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Three major transportation firms are set to work with one another on the development of a European charging network for “battery electric heavy-duty long-haul trucks and coaches.” 

In a joint announcement earlier this week, Volvo, Daimler Truck and the Traton Group said they had signed a non-binding agreement related to the installation and operation of the network. The goal is to set up a joint venture that all three firms would own an equal part of, with operations slated to commence in 2022.

Together, the companies are set to invest 500 million euros (around $593 million) in the joint venture, which would be based in the Dutch city of Amsterdam.

It’s hoped that, within five years of the JV being set up, at least 1,700 “green energy charging points” will have been installed and functioning. The tech, the firms said, is set to be located “close to highways as well as at logistic and destination points.”

“The number of charging points is with time intended to be increased significantly by seeking additional partners as well as public funding,” they added.

Change on the cards, but challenges ahead

In April, the International Energy Agency said that, globally, the number of electric cars, buses, vans and heavy trucks on roads was expected to hit 145 million by 2030.

According to the Paris-based organization, if governments ramp up their efforts to meet international energy and climate goals, the global electric vehicle fleet could increase further still, hitting 230 million by the end of the decade. Both of these projections exclude two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles.

As the number of EVs on our roads increases, extensive charging networks will need to be rolled out for all types of vehicles to meet increased demand and dispel lingering concerns around “range anxiety” — the notion that EVs aren’t able to undertake long journeys without losing power and getting stranded.

The electrification of long-haul, heavy-duty trucks and coaches poses its own set of unique challenges. As the IEA’s Global EV Outlook for 2021 notes, “long-haul trucking requires advanced technologies for high power charging and/or large batteries.”

Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday, Volvo’s chief technology officer, Lars Stenqvist, sought to explain why a charging network for heavy duty vehicles was needed.

“Right now, we are producing and distributing electric heavy duty trucks mainly for refuse applications, for city applications,” he said. “And those vehicles, normally they’re coming home to their ‘base camp’ every evening for charging.”

Stenqvist said the next step on the journey would be regional and long haul applications.

“Then, you are dependent on … [getting] the pan-European charging network in place and, right now, it’s a little bit of [a] chicken and egg discussion because there are no vehicles out there and … no infrastructure. But if there is no infrastructure, there will not be any vehicles.”

In terms of how the project would operate on the ground, Stenqvist explained it would be a “public, open network — so whatever make can charge their vehicles in this network.”

Later on in the discussion, Stenqvist stressed the importance of differentiating between vehicles. “We are talking about really high capacity chargers here and that is one of the reasons why we are not using, and cannot use, the car charging network … not from a performance perspective and of course also not from a … layout perspective.”

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