If Vehicles last mile delivery prototype shown at Freight In The City

Undoubtedly the smallest vehicle on display at Freight in the City was the If Vehicles prototype, an electrically-powered multi-modal last mile delivery vehicle.

It can be transformed from a light quadricycle to a power assisted trolley by sliding the driving position away under the load bed. In power-assisted trolley mode it can be used in pedestrian areas to access collection and delivery points.

“We don’t want to replace vans, we just want to make sure they are 100 per cent efficient”, CEO Andrew Hodgson told CM, “At the moment, delivery vans, especially in the last mile are around 50 per cent full, because that’s all that the person that’s driving them can actually do. We are working with our partners, the Algorithm People to carry out simulations to work out exactly how many we can replace. Our early simulations have estimated that one van servicing a hub and spoke operation can drop off four or five of our vehicles and we can probably replace six or seven vans because that one van is 100 per cent efficient, doing three or four round trips to the depot.

If Vehicles has a few different options where loading capacities are concerned. The company plans to work with its customers to create a customer-specific vehicle. “Our future thinking is that it could use micro-containers, which would be passed between different modes of transport”, says Hodgson.

The company is thinking of containers with 0.5m3 or 1.0m3 capacity. “We’re looking at ways to minimise the amount of infrastructure needed to transfer loads from the van to our vehicle. We’re working with a company called Vic Young up in Newcastle. He makes electric tail lifts. We would have a false floor where this rolls out from. The If Vehicles would all be above it, roll straight onto it and away. We’ve got a few different methods; we’re just trying to work out which is the best for which customer.”

The company expects that the vehicle would operate mainly in trolley mode to cater for local deliveries. “Then when the rider needs to get to the next intersection point when a van is coming along to drop off goods, that’s when they would jump on it and ride through the streets to get to that point”, says Hodgson.

Production versions will be around 760mm wide to avoid getting in the way of pedestrians. One of the ideas the company is considering is to use re-cycled composite material from de-commissioned wind turbines to construct the vehicles to improve their environmental performance.

In trials, the prototype vehicle has a battery life of over 12 hours, so there should be no need to re-charge them during a working day. If operating in hilly areas, for example, the company is looking at designing additional battery capacity using a modular design so if batteries do need to be exchanged during a shift, that can be carried out easily.

Volta Zero makes show debut at Freight in the City

At Freight in the City two years ago, Volta Trucks showed a drawing of its proposed 16-tonne Volta Zero delivery truck. This year the company was able to display a pre-production vehicle for the first time at the exhibition.

“We presented the concept and the principles behind Volta Zero two years ago. We brought along PowerPoint slides to show the world what we were thinking about and what we were going to be producing”, explains chief communications officer Duncan Forrester.

“Two years later, it’s great to be back in three dimensions in amongst customers, and be able to present the vehicle to them. The vehicle has been on a recent tour of the UK over the last couple of months, we’ve been to some really interesting shows, a real diversity of audiences to introduce the truck.”

After Freight In The City, the vehicle is due to head across the channel to go to the Netherlands, Luxembourg and back to France.

“We launched the truck on September 3rd 2020”, explains Forrester, “In that period of time, we’ve been on a tour of Europe, introducing the vehicle to a large number of customers in France, Spain, Germany Italy and the UK.”

Volta has racked up over 1,000 vehicle demonstrations in that time and now has around 2,500 pre-orders for the truck, worth over €600 million.

The vehicle will be built by Steyr Automotive in Austria and the first prototype vehicles are running at the MIRA test track near Nuneaton. “They are carrying out thermo-electrical work”, explains Forrester, “It doesn’t look like a truck, but the underpinnings and drivetrain of that truck are absolutely what we will bring into production.”

The first prototype is due to be completed before Christmas. This vehicle will go straight off for cold weather testing in Finland. This will be followed by around 25 prototype vehicles for engineering development and some will be used for customer assessments. After this Volta will build a product verification (PV) series in mid 2022 at Steyr to prove the manufacturing processes. Those vehicles will then be used for customer assessments too. The first series production model is due to roll off the production lines by the end of 2022.

“London and Paris are our two launch markets, London because of its long-standing approach to low-emission zones and the decarbonisation of the city centre”, says Forrester, “and Paris because they have taken arguably an even more aggressive to the de-carbonisation of the city centre.”

Paris and other French cities of more than 150,000 residents will face a ban of diesel-powered trucks from the end of 2023.