While this week, Elon Musk’s mysterious pick up electric truck is all set to launch, we got a chance to meet the founders of Sweden tech startup, Volta Trucks.
Based out of Stockholm, founded recently in May 2019 by the company’s CEO Carl-Magnus Norden and CTO Kjell Walöen, the company envisions creation of new kind of trucks that are meant for the cities of today and enables a better future for the coming generations. When we think about trucks, most of us would form an image of a vehicle with a roaring engine and diesel fumes.
Volta wants to change the current perception of trucks with its electric trucks that produce zero harmful tailpipe emissions like CO2 or Nitrogen Oxides. Additionally, since these trucks run on batteries, imagining a truck that is extremely silent won’t be too far off from reality.
The tale of Volta’s inception
When Elon Musk launched Tesla Model 3, the automotive company received around a few hundred thousand orders in a couple of weeks. Soon after, multiple other car manufacturing companies said they will also launch electric vehicles, but this was all happening in the car segment. Nothing much was happening for trucks and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV).
Volta’s CEO Carl-Magnus Norden thus started thinking of an approach towards HGVs and realised that going completely electric was the most natural course of action. An electric truck would produce less CO2 emissions, and produce less noise and vibrations. Norden also learned that there is a driver shortage because of accidents and thus wanted to focus more on safety to improve the overall situation and make cities safer.
About a year and a half ago, Norden met Walöen, who was working in the car industry at the time and was already an acquaintance. The two started deliberating on the subject and realised that this is a big business opportunity that is also good for the society and the environment. And soon after, Walöen quit his job and Volta was born.
Partnership with Magtec and funding plans
Magtec is one of the UK’s leading designer and manufacturer of electric vehicle drive systems. Volta has partnered with the company for the development of its fully electric trucks. “While Magtec already has the experience of installing electric drive train in trucks, they also have a vision. If we are successful, we will demand quite a lot of drive trains and they have a plan to fulfill the architecture,” says Norden. Within three months, Volta will also commence its sourcing process to expand its team.
Coming to external funding, the company raised a few million in seed investment this year and is expecting to bag somewhere around €20 million next year. These funds will be utilised for the next phase of development, for engineering and financing the initial set of trucks.
Truck-as-a-Service rental model
Current fleet owners aren’t too keen on changing their trucks as they are said to be hesitant towards the technology shift. Volta has announced a risk-reducing “Truck-as-a-Service” rental model for fleet owners wherein the startup maintains ownership and supplies a full unit. This includes a truck, box lift, electricity audit, infrastructure installation, electricity supply, insurance, tax, tires for the vehicle and personnel training.
So, Volta will basically take care of everything with Truck-as-a-Service rental model and is also guaranteeing an up time of 97 percent by offering mobile service units and replacement trucks. The company will also provide full financing with monthly billing options, making it easier to make the technology switch.
Challenges in the industry
Changing the outlook of an entire industry is downright difficult, especially when we talk about a segment that is set in its ways. The biggest challenge faced by the company is developing a new truck and a new platform in half the time and one fifth of the current costs. While it seems near impossible, Volta is quite confident that it will be able to do so by 2021, when it plans to commence street pilots in partnership with select retailers in London and Paris. The demonstration of Volta’s electric trucks, however, is set for summer next year with a fleet of 20 fully electric trucks.
“The demand (for electric trucks) is really high right now and it is important to find ways not to waste time and effort in developing things that are already out there. We are also working with several things in parallel. It’s not like we first build a prototype, then evaluate and then go onto the next step. We start with everything at the same time. So, we are developing the prototype and at the same time, we have another team developing the actual production product,” says Norden.
No baggage differentiates Volta from the competition
The trucking industry is well-established and quite set in its ways and while almost every major truck manufacturer has concept vehicles, almost no one has committed to realise any of these concepts and bring them to the market. “We cannot speak for them, but obviously, they have a lot to lose as well because they have a huge income from the combustion engine market,“ says Norden. While these companies might have to come around to the idea of fully electric trucks, they might take action only at the cusp of change.
As per Norden, “Current trucking companies have invested in existing technologies, which is their legacy. This legacy is based on a combustion engine, which sits under the cabin’s floor, in a conventional truck. So, for them to move to something like a completely electric system means they will have to scrap everything, which is 90 percent of their investments that are in combustion engines and transmission. These things are no longer required. This is a golden era for startups’ disruptive technology, where the old technology is no longer usable and it is a benefit to be without any baggage.”
Charging electric trucks
Right now, The Netherlands is leading when it comes to enabling charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the EU. However, electric trucks that haul heavy cargo are different and have unique charging needs. “This market is developing with a number of different scenarios. For now, we are planning to equip our vehicles with enough batteries to go around all day. However, very seldom these trucks will run for 24 hours a day since they have rest hours in between. They are usually charged overnight in three or four hours, and it’s done,” explains Norden.
“You can charge quicker if you use super chargers but then it gets more expensive due to electricity usage, peak usage, and wear and tear of the battery. So typically these trucks would be charged during the night when they are not being driven anyway,” he adds. Norden also talks about the different ideas that the company might employ to better charging experience. Since electric load is typically maximum during the evening and early morning, Volta can maintain load balance by ensuring their fleet consume electricity during the afternoon.
Safety is the first priority
Volta has stressed quite a bit on increasing the safety of not only the new age electric trucks it is building, but also of other people. About 23 percent of pedestrians and 58 percent of cyclist deaths in London involve a HGV, even though these vehicles make up for only 4 percent of road miles in the city. The next gen trucks by the startup feature lowered cabin that is positioned in the center and is at street level.
This new design is said to help improve the driver’s vision, protect cyclists and pedestrians. There are also sliding doors on each side. Customers will also be able to monitor each Volta truck, which will be online. This will enable keeping an eye on each cell in the truck’s battery pack and keeping track of driver’s performance. One can also rate a driver in case they are rash or are wasting energy by unnecessarily accelerating or braking.
Stay tuned to Silicon Canals for more European technology news.