Class 8 electric vehicle maker Volvo and Pilot Co., operator of the largest chain of travel centers in the U.S., have signed a partnership agreement to develop a public charging network to support expansion of the use of Volvo’s regional VNR Electric heavy-duty tractor. The deal also boosts Mack Trucks, a Volvo brand, which said it can now grow sales of its electric LR refuse model as well.
Volvo announced on Nov. 15 that it had signed a letter of intent with Pilot to develop the charging network and install at selected Pilot and Flying J travel centers high-performance charging stations that can support heavy EVs of all brands as well as the VNR Electric, which is most used now by fleets in California to support regional-haul operations in the Inland Empire near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Volvo has signed notable deals recently to populate fleets with VNR Electrics outside the Golden State and is expanding its own dealerships from the current 18 to an eventual 55 nationwide to support the heavy EV with sales, service, and parts as well as make up the OEM’s own chain of dealer-based charging stations that can be used by any compatible heavy electric vehicle, regardless of brand.
Pilot runs more than 750 locations in North America in 44 states and six Canadian provinces under its Pilot, Flying J, and Mr. Fuel brands and is the largest seller of over-the-road diesel fuel in the U.S. The Nov. 15 Volvo release did not specify how many of the Pilot-branded locations will feature EV recharge hookups, though the release said Pilot and Volvo will work to identify which of the travel centers should be prioritized based on "current and anticipated EV truck deployment volume, customers’ charging needs and patterns, and the availability of federal and state funding" to supplement the construction costs.
The truck-stop chain’s nationwide footprint does mean EV charging availability could expand greatly—and soon, if roadblocks with electric utilities, which have been slow to support electric-vehicle charging, can be cleared. The Biden administration also progressed on a national EV charging network in September by approving the final batch of proposals from states, setting in motion a $5 billion investment to build charging stations over the next five years.
The Volvo and Pilot partnership promises to provide commercial fleets, many hesitant to phase all-electric vehicles into their operations, with a "more seamless electromobility journey" that “can address charging infrastructure accessibility and roadblocks, including long project lead times and high installation costs, that can otherwise delay scaled deployment of battery-electric vehicles,” the Volvo release stated.
“Our VNR Electric customers, as well as other fleets looking to adopt battery-electric trucks, will have peace of mind that they can access a reliable and robust [and] publicly accessible charging network strategically located along major transportation corridors, enabling them to extend their operating radius and decarbonize even more of their routes,” Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), the parent company’s U.S. subsidiary, added via the release.
VTNA builds the regional VNR Electric at its Dublin, Virginia, New River Valley assembly plant in 4x2 straight truck, 6x4 straight truck, 4x2 tractor, 6x2 tractor, and 6x4 tractor configurations. The company's Hagerstown, Maryland, powertrain plant produces modular power boxes that are at the heart of the VNR Electric and Mack's LR Electric refuse model, which was launched just this March.
The VNR Electric has a range of about 275 miles, optimal for urban and regional applications, but reliable networks of recharging stations could expand that range for the VNR and any heavy commercial EV as fleets wait for battery capabilities to extend their viability into long-haul trucking, an issue that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressed last month with media at an industry conference.
“We get that [electric-vehicle adoption] is not all going to be the same and that there will be a lot of particular challenges, but also different opportunities around trucking,” Buttigieg said during the media chat at American Trucking Associations' Management Conference & Exhibition. “We’re not naive about the differences needed for trucking and light-duty passenger vehicles. But it’s how we have a transformation that creates American jobs and gets us to a cleaner climate.”
OEMs Freightliner (eCascadia) and Kenworth (T680E) also make heavy EVs with roughly the range of the VNR Electric. To date, early adopters of VNR Electrics (and the other brands' heavy EVs) have utilized depot charging to support their daily routes, where trucks return to one location to charge, the Volvo release notes.
“Pilot Co. and Volvo are committed to developing transportation solutions that will guide and support the industry through the energy transition,” said Shameek Konar, Pilot’s CEO. “Joining forces with Volvo, an expert in freight technology, aligns with our goal to support sustainable transportation infrastructure and to meet our customers where they are headed, now and in the future.”
“Partnerships like this one are important for Mack, our industry, and for society as a whole,” Martin Weissburg, president of Mack Trucks and chairman of VTNA, said in a separate release from the Volvo brand. “Mack and the Volvo Group are committed to being leaders in the transition to zero-emission transportation, and accelerating the availability of publicly accessible charging is crucial to achieving the decarbonized, sustainable future we’re dedicated to helping bring about.”
This story originally appeared on FleetOwner.