It's a brand new truck designed not only to be zero emission, but also to be safer in cities. The the first 25 Volta Zero ‘Design Verification’ prototype all-electric vehicles are now being evaluated by engineers, customers and the media with production of 16 and 18-tonne versions due to begin early next year in Austria.
Volta Trucks plans to launch in London and Paris before extending sales to other European countries including Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands where they expect cities like Madrid and Milan will take to the concept of a glasshouse-style cab with central seat, 220-degree field of visibility and an electric drivetrain.
The Zero has been designed with the protection of vulnerable road users in mind with the driver sitting far lower than in a conventional truck. The idea is that their eye-line is at around 1.8 metres, the height of pedestrians and other road users. Visibility is enhanced by side-view cameras that replace traditional mirrors, a 360-degree birds-eye camera and blind-spot warning systems.
The cabin is contemporary, spacious, and light, with intuitive user interfaces. The central display conveys critical information, while touch screens on each side are used for lights, climate control, navigation and trip planning, communication, and in-cab media.
Access is through fast opening sliding doors on each side of the cabin with a low entry height to enable the driver to easily step in and out of the cab rather than climbing up and down from a traditional cab, avoiding health and safety issues around falling from height.
Volta Zero Powertrain
The single electric motor and transmission is contained in a lightweight and compact e-axle unit driving the rear wheels. This frees up space between the chassis rails for the batteries and high voltage system ensuring they are well protected in the event of an accident.
The Zero gets a 200kW of continuous power and 570Nm of torque that is boosted to 250kW and up to 1,100Nm of torque at its peak. There are two liquid-cooled battery packs with 150kWh or 225 kWh options from battery supplier Proterra. The largest pack should be sufficient for up to 200kms of real world driving on a single charge. Volta believes this will be more than enough for most inner-city logistics and distribution vehicles which spend most of their operating time in slow-moving start and stop traffic. They are designed to deliver over 4,000 recharge cycles over 10 years, without significant degradation.
How does the Volta Zero drive?
The electric 16-tonne Volta Zero we drove has a payload of 8,000kgs, with an overall volume of 37.7m3 and there’s also option of a refrigerated box body. Volta believes that each Zero has the potential to do the work of three or four 3.5-tonne vans.
On paper the central driving position gives you the maximum vision around the vehicle, and it is supplemented with digital screens on the A-pillars and rear-view mirror. In the real-world it really does feel like you have a complete physical or digital 360 degree view of the surrounding area.
Sitting centrally does take a short while to get used to, particularly in gauging the width and your road positioning, but the benefits soon become obvious. There are no noticeable blindspots and also fewer distractions from passengers as they sit slightly behind you out of your line of vision.
Our unladen test vehicle was deceptively fast, hardly surprising giving the powerful motor and two-speed transmission combination. The change to second gear happens automatically at 28mph but in our prototype vehicle it was slow shift and came with a noticeable shunt. Volta says shift speed and smoothness can be adjusted but perhaps so too should the changeover speed as drivers may find the Zero shifting in and out of first and second gear constantly as they try to make progress in 30mph urban streets.
The low-down weight of the batteries makes for a very stable ride, even in out unladen test vehicle, and there’s a good amount of steering feedback. With no regenerative braking on the prototype vehicle, stopping power was the Zero’s most noticeable weakness. But with plans to include adjustable re-gen production models should be capable of stopping a fully laden truck.
As a design prototype, the physical elements of the truck were in varying stages of production readiness. Many of the materials for example are low grade plastics – something which Volta says will not be reflected in the finished product. Indicator and wiper controls need to be moved slightly closer to the steering wheel and, despite the wheel being rake and reach adjustable, there’s probably the need for a tilt adjustment if drivers of all heights are to comfortably see the digital display.
But prototyping is all about ironing out the bugs. Early indications are that Volta is taking the feedback onboard and despite the rapid rate of development, the finessed and highly accomplished vehicles will be hitting streets on time. If it delivers, we could all be breathing a little easier.