Volvo CTO: Society to Help Decide Zero-Emission Vehicle Mix

Company Will Offer a Range of Options
Lars Stenqvist
“We believe there is a life for the internal combustion engine, but not for diesel,” Lars Stenqvist says. (Joe Howard/Transport Topics)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The dominant choices for zero-emission commercial vehicles will ultimately be decided by truck buyers, but it’s the job of equipment manufacturers to provide options, executives from Volvo Group said.

“Today I am not sure what will happen, because this not only will be designed and decided by my engineers. This will be decided by society,” Chief Technology Officer Lars Stenqvist said during an April 9 meeting with North American media at Volvo Trucks headquarters regarding which zero-emission vehicles will prove most popular in the years ahead. But he is confident that demand for trucks will not wane.

“We believe that the world needs more transport, but we also are the first ones acknowledging that we cannot just extrapolate what we have today,” he said, a nod to the diesel engines that dominate today’s global commercial truck market. “It must be another transport system that we are building [and] that we are delivering, and it must be working within the boundaries of what the planet can cope with. And it’s something different than what we have today.”

The company has committed to the global Paris Agreement climate initiative and to have all of its customers’ trucks on the road be net carbon zero by 2050. To help propel that goal, Volvo aims to have all the trucks available in its lineup be fossil-fuel free by 2040.

Lars Martensson

"We want to grow the energy that comes from the renewable sources,” says Lars Martensson. (Joe Howard/Transport Topics)

Achieving these long-term goals means offering a broad range of options, since not every operation is suited to a single propulsion method, Stenqvist explained. The company is pursuing a three-pronged strategy built around battery-electric, fuel cell electric and internal combustion engines powered by renewable fuel.

“We need to master three,” he said. “We need to work smarter than ever creating more synergies than ever.”

He noted, however, that the company in 2024 will spend more money than it ever has on internal combustion to help drive development of multiple options. Global emissions regulations are one reason, but they’re also working toward addressing a specific area of opportunity, such as renewable fuels in city buses. And it’s Volvo’s 15,000 engineers who are working to find and develop these technologies, Stenqvist noted.

“They ask me, ‘Where are we going, boss? What will it look like when we are there?’ And it’s a fair question,” he said. But one thing they have in common is a desire to develop and fine-tune innovations that work.

“If you are an engineer in the Volvo Group, and you are developing a part or a component or system — hardware or software — you have to think, ‘I want my solution to be used across the globe,’ ” he said, noting that the company’s engineers are spread across the United States, Europe, India, Brazil, South Korea, China and Australia. But the Lundby facility in Gothenburg remains Volvo’s main engineering site.

Despite their numbers and geographic distance, the company’s focus on common architecture and shared technology guides their work.

“If you would meet my 15,000 colleagues, I think you would recognize some kind of common knowledge or common language,” Stenqvist explained. “This is very much how we are trying to maximize those synergies.”

But he acknowledged that the challenge is great, as buyers in various parts of the world have different needs and different circumstances that will steer which technologies will work, and which will not.

“It will be different in different regions and different countries,” he said.


Volvo's Chayene de Souza and Magnus Gustafson discuss how new, connected trucks can boost business, enhance safety practices, and reinforce preventative maintenance plans. Tune in above or by going to  

One thing Volvo won’t be working on is further evolution of diesel technology.

“We believe there is a life for the internal combustion engine, but not for diesel,” Stenqvist said, noting that the focus will turn to renewable fuels and, in some cases, biofuel. “There will be biofuel in some higher-priced applications.”

The focus on renewable fuel is advancing in part due to economics, since the waste oil used as a source is less expensive than vegetable oils that are used for food, noted Lars Martensson, the truck maker’s director of environment and innovation, on April 10. “Renewable diesel is growing because it can be used in today’s diesels and can be produced from various waste sources,” he said in a separate media presentation. “Biofuel is falling off in favor of renewable diesel. It’s the food versus fuel debate. We want to grow the energy that comes from the renewable sources.”

Martensson showed a slide from a presentation Volvo made to government regulators in 2007 that featured trucks powered by a variety of alternative fuels, including synthetic diesel, dimethyl ether and others that have fallen out of favor. And while all of those could still be advanced, he believes the transportation sector must narrow its focus.

“We don’t want to have all these variants,” he said. “We want to pick some winners.”

Martensson acknowledged the many considerations involved broadly in discussions of alternative fuels, including climate impact, energy efficiency, land use efficiency, fuel potential, vehicle adaptation, fuel cost and fueling infrastructure. But he and other Volvo executives stressed that the changing climate and the commitment the company has made to the Paris Agreement steer its mission.

Kristina Nilsson

“Environmental care has been with us at Volvo since we created this company,” says Kristina Nilsson. (Joe Howard/Transport Topics) 

In fact, a commitment to the environment has been central to Volvo from its inception and remains so today, said Kristina Nilsson, head of charging and infrastructure with Volvo Energy.

“Environmental care has been with us at Volvo since we created this company,” she said in an April 10 presentation from Volvo’s Camp X development center. “It’s core. It’s what we are.”

And she, like others at Volvo, stressed that science-based data on a changing climate demands that action be taken now. “We cannot sit around and wait for a business case to make this happen,” she said. “While a lot of things are not certain, climate change is not one of them.”

Martensson stressed that an ideal path forward is for customers and the manufacturer to move together toward gradual change.

“As a customer buying a truck, the easiest way is to buy the same type of truck they had before,” he said. “What we want to achieve here is to get them to understand that there are some alternatives when it comes to technology, [and] there are some different types of energy that could be feasible, and move step by step in that direction. We believe that will be good for our customers’ business and be good for our business.”

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: