In an interview with Essa Al-Saleh, CEO and Board Member at Volta Trucks AB and Board Member of the Foundation for Future Supply Chain, I asked him why the transition from the internal combustion engine to zero emission transport is moving so slowly. What can be done about it?

Historically, this transition has been hindered by cost, uncertainty and conservatism in the trucking and transportation industry. However, change is essential especially given the detrimental effects of CO2 from internal combustion engines. Therefore it`s incumbent upon leaders in the sector to be catalysts and drivers towards this transition as well as having the support of government regulation. Good examples are the ban on diesel trucks in the centre of Paris from 2024 and the congestion charges in London, making the cost of driving internal combustion and/or diesel trucks much higher. This change is no longer an option but a matter of survival. In urban cities today the increase in traffic driven by population growth and increased ecommerce traffic has pushed the need to build sustainable environments and find safer solutions.

Companies like Volta Trucks aim to provide unique vehicles which are completely re-designed. Their mission is to provide zero emission trucks with people at the heart of everything, so they’re not only eliminating CO2 but also providing a safe environment for both drivers and pedestrians. Commercial vehicles represent about 4% of the traffic in an urban setting, but they cause around 70% of all fatal accidents for cyclists in a city. This is an unacceptable statistic. It is largely caused by poor visibility in the truck – the driver sits directly on top of a diesel engine with small windows and is unable to see cyclists and pedestrians around the truck. At Volta they have reimagined and leveraged technology that allows them to lower the cab to pedestrian height and provide wide visibility. They have consolidated the rear axle, the motor and the battery which is all protected by the chassis frame. That reimagination and ground up design allows Volta to lower the cab but also protects the heart (battery) of the truck, which could prevent damage in the event of an accident.

Volta have also created a new service model which makes the transition to electric easier for truck fleet operators, by providing financing and ongoing maintenance services that alleviate concerns about the residual value of the truck at the end of life of the truck. A fleet operator can have a one-stop-shop for all their questions and needs, which removes barriers and enables a smooth transition to a zero-emission platform.

The end of life of old diesel vehicles is also something that must be managed, so fleet owners have to start their transition to more sustainable truck operations now. As they go through their cycle of investing in new trucks, they need to start making decisions. Truck cycles can last for 6-12 years, depending on the use case. Almost every fleet owner replaces a portion of their fleet every year.

Europe and North America are the most advanced in government intervention and regulation. In the short term, Europe will grow to be the biggest market in terms of transition. The US will follow, as they ramp up in transition to a zero-emission vehicle fleet or ecosystem. They’ll eventually be a bigger market than Europe, but Europe will lead the way, driven by cities like Paris and London, where the yearly congestion charges are significant given the value of the truck.

In summary, what is needed is the right mindset and a recognition that climate change is a burning platform – the catalysts and the solutions are already there, so action must be taken. If the drive to zero-emissions was only led by an improvement to design and safety features, people would be slower to transition. Because it’s led by cost savings and safety, it removes any excuse.

Source: Foundation for Future Supply Chain, January 12th, 2022

Author: Julia Swales

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