Channel change - profile of Renault Trucks' electric truck production line18 May 2022

Renault Trucks is moving rapidly towards offering a full range of battery-electric commercial vehicles under a new brand: E-Tech. Toby Clark visited its Blainville factory in Normandy to find out what the plans are, take a look at some of the latest vehicles and see how they are made

Renault Trucks has been making electric CVs since 2010, under the ZE sub-brand. But the firm is accelerating its move towards a full range of electric trucks and vans under a new banner of E-Tech. It plans for 50% of its sales to be electric by 2030, and by 2040 for 100% of its vehicle sales to be carbon-neutral — mostly electric, with some hydrogen- or biofuel-powered.

Until now, numbers have been small, but are rapidly rising: the firm delivered 249 electric trucks in 2021 — and predicts almost 2,500 in 2022.

Business intelligence director Marc Lejeune explains the firm’s reasoning for a largely electric approach to decarbonisation: “The technology for hydrogen is not fully defined yet… while biofuels are a good thing, but quantities are limited.” He points out the risk of methane leaks, and adds “NOX emissions will disqualify biofuels from city delivery.” For this role, “the battery-electric truck is an order of magnitude better than the alternatives.”

Lejeune says: “Battery-electric trucks are three to five times more energy-efficient well-to-wheel than any other option,” with an overall efficiency of around 62% (for a 16-tonne distribution vehicle) compared with around 23% for fuel cells and 13% for diesel. There will be economies of scale, and batteries are getting cheaper all the time. “The conclusion is that a battery-electric truck is a very efficient way to use valuable energy.”

François Savoye, vice president, electromobility solution offer, explains that hauliers need practical support in their transition to electric vehicles, so E-Tech focuses on “360° support for customers… in their transition to carbon neutrality.” He puts this into four phases:

  1. Helping customers draw up their decarbonisation plans and define their needs
  2. Diagnosis, based on analysis of the fleet, routes and available electrical facilities. Simulation tools (including a range simulator) help generate a detailed recommendation, including a roll-out schedule and a forecast of CO2 emissions reduction
  3. Renault Trucks develops the ‘electric mobility ecosystem’ — helping with financing (including subsidies), truck specifications, charging facilities and maintenance agreements — while the customer tests an electric truck under working conditions
  4. Renault Trucks acts as project manager for installation of on-site charging, as well as training drivers and fleet administrators. It develops monitoring of the fleet and the charging facilities, to optimise routes and maintenance operations.

To carry out this work, Renault will be appointing dedicated ‘electromobility specialists’ in dealerships and regions.

The firm’s E-Tech electric urban distribution truck range now includes the D range (4x2 at up to 16t gvw) and the 4x2 or 6x2 (18t or 26t) D Wide, in wheelbases from 3.9m to 6.8m, as well as low-entry cab variants for municipal applications. All are available with the option to power the refrigeration system directly from the traction batteries.

Meanwhile, the electric Master van has been equipped with new 52kWh batteries — guaranteed for eight years or 160,000km — for an effective range of 190km.

In the first quarter of 2023, the brand will introduce heavyweight E-Tech models, the T (transport) and C (construction) ranges at up to 44 tonnes, built not in Normandy but near Lyon in the Renault Trucks plant in Bourg-en-Bresse, eastern France. There will be 4x2 and 6x2 tractors and 4x2, 6x2 and 8x4 tridem rigids, with two or three electric motors producing up to 490kW (657bhp). Batteries with capacity of from 180 to 540kWh should give a range of 300km over a working shift, or up to 500km with a one-hour intermediate fast charge. Charging is via AC connector (at power of up to 22kW). Faster DC charging can take place at up to 150kW.

As part of its ‘360° support’ approach, Renault sizes battery packs to suit an application over the truck’s lifetime, taking the risk of battery degradation away from the operator. The 66kWh battery packs are made up of Samsung NMC prismatic cells — modern but conventional technology. A nominal 264kWh four-battery setup starts with a maximum usable energy of 80% of this figure (disregarding the first and last 10% of the charge) — giving 211kWh. At the end of its ‘first life’ — before recycling, after up to 10 years depending on usage — the ‘state of health’ of the batteries will be around 80% of this figure, or 168kWh. So this 168kWh figure is what Renault Trucks uses to guarantee the range of the truck for a particular application.

BOX: The Blainville Factory

Blainville-sur-Orne has been a truck factory since 1957, although impressive vaulted concrete ceilings show its origins as a naval shipyard. It has had €200m invested in the last decade, and is now a certified ‘zero landfill’ operation — and the biggest electric truck factory in Europe.

Blainville makes cab shells for Renault, Volvo and even DAF, but this ‘body-in-white’ plant is in a separate building from vehicle assembly. The assembly line itself — for middleweight Renault Trucks and Volvo models — is impressively quiet and calm, and yet turns out a new vehicle every five minutes.

The process begins with pre-formed and -drilled side frames from a subcontractor. In just three hours, these are turned into a driveable chassis-cab, complete with engine and ancillaries. Almost every truck is different, so specific components are brought in on automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Around 16% of the staff are female, with efforts being made to increase this number by improving ergonomics.

Electric trucks are built on the same line as diesel vehicles, and the Modular Power Box (containing motor and battery management systems) and gearbox are fitted here; but at the end of the line they move to the nearby electrical assembly building for fitment of the battery modules and other finishing. This area — appropriately, even calmer than the main line — currently employs around 30 staff over two shifts, producing nine electric trucks a day.

BOX: On-road impressions

Little indicates that the 6x2 D Wide E-Tech P, a rear-steer 26-tonner, is an electric truck from the outside, bar some badging and the charging socket hatch. Inside, the blue metallic trim around the dashboard is unique to the E-Tech range (pictured, p19). Below it, there’s no gear lever: just dash-mounted rocker switches for drive/reverse and neutral, and a conventional parking brake. With a kerb weight of 9,790kg, the vehicle offers four 66kWh battery packs (for a suggested range of 200km) and two electric motors, giving a maximum continuous power of 260kW (349bhp) and a peak of 370kW (496bhp).

Turn the ‘ignition’ key, and there’s a brief self-check routine before the truck becomes active; no noise, even from the air compressor (electric, of course). Engage drive, press the accelerator, and you’re off — again almost silently. 850Nm of torque from zero rpm means that there’s no need for a crawler gear, and initial acceleration is strong, if not startling. Overall it is serene; at speed, wind noise and tyre noise become more noticeable than in a conventional truck, but it’s easy to maintain a conversation.

Test driver Hervé explains that the optimum driving technique is a little different from usual: if you lift off from the accelerator completely, the truck engages regenerative braking, and (on the level) it will slow down. A light brush on the pedal removes regen altogether, while a column stalk adjusts it like a retarder.

The dash is understated: a central gauge replaces the rev-counter, and shows power use or the amount of power being recovered by regenerative braking. Also displayed is battery level and predicted range; our 40km A-road drive, negotiating plenty of traffic, used around 14% of the capacity. -Toby Clark

Toby Clark

Related Companies
Renault Trucks UK Ltd

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