“A lot of our customers are looking at a green eco-system for trucks, for themselves,” says Paul Ilmer, Vice President Emerging Technology Business development at Volvo. “So, they’re looking at solar and charging trucks overnight, looking at battery storage to then use the energy that they have harvested during the day.
“The technology’s here now, it’s not difficult, and they’ve got big sheds with huge roofs. There’s an opportunity there. From an energy perspective, after they’ve paid off the investment, the solar is zero, it’s free energy.”
The perception is that maintenance costs are lower because there’s less maintenance required. However, at this point in time, all of the electric trucks Volvo have supplied in Australia are under a service agreement, a more secure option for companies putting their toe in the alternative power waters. There are few facilities able to service the latest electric trucks.
This level of security is in the nature of the transaction, for now, an electric truck owner can’t go to Joe around the corner and get a truck fixed. These concerns are going to make the fully maintained contract more attractive.
The increase in the number of electric trucks is going to change the nature of the truck maker’s relationship with its customers because currently quite a lot of customers prefer to work on their own trucks. In the transition to electric, the trucking operator is probably going to become more reliant on the truck dealers with specialist staff and equipment.
“It’s a hard one to forecast,” says Paul. “There is a requirement to bring these trucks in for proper diagnosis and to make sure that people are working on them safely.”
The trend in the big cities towards large super dealerships with many repair bays looks set to continue as electric and hydrogen appear on the scene.
“Is there an opportunity where the workshop goes to the customer more?,” asks Paul.
Working on a truck at customer premises would be a lot less complex of a procedure, apart from the isolating of the truck from other equipment and trucks. So, the customer would have to have an area which is properly set up to work on an electric truck, but there wouldn’t be that much equipment required.
This is an area where truck makers like Volvo are having to wait and see, gauge customer feedback and develop the new procedures which fit with the operator requirement and the capabilities within the truck dealership groups. The most likely outcome will be a mix of several strategies before we get a clearer picture of just how the new technology will play out.
“I do think that there will be that requirement for it to come into a Volvo Group workshop, because of the amount of competence training needed,” says Paul. “The technology is completely different, and to work on that equipment safely and successfully is going to be a proprietary job and I think it’d be the same for all the OEMs.
“Our training of technicians on the new trucks will be proprietary training, to Volvo and the Volvo product,” says Paul. “Moving forward, how much of it is transferable? Because the isolation of the 600-volt system is relatively universal but working on the individual truck is really unique to that vehicle. It differs on how each manufacturer packages the cooling system and hydraulic system, and even from a software perspective, so I think it is going to be quite proprietary.”
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