By Duncan Forrester, Chief Communications Officer at Volta Trucks
The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.
Volta Trucks was founded by Swedish entrepreneur, Carl-Magnus Norden in 2017, after being inspired by Tesla’s Model 3 launch at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show and his desire to translate that environmental impact and sales success into the commercial vehicle world. The launch of the first vehicle – the Volta Zero – was a pivotal moment for the industry: an all-electric large truck, specifically designed to be used in and around cities, with no legacy from the internal combustion engine. In this article, Chief Communications Officer of Volta Trucks, Duncan Forrester, discusses Volta’s vision for safer and cleaner commercial vehicles.
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According to Transport for London, trucks and heavy goods vehicles make up only 4% of total road mileage, and yet they’re responsible for 26% of pedestrian fatalities and 78% of cyclist fatalities. Clearly, there is something inherently unsafe with the design of these vehicles. Simply adding an electric drivetrain into an existing design is not going to solve the problem. At Volta Trucks, we decided to take the opportunity to design vehicles from a blank sheet of paper, and from the ground up.
Safer by design
We’ve never been in the business of internal combustion engines, so we are not bound by existing platforms and the architecture of traditional manufacturers. One of our early decisions was to position the driver low and centrally, at eye-level with pedestrians and cyclists. As a result, there are no blind spots, and the cabin is glass all around to maximise driver visibility. The driver can get out on either side of the vehicle, which means they always step onto the pavement, rather than traditional trucks who’s driver’s step into oncoming traffic. The sliding doors also help with safety, given the dangers of big truck doors swinging open into traffic.
Drivers appreciate the Volta Zero because of the safety and visibility features. Thanks to our reimagined truck design, drivers no longer need to step down two metres to street level, risking knee or ankle injuries, as is the case with today’s trucks. And fleet managers are happy because they can attract and retain drivers – one of our main motivators.
What about the range problem?
The Volta Zero is an inner-city vehicle for middle and last-mile distribution. Therefore, range is not a major issue. We’ve designed the vehicle for a 150km – 200km range, which our customers tell us is more than sufficient for their needs. These customers are from a range of industries, but typically they transport FMCG goods, food and beverage, furniture, and so on. Inner-city logistics also fits the size of the trucks we are developing: 7.5 tonnes, 12 tonnes, 16 tonnes and 19 tonnes. In terms of tonnage, this puts us in an underserved sweet spot as there’s plenty of activity in the 3.5 tonne and lighter sector, as well as in the over-19 tonnes segment. We’ve already launched our 16-ton vehicle as a demonstration model, and it has already received a very warm reception from fleet managers.
A European company
Our holding company is in Sweden, but most of our business operations are in the UK. We also have an office in France and are establishing offices in other European cities. We’re currently taking orders from fleet managers, and we’ll begin series production of customer vehicles towards the end of 2022. We’ll soon announce our manufacturing location, but we are committed to using a plant that is near to where our vehicles will operate. In terms of the rollout, we’re focussing on London and Paris to start, with expansion into other European cities and then the US and Asian markets.
Will trucks be self-driving?
We’re planning for an autonomous future but believe that we’re still some years away from it becoming a reality. Our vehicles will be fitted with latest ADAS technology, supporting safe driving with features like lane departure warning and 360-degree cameras. However, the nature of last-mile deliveries is that there will always need to be someone in the vehicle to handle off-loading and facilitating the delivery. So, for us, the motivator for an autonomous future will not be so much about saving money on a driver but more about road safety, which is something we’re fully dedicated to.
Truck as a Service
Truck as a Service is our subscription-based offering. Fleet managers are under pressure from European cities to transition to emissions-free transportation, but it is complex switching to electric vehicles, with significant factors to consider like the charging infrastructure, different maintenance requirements, new business processes, etc. With Truck as a Service, we can maintain a relationship with our customers throughout the lifecycle of their vehicle. At the same time, we can remove the headache of migration for fleet managers. As a result, we can make good on our promise to deliver trucks that are more sustainable and more profitable than fossil fuel versions.
What’s in the future?
Our founder Carl-Magnus Norden put it this way: “The mission of Volta Trucks is to become the most sustainable truck company in the world, lowering emissions in cities, reducing accidents with pedestrians and bikers, all while being the safest and best workplace for drivers.” Many major European cities have committed to decarbonised transport by 2030 and so we’re comfortable that demand will be strong for Volta Trucks. We’re no longer a start-up, we’re now a scale-up, and the challenge now is to grow in a way that aligns fully with our sustainability principles.