Customer experience and uptime are two of the focus areas that Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) addressed when designing its new lineup of VNL and VNR tractor models – both launched earlier this year at separate events.
Company officials highlighted some of the attributes that make those vehicles driver friendly during a press conference on Monday at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta ahead of the official opening of the inaugural North American Commercial Vehicle Show.
“It’s all about our customers, it’s to save money, it’s to make money,” Magnus Koeck, vice president and brand management, VTNA, said. “It’s about fuel efficiency, driver productivity, safety and uptime.”
The VNR was launched in April with a focus on regional haul applications. “We realized we had fallen a little behind in the regional haul segment,” he noted.
The VNL is Volvo’s new entry to the long-haul segment and it is loaded with driver amenities, including small but important touches such as an under-the-driver’s seat refrigerator option so drivers don’t have to clutter the front of the cab with a cooler or reach across seats to grab drink. There are also curved cabinets, floor lighting, more storage spaces, LED lighting, and reclining bunk.
“A lot of the features you see in the truck today are a direct result [of customer input],” Koeck said.
Koeck, Goran Nyberg, president of VTNA and Keith Brandis, director of product planning, also addressed several other topics during the press conference.
Nyberg related that sales of long-haul trucks are off about 5% year to date, but “we believe we have a few years of a growing marketplace,” he said. Class 8 NAFTA sales are on pace for 225,000 units this year, he added, but he believes a strong labor market, GDP growth that should top 2%, improvement in construction spending and still low diesel fuel prices will contribute to improving market conditions.
Koeck noted Volvo’s continued investment in improving uptime for customers. The industry average downtime for a truck at a dealership is 3 days, he said, but Volvo is addressing this by growing its Certified Uptime Centers. Currently, 92 out of 420 nationwide dealers are in the network. Certified dealers are committed to getting customer trucks in and out as quickly as possible.
Volvo’s connectivity is also helping in this area by allowing the company to make remote updates to software on vehicles. There are over 600,000 Volvo vehicles now connected globally, 136,500 in the U.S.
Koeck also noted the 7.5% fuel efficiency improvement for the new Volvo VNL when operated with a 2017 D13 engine with turbo compounding technology over the legacy model with a D13 2014 engine.
To illustrate the fuel efficiency of Volvo models, Koeck offered a congratulatory note to Joel Morrow of Ploger Transportation. Morrow participated in NACFE’s Run On Less challenge that concluded in Atlanta on Friday. Driving a legacy 2016 Model Volvo VNL with I-Shift transmission, full aerodynamic package and lift axles on both the tractor and trailer, Morrow achieved 10.5 mpg in real-world driving conditions over the course of the event. Morrow told FreightWaves that he has averaged 10.42 mpg over his past 30,000 logged miles hauling mostly furniture.
Koeck noted that with the new technologies and aerodynamic profiles on the updated VNL, getting closer to the SuperTruck’s 12.5 to 13 mpg is much closer than people realize.
To round out the presentation, Brandis offered up a few thoughts on the future, which is increasingly looking like an electric and connected world. He noted that electromobility will come in steps, seeing widespread deployment in areas where it makes the most sense initially.
There are still obstacles, though, to widespread adoption of electric vehicles, platooning technology and autonomous vehicles.
“In order to get the range [on electric vehicles] we are going to need electric infrastructure to come along, so we think it will be [a while before that happens],” he said. “[And] the regulations today do not allow testing [of platooning] in many states and there is no federal guidance. We think we need a federal approach.”
Regardless of the technological approach, though, Brandis sees the solutions adopting to what truck buyers are demanding.
“In the end, someone has to buy this and the customer needs to be convinced,” he said, noting that autonomous technology is not cheap right now and the prices will have to come down with scale.
One thing was clear, though, electrification is happening the transport world.
“Electrification is going and it will be part of our products and powertrains of the future,” Brandis concluded.