned.

Photo: Adam Ihse / TT

“It is a very large area, approximately 500 metres in diameter, that has been affected,” stated police spokesperson August Brandt.

The worst-hit area covers around 100 metres by 150 metres (330 by 500 feet), but the landslide affected an area of around 700 metres by 200 metres in total, the emergency services said.

 Uladzislau Miklash, a lorry driver, was asleep in his parked vehicle when he felt it start to slide.

“I had no idea what was happening,” he told P4 Vast radio.

The landslide “affected around ten vehicles, a forest area and a commercial area including a petrol station and a fast-food restaurant”, said regional emergency services chief Daniel Lyckelid.

Images on local media showed damaged lorries and a bus that had fallen into a trench.

“Several people were helped out of their vehicles in the area of the landslide with the help of the fire brigade and helicopters,” the emergency services added.

Specially trained search and rescue services and dogs continue to scour the collapsed road.

Swedish emergency services were alerted overnight. Photo: Adam Ihse / TT

Lorries have been damaged and tipped over when crossing the damaged motorway. Photo: Adam Ihse / TT

In total, around ten vehicles have driven into one of the road holes, sources confirmed.

As emergency services said they could not rule out the risk of further landslides, the public are advised to avoid the area.

Police have cordoned off a large part of the motorway due to the potential risk of collapse. Authorities plan to close the section of the E6 motorway for several weeks, while traffic is being diverted via road 650.

Authorities have estimated that the impact on traffic will be “enormous” for a long time to come.