A Conversation On Climate Change With The Founder Of Volta Trucks

The climate crisis is affecting every region in the world. That’s one of the conclusions of a landmark study from the UN, which warns of increasingly extreme weather, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade.

Urgent action is required, and the automotive sector must play a part in this transformation.

Volta Trucks is developing and engineering the Volta Zero, the first purpose-built full-electric large commercial vehicle designed specifically for inner city and last mile logistics. It intends to start full-scale production at the end of 2022.

Carl-Magnus Norden, Founder and Executive Chairman of Volta Trucks, talks about roll-out plans and his hopes for the COP26 Summit in November.

What is your personal motivation behind Volta Trucks?

I am driven by the need to protect our world for the future generations. We only have one planet, and there is no misunderstanding now that climate change is hurting it. We must do everything possible to reduce our CO2 output, and adopting electrified trucks is one of the very positive steps to make this happen. This, combined with the creation of an innovative product that our customers and our world needs, is a huge motivator for me. To be able to do this, and create a sustainable and profitable business, is a win-win for everyone.

Describe the Volta Zero’s key features?

Its innovative layout has enabled our designers to harness all the packaging benefits of the compact electric powertrain, without all of the legacy of the internal combustion engine. This creates a cab that’s optimised for driver comfort, safety and visibility. The Volta Zero can travel between 150 and 200kms on a single charge, which is more than sufficient for a truck designed to operate in city centres that spends most of its time in congested traffic.

It has a payload of 8.6 tonnes, and 37 cubic metres or 16 Euro pallets of capacity, and we will offer it with an ambient or refrigerated cargo box. It’s large enough that many of our customers are considering using one Volta Zero instead of 4 to 5 smaller 3.5 tonne vans, further reducing congestion and improving city centre environments.

Later, we will also introduce other size variants from 7.5 tonnes to 19 tonnes, ensuring we have a vehicle size to suit all requirements. Having taken a ground-up approach to designing the Volta Zero, and extensively collaborating with our customers along the journey, we’ve built a vehicle that works perfectly for them and their needs.

How can the Volta Zero help countries achieve zero emissions?

Sustainability is at the heart of Volta Trucks. We want to ensure that we play a significant part in the drive towards net zero by decarbonising commercial vehicles that currently account for less than 2% of the traffic on the roads, but 22% of the CO2 emissions of transport. Thanks to its full electric powertrain, the Volta Zero has no exhaust emissions but we look beyond tailpipe emissions into the overall environmental footprint of our suppliers, manufacturing processes etc.

One example of this is that the demonstrator model presented at the launch in September 2020 was the first commercial vehicle to use a fully natural flax and biodegradable resin composite in the construction of its body panels.

How important is safety to Volta Trucks?

In a word, very. Transport for London’s own statistics show that large trucks undertake 4% of the road miles of London but are responsible for 26% of pedestrian fatalities and 78% of cyclist fatalities. This is obviously unacceptable, but the existing design of large trucks hasn’t changed for decades. In designing a new full-electric commercial vehicle from the ground up, we can provide a truck that can operate safely and efficiently in city centre environments. This includes a lower central seating position with 220-degrees of visibility to observe and react to vulnerable road users around the vehicle.

Also sliding doors and low step access on both sides means that the driver always steps out easily and safely onto the pavement, rather than jumping down from height from a traditional cab and into the busy traffic, often causing injury to themselves or passing cyclists. The safety of the driver and those around the vehicle are major motivators within the company.

What are the next commercial steps for Volta Trucks?

We recently showed the first running prototype full electric Volta Zero chassis, that has now started testing. We will build a fleet of fully functional Pilot Fleet prototype vehicles starting at the end of this year, that our engineering teams and customers will evaluate throughout next year ahead of the start of full-scale production of customer vehicles by the end of 2022 – less than 18 months from now.

We are working at high pace because the climate change emergency cannot wait, and our customers need vehicles on their fleets as soon as possible.

What are your hopes for the COP26 Summit in November?

We need a concerted effort from politicians, policymakers, and all stakeholders to accelerate the decarbonisation of transport as soon as possible. It’s clear from the examples set by French authorities who have banned diesel-engine trucks from operating in Paris and other large cities at the end of 2023, that the approach of incentives as the carrot, and legislation as the stick, works. And that the migration to electrification doesn’t need to be something that takes until 2035 or 2040.

There will always be reasons to procrastinate but all the time decisions are delayed, the inevitability of climate change becomes more real and apparent. We need our politicians to grasp the single most important issue that faces humanity now, and to act with pace and decisiveness to protect our planet for our future generations.

What will urban mobility look like by 2030?

We expect many urban cities to ban diesel engine trucks soon, and this is already fuelling demand for electric trucks. This will transform city-centre environments, reducing pollution and making them far safer and more pleasant places to live and work in. For Volta Trucks, I believe that we will be a global leader in electric commercial vehicles, and our efforts today will have served as a catalyst for the industry in a decade’s time. We will have a thriving and expanding global business that will have launched four different sizes of Volta Zero vehicles, from 7.5 to 19 tonnes, and we will be operating across the UK, Europe, US and into Asia.

One thing is critical though – that we will still have a very close working relationship with our customers – I see this as key to our success. Ultimately, we will have shown that a premium full electric large commercial vehicle is a reality, much like Elon Musk did with the Tesla Model 3 and premium electric passenger cars a few years ago.