GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — You could say it started when he was 12 years old.
Peter Voorhoeve was asked to write one of those “What do you want to be when you grow up?” essays for a class assignment.
“I happened to say, ‘I want to be a truck driver,’” he told me recently. “I never pursued it actually, but now I am.”
Not only does Voorhoeve have a commercial driver’s license which he uses to drive trucks, but he also runs a company that’s pioneering the next generation of logistics in North America.
Voorhoeve is president of Volvo Trucks North America. Its headquarters is nestled in the Volvo Group North America Campus that sits prominently off Interstate 40 between Highway 68 and Sandy Ridge Road in West Greensboro.
Volvo Trucks is now designing, manufacturing, selling and servicing a fully electric heavy-duty truck. That’s right: fully battery-powered and zero emissions.
It was conceived and designed in Greensboro. It’s being manufactured at its 1.6 million square foot plant in the New River Valley area of Western Virginia.
“Developments in society right now, more specifically when it comes to climate, but also where it comes to awareness together with the technological development kind of created an environment where we can introduce the electric truck,” he said.
Hence the Volvo VNR Electric whose lithium-ion batteries can produce 455 horsepower. It’s capable of pulling the same amount of weight as traditional diesel trucks.
“So normally, you can pull up to 82 to 83 thousand pounds (with a diesel truck). This truck does the same thing,” he told me.
It’ll go 150 miles on a single charge accomplished by plugging a cable into an outlet below the driver’s side door for 70 minutes.
In terms of cost, Volvo won’t release numbers. But it also doesn’t dispute industry averages that show an electric truck can cost as much as 2.5 times more than a diesel counterpart.
As president of the company, Voorhoeve believes it’s important for him to know how to drive all the trucks the company produces, including the VNR Electric. And he was gracious enough to take me on a spin around the Volvo campus and a quick journey along Interstate 40.
For me, it was a memorable experience.
On the surface, it looks like just about any heavy-duty tractor with the exception of the large battery packs on either side where the large diesel fuel tanks would normally be.
The VNR Electric has air brakes linked to a compressor powered by the batteries. So during the starting process, the brake noises are the same as those of vehicles with similar braking systems.
But when it’s time to start the engine, the silence is compelling. Just a slight hum. And from inside the cab, it sounds similar to what you would think a large battery-powered golf cart would sound like during acceleration.
There’s very little vibration. The seats are comfortable. And Voorhoeve says Volvo’s reputation of building safe vehicles is embedded in this vehicle.
He feels these attributes among others will not only help the trucking industry retain drivers but recruit more.
“All the drivers that are used to driving the normal diesel rigs, they don’t want to go back because (this) is so much more comfortable,” he told me while behind the wheel.
Volvo’s goals regarding sustainable trucks are aggressive.
“By 2030, 50% of all our Volvo trucks will be electric. By 2040, all Volvo trucks sold will be zero-emission vehicles,” he said.
But for that to happen, electric truck infrastructure (namely charging stations) will need to be in place. And we’re not there yet.
Right now, Volvo’s working with its partners, dealers and customers to make sure they’re able to charge their trucks at their departure points and after they arrive at their destinations. And since just about all the Volvo VNR Electrics on the road today run daily routes of 200 miles or less, that’s not a problem.
But Voorhoeve believes with more government incentives and the industry working together, it will happen.
“We believe that we (as a company) need to work on a more sustainable environment,” Voorhoeve said. “And we have the ability to make changes.”
It’s a big dream. Just like that of the 12-year-old who wanted to drive trucks many years ago.