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HomeAfricaDriven: Volvo FH Electric - Expert Volvo FH Commercial Vehicle Reviews

Driven: Volvo FH Electric – Expert Volvo FH Commercial Vehicle Reviews

Introducing the Volvo FH Electric 4×2

Rightly or wrongly, the transport world is moving to electric propulsion – albeit very slowly. Volvo Trucks is the market leader and it sold 1,977 electric trucks during 2023, an increase of 256% over the previous year. Volvo’s share of the electric heavy-duty segment in Europe increased to 47.2% last year (versus 32.3% the year before).

These figures are indeed commendable – but they need to be put into context. The company sold a whopping 145,395 trucks last year (2022: 145,195). Hence, electric vehicle sales are still relatively small (within the greater scheme of things).

Still, Volvo Trucks is indeed making its mark on this sector of the truck industry. In fact, since 2019, Volvo Trucks has delivered electric trucks to customers in 45 countries on six continents. During 2023, the company delivered its first heavy-duty electric trucks to Latin America, with vehicles going to customers in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. Volvo also became the first manufacturer to deliver battery-electric heavy trucks in Morocco, South Korea, and Malaysia. It also launched its electric trucks in South Africa.

The Swedish truck maker is satisfying a growing demand within the transport market for “green” vehicles. This month, for instance, Volvo Trucks received an order for 100 electric trucks from logistics company DFDS. DFDS currently has the largest fleet of heavy-duty electric trucks in Europe and is well underway to reach its target of having at least 25% of its truck fleet electrified by 2030. With this latest order, DFDS has almost doubled its Volvo electric truck fleet to 225 trucks in total. Thanks to its growing electric truck fleet, DFDS reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1,516 tonnes by the end of 2023.

The truck in a nutshell

The truck that we drove was a 4×2 tractor, which has a range of up to 300km and a wheelbase of 3,800mm. It was fully loaded to 40 tonnes.

Exterior

Our test truck was equipped with the Globetrotter XL cab, which means that it was super spacious. Yours truly is about 1.72 metres tall – and my head didn’t even come close to the roof.

Interior

The truck’s interior looks a lot like a diesel FH – but there are obviously the bits and bobs that relate to e-mobility (for instance, you can see the charging time required…more about that later). There is a starter key (not a push button) that is used to start the truck. Obviously, you don’t hear a peep though; the only sign that the truck is actually running is the “electric drive unit on” symbol in the instrument display.

Drivetrain

Our test truck had three electric motors (490kW) matched to an I-Shift gearbox. It had six batteries (540kWh). There are four ways to charge the traction batteries: charging while driving, by recovery of braking energy (more about that later), AC charging using an industrial socket, AC charging using a charging station or a wall box charger, or – finally – DC charging.

AC charging can provide up to 43kW while DC charging can provide up to 250kW. The actual time it takes to fully charge the traction batteries depends on, for example, the capacity of the traction batteries, the current state of charge of those batteries, the capacity of the charging station and the charging infrastructure and also the ambient temperature. When the charging starts, the estimated time to charge the traction batteries to the charge target is shown in the instrument display. The estimated charging time can also be seen in the side display. (This is also where the driver can manage the settings for charging.)

Our test truck had an 8.5-tonne front axle, a 12-tonne rear axle and air suspension front and back. As is almost always the case with electric vehicles, the performance was extremely brisk. Throughout the test drive, we utilised one-pedal driving, which helps to charge the batteries. Transport operators are all familiar with this, but here’s a brief explanation for anyone in the dark. With this way of driving, you can accelerate and brake the truck using only the accelerator pedal. When you depress the accelerator pedal, the truck accelerates as usual. When you ease your foot off the accelerator pedal, thus releasing the pressure on the accelerator pedal, the auxiliary brake brakes the truck.

Safety

We didn’t actually travel to Sweden only to test drive the FH Electric. We were invited to Gothenburg by Volvo Buses – for the world launch of Volvo’s new BZR Electric, a global platform for city, intercity, and commuter operations. We were welcomed by Volvo President Martin Lundstedt, who said something particularly apt: “If you close your eyes and think about safety and mobility, I hope you think of Volvo.” We would say that this is certainly true; Volvo (whether you’re talking cars, trucks or buses) has become synonymous with safety. In keeping with Volvo tradition, our test truck had lots of safety features, including Lane Keeping Assist, Side Collision Avoidance Support, Forward Collision Warning with ACC including Emergency Braking, Volvo Dynamic Steering and a Load Indicator.

Thankfully, we didn’t put most of those features to the test. However, the one that we DID experience was Volvo Dynamic Steering – and it works incredibly well. The system (which was launched about 10 years ago) was explained really well in a YouTube video featuring a hamster. (Yes, really. You can watch it here.) But, essentially, it was developed to automatically compensate for any unevenness in the road surface and to eliminate vibration and kicks in the steering wheel. When driving at low speeds, the steering wheel resistance is reduced by about 75% – a major benefit when reversing and during close-quarter manoeuvring. The steering wheel automatically also self-centres as soon as the driver’s grip on the wheel lightens. At higher speeds, the truck confidently maintains its direction even on poor surfaces and in strong side winds. During our test drive, we drove over obstacles. Had we been blindfolded (an interesting thought while driving a fully loaded truck), we would not have known that they were there. You really cannot feel them on the steering (which is precisely what Volvo Dynamic Steering is meant to achieve).

Verdict

This is a sensational truck to drive – because it looks and feels just like a Volvo FH with a diesel engine (except, of course, the torque is way better and there’s no noise). Accordingly, a truck driver will feel comfortable in the vehicle right away. Obviously, it IS a completely different animal. Yes, one does need to worry about range (which is always the case with an electric vehicle). But, that aside, it is a familiar friend that delivers an extremely comfortable, quiet and refined ride. It’s going to be interesting to see the rollout of these trucks on South African roads.