Former Volvo Group Australia boss Peter Voorhoeve is clearly wasting no time in shaking things up at his new ‘ranch’, Volvo Trucks North America establishing a department within the company called Volvo Trucks 2.0, a special division charged with looking at how innovation in autonomous technology, electric powertrains and connectivity will develop within the trucking industry.
The new unit, headed by the former acting president of Volvo Trucks North American arm, Per Carlsson, has a separate research and development budget so that it can focus solely on innovation.
Peter Voorhoeve, has clearly driven the ‘Innovation’ unit with the aim of preparing the company for the future shock ahead.
“This is so new, so different and so exciting that we actually need a group of people that work full time on this,” Voorhoeve said.
“The group also is tasked with reviewing the work of third-party technology companies and deciding which businesses Volvo Trucks should partner with,” Voorhoeve added.
Voorhoeve said Volvo Trucks 2.0 is not as interested in figuring out how to design the next prime mover model but rather looking at the future of trucking, freight and logistics.
“This is trucking in the next 50 years it’s super exciting,” Voorhoeve said.
Volvo Trucks already has multiple technology initiatives with its European parent, including electric trucks and plans to start tests at Southern California’s sprawling port complex next year.
It has also run platooning experiments in which digitally tethered trucks follow closely together to reduce drag and increase fuel economy, in both California and along the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.
In Europe the truck maker has partnered with a Norwegian mine operator that is using six autonomous Volvo FH trucks that are driving themselves over a 5km track to transport limestone to a crusher.
“Trucking today won’t be what trucking will be tomorrow, the only thing that we can tell is that things will change,” Voorhoeve said.
Voorhoeve cited the partnership with the Norwegian mine operator Brønnøy Kalk AS as an example.
“Volvo gets paid by the ton for transported material. We’ve never done that before,” Voorhoeve said.
As autonomous and connected trucks become more common place, Voorhoeve said he believes the trucking industry will figure out ways to make money that are alternatives to building and selling vehicles.
“The car industry is figuring this out now and some solutions are more creative than others. Clearly, we will see that in our industry as well,” he said.
In Europe, the company is also developing its autonomous truck known as Vera, that has been designed to operate in restricted areas such as ports or warehouse districts to carry big loads along fixed routes. Vera is an electric prime mover without a cab which is self-driving.
“Connectivity is key to all of this and a production version of the Vera will have a place in the logistics chain somewhere,” he added.
“Volvo’s platooning tests – like one with FedEx in North Carolina in the summer of 2018 showed that efficiency gains are real and the technology can work,” Voorhoeve said.
However hurdles exist. For example Volvohas yet to talk to other truck manufacturers about setting industry standards that would allow platooning trucks of different brands to communicate with one another. This is vital for platooning to work, since the American Trucking Associations says that 91 per cent of carriers operate six or fewer trucks and not all of them travel to the same destination at the same time.
“Another challenge will be finding social and legislative acceptance for trucks driving close together, especially with autonomous technology involved,” Voorhoeve said.
However Voorhoeve believes that the U.S. is the likely location for the commercialisation of the technology.
“It’s easier to do it here than in Europe, yes, it is 50 different states, but it is still one country and Europe is not,” he said.
The Volvo Vera self-driving prime mover concept was unveiled in September and was designed to move trailers around in restricted areas like ports, freeing workers for other duties.
The concept looks nothing like a traditional cab since there is no room for a driver or even a steering wheel.