• Nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, most of them in cities.
  • Although there are ever more zero emission cars, trucks are still mostly diesel.
  • But now a new electric urban delivery truck is starting to clean up our urban air.

There were 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads at the end of 2020 as registrations soared by 41% in just one year. But when it comes to hauling heavy loads, most of the world’s trucks still run on diesel.

But that’s starting to change with the introduction in Germany of the world’s first 16 tonne all-electric truck. The Volta Zero has already been demonstrated in France, Italy and Spain. It’s due to enter service by the end of this year.

Electrifying truck fleets will have a positive impact on urban air quality. According to the United Nations, nine out of 10 of us breathe polluted air. Air quality is at its worst in city centres. The 96 entries in the global league table of the worst air quality locations are all cities. Recent research shows 3.4 early deaths are caused by outdoor air pollution every year.

a chart showing that outdoor air pollution is among the biggest risk factors to human life
Outdoor air pollution is among the biggest risk factors to human life.
Image: Our World in Data

Cleaner air and safer streets

As well as being the first purpose-designed all-electric commercial vehicle designed for city centre deliveries with a range of 200 km between charges, the Volta Zero is also claimed to be one of the safest trucks in the world.

image of the Volta Zero electric truck designed for inner city deliveries
Cleaner air: the Volta Zero electric truck designed for inner city deliveries.
Image: Volta Trucks

The driver sits in the centre of the cab at low-level to mirror the eyeline of pedestrians and car drivers. Conventional truck blindpots are eliminated by what the makers call a “glasshouse-style cab” with 220⁰ visibility, supplemented by cameras in place of conventional mirrors.

Sweden-based Volta have also shown the Zero to potential customers in London where a fifth of all pedestrian fatalities and over 70% of cyclist deaths are caused by trucks even though they only account for 4% of vehicle mileage in the city.

Perfect timing

The timing of their sales campaign is particularly opportune. Earlier this year, 14 Dutch cities announced they would ban fossil fuel vans and trucks from their urban areas from 2025. Across Europe, communities will allow only electric vehicles in towns and city centres in future.

Volta Trucks is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Innovators Community, an invitation-only group of the world’s most promising start-ups and scale-ups that are at the forefront of technological and business model innovation.

The Zero is not the only truck vying for the lucrative urban market. Last autumn Amazon ordered 10,000 electric vans from US-based maker Rivian and 1,800 Mercedes electric vans for use in Europe, the German manufacturer’s biggest single electric vehicle order.

image of the all-electric Hummer pick up
Of road: deliveries of the all-electric Hummer pick up will start deliveries this autumn.
Image: GMC

Rivian is also building an all-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) with deliveries due to start in July 2021. It’s a market that’s attracting a lot of attention in the US with an all-electric Hummer SUV due to be delivered to customers from early 2023.The pickup version is due this autumn.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

The biggest yet?

But when it comes to the largest vehicles in the world, such as the huge dump trucks used in mining and quarrying, electrification is also coming soon thanks to a collaboration between a company best known for Formula One racing cars and a French energy firm.

image of the world's largest electric vehicle
At 263 tonnes, this mining dump truck is the world’s largest electric vehicle.
Image: Williams

Together, Williams Advanced Engineering and ENGIE have developed what’s claimed to be the world’s largest electric vehicle. Weighing in at 263 tonnes, the modified Komatsu dump truck uses hydrogen fuel cell technology to generate the power for its electric motors.

The electricity is stored in high powered lithium-ion batteries. Testing of the new truck is due to start at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena platinum mine in South Africa later this year. The Williams team are already working on a plug-in battery mining truck for use in Australia.