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The Swedish automaker Volvo reportedly teamed up with U.S. grocer Albertson’s to create a system for heavy-duty electric trucks to start replacing old diesel semis. This is a first for the grocery giant, and Fast Company reported spotting the largely noiseless heavy-duty electric trucks in Irvine, California.
Across the U.S., more than 70% of all goods used in our daily lives—from food to manufactured products—are transported to stores and homes by trucks. This leads to an influx of trucks on our roads, which contributes to an increase in congestion, noise, and air pollution.
But now, Albertson’s, which is the second-largest grocery chain in the U.S., is testing two of Volvo’s VNR Electric trucks in Southern California. The trucks will reportedly make local deliveries and then return to a distribution center for charging, with a 150-mile range. Long-distance electric semi trucks are a more complicated challenge, but are also in development. The companies are also reportedly testing an electric refrigeration system that runs on a battery rather than the diesel fuel it would typically use.
The trucks are part of a public-private partnership called LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions), funded by California’s cap-and-trade program. This is a statewide initiative that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improve public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities, according to the LIGHTS’ program website.
For this project, Volvo also helped advise Albertson’s set up electric chargers, since there are no public chargers for semis available. The local electric utility is part of the program, so it understands when more electricity will be needed for charging. Currently, local colleges are reportedly training technicians in how to make repairs, and the local ports — which are two of the largest in the country— are also part of the program. It will run for three years.
According to the press release, the Southern California fleet is made up entirely of trucks manufactured by Volvo Trucks and covers 335 stores in the region, running from the Central Coast to the California-Mexico border. Volvo is leasing the trucks to customers in the program, rather than selling them, and the funding from the state will keep costs low.
“California is committed to investing in programs that help businesses make the switch to zero-emission vehicles and grow the market for these technologies,” CARB board member Gideon Kracov is quoted in the aforementioned press release saying. “I commend Albertsons for taking meaningful steps to reduce air pollution in California communities adjacent to its distribution centers and transportation corridors.”
This comes at the heels of California experiencing a truck driver shortage. According to the California Trucking Association, initial indications attribute the shortfall to be as high as 30%, and the possible reasons behind this including an aging workforce and some drivers possibly choosing to collect unemployment benefits rather than return to work during the pandemic.
Moreover, earlier this year, truck drivers who work at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA alleging that one of the region’s largest short-haul trucking companies failed to protect drivers from the COVID-19 pandemic.