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Published: 11 January 2022

In-Depth with Volvo's BZL

The launch of Volvo’s latest offer has certainly answered a number of questions regarding the direction and state of electromobility. However, there are also some new questions that arise and in this exclusive interview Asian Buses gets to the bottom of things.

Immediately after the global launch of the BZL, we spoke to Dan Pettersson, Head of International, Volvo Buses. The first thing one will notice is that the latest product offered by Volvo Buses is labelled a “Electromobility Offer” and not a bus. Pettersson has obviously expected this question and elaborated that a bus nowadays is not the only offer, but part of a system, something that Volvo offers. “Along with a bus come a number of services. We work with partners to offer charging infrastructure.”

When considering a new solution, fairly quickly one will need to address the issue that many fleets of commercial vehicles are mixed brands. Just like a fuel would be the same for any brand of buses, the electricity-powered buses offered by Volvo share this approach. In this case, the charging infrastructure is being standardized. According to Pettersson, the industry
has to standardize this. “We are using standardised solutions - CCS-2 and OppCharge are examples which are standard charging interfaces used around the world by suppliers.” 

Volvo offers a revolutionary chassis, which will require the input from experienced body builders. Priding themselves in offering a global solution, Volvo Buses is working with a number of body builders. Said Pettersson “We are working with some of them on a global basis, others on regional and yet another are appointed for local  applications.” The choice of the respective partner depends on the specifications and local content needed in the buses. 

“Our focus market in Asia Pacific for the launch is Australia, where we have started with Volgren, a Marco Polo company,” he said. In summary, he said that the partner chosen will always be the best possible one in each market. “With the introduction of electromobility, one also has to acknowledge that there are big changes in the supply chain.”

The radical shift comes after Volvo has been working on Diesel-powered buses for over 100 years. Besides new technology, new competences are needed. A number of body
builders have already acquired the know-how to address the needs of the technology this new paradigm is built upon. Pettersson stated that Volvo is also assisting its partners
with the transfer of required skills. 

Picking antipodean markets, Australia and the UK, as the launch markets might have raised some eyebrows. Recently, the market has witnessed a number of new products
being launched in small and highly developed markets that allow for close monitoring of new tech. Citing the strong market position in the two markets picked for this launch, Pettersson hopes that the ambitious plans to implement electromobility in these two countries will accelerate the deployment of the new system. 

However, Pettersson also cautioned that the enthusiasm around electro mobility needs to be channelled in the right way. “We cannot serve all markets at the same time; we need to start somewhere”. In parallel to this, the prioritisation must go hand in hand with the assessment of the readiness of the market. The sales force needs to be ready, as has to be the local partners and of course the spare parts pipeline. To get this right, it is all about the application of the Volvo BZL. “This needs to be done absolutely right. Therefore, the sales force has to be trained accordingly to get the requirements right and right from the start.” This is just one aspect of the system that has to be ready
with all aspects, including the services.

Globally, parts and major components for electro-mobility are being offered and developed by myriads of start-ups and established players. Although certain sub-systems are standardised, the BZL still contains a high level of Volvo-own components. “Batteries for instance are a good example. There is such a rapid development that it is best to work with partners.”

Beyond the hardware, one also has to address the changed needs of other key components, especially the driver. While the behaviour of a driver could already be instrumental in contributing to the bottom line of an operator, this is even more so the case with electric vehicles. A heavy right foot for instance can drastically impact the range of such vehicle. Overall, the behaviour of the vehicle changes: acceleration and braking changes with the new technology. Emphasis will have to be on driver training to get the system performing optimally.

In tandem with the BZL, Volvo introduced “Volvo Connect”, a way to monitor fleets and to learn from data gathered from the telematics system build into the vehicles. One aspect of this is to optimise the charging pattern in accordance with routes and driving patterns. Pettersson calls this an enabler to increase profitability of a fleet by way of creating value out of the data. Requiring the cooperation with the clients is expected to provide valuable input.

With new technology come new requirements. In the case of the BZL, a significant number of safety features have been added. In detail:

- Electric Cables & Connectors pre-made to length ensuring quality
- Hazardous Voltage Interlock Loop (HVIL)
- Isolation resistance monitoring
- Floating ground (earth)
- Traction voltage discharge
- Emergency cut-off switch
- Battery cell level: safety is ensured with separators, vent and CID(Current Interrupt Device)
- Inbuilt fire protection on module and pack level
- Battery protection casing and internally fused
- Continuous monitoring of for instance temp and voltage
- Thermal runaway detection
-Comprehensive test program verifying legal requirements and
- Volvo internal requirements
- Full training including safety requirements based on EU standards

With the backdrop of the pandemic, some interesting developments emerged. One might have expected that a mega event like this may impede the development of a new technology. However, Pettersson noted that the development has really sped-up in the past 18 months. “We expect that this technology will really take off now and that city buses will be where a rapid growth with be seen.” Following that, Pettersson expects that a whole range of new products will be introduced.

Volvo is confident that they are on the right track with the new offer as the company not only offers sophisticated products. Pettersson pointed out that launching a new bus is just one aspect of the business. What it takes is the network, the ability to deliver consistent service over decades, not just months and the readiness with parts to ensure the vehicles are performing over their life-span, which can be up to 20 years.