COVID-19 took some of the thunder away from Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) in March, but the company is regaining some of the spotlight now.
VTNA held a virtual press conference on Thursday highlighting some of the key attributes of its new VHD model, introduced at ConExpo in March, announcing a new auto hauler option, the VAH, and touching on some of the impacts the COVID pandemic has had on the company.
One adjustment Volvo has had to make is shifting to a “virtual walk-around” for customers. Typically, when Volvo customers place larger orders for trucks, they are invited to the factory to review the first few models to ensure they meet expectations, said Magnus Koeck, vice president of strategy, marketing and brand management. Since COVID-19 has limited traveled and in-person events, Volvo needed a different approach that still met its customer service needs.
Customers are now provided a virtual walk-around of their vehicles and are able to see live images from high-definition webcams showing the exteriors and interiors. Close-ups of the undercarriage, powertrain and suspension are provided.
“This has been incredibly beneficial in allowing customers to have an in-depth and up-close discussion of how they can use our trucks and services to benefit their business, even when they aren’t able to physically be here,” said Rob Simpson, director of the Volvo Trucks Customer Center. “We also found that the camera’s small size and high definition let the customer get a close look at components and installations that are not easily accessible. So even with live customer visits, we will still use this technology to help them see more of our trucks.”
The Volvo Trucks Customer Center in Dublin, Virginia, is currently open with a limited capacity for in-person vehicle reviews, the company said.
Orders, Koeck said, have dropped due to COVID, forcing Volvo Trucks to adjust. The company laid off 4,100 employees globally, he said, but it has not scaled back on investments for the future, and it maintains flexibility to adapt as orders pick up again.
“We are planning for the future,” he said. “The market will come back. How fast? How much? We just don’t know.”
Koeck said there has been positive momentum of late, but uncertainty continues, especially as states begin slowing reopening plans. As talk of infrastructure programs comes up, though, Koeck said the timing is right for the new VHD.
“Timing wise we think it is pretty good,” he said. “We know the economy needs to pick up [and a infrastructure bill would help]. … We’ve seen a very positive uptick in the orders for VHD in the past few weeks.”
Volvo is moving ahead with its VNR Electric truck deployments. The first vehicle in the California pilot program was delivered in February and Koeck said two additional trucks are slated to be delivered in August.
Development of electric vehicles across the industry could take a hit because of COVID-19, Koeck said.
“Due to the COVID situation, a lot of companies and a lot of states have run out of money, or have less money, and we know that to get the electric going, we need to rely on subsidies,” he said, adding, though, that the pandemic has also put a spotlight on sustainability efforts and electric vehicles could benefit from that.
On the press call, Volvo announced a redesign of its VAH auto hauler model. The new vehicle is based on the VHD vocational tractor that was first introduced at ConExpo earlier this year. While a niche market, auto hauling remains a significant part of Volvo’s vehicle portfolio, Koeck said
“It is a substantial (part of Volvo’s business), which is why we … made a specific product to meet that demand,” he said.
As auto manufacturers restart production, the need for new vehicles should grow.
Johan Agebrand, director of product marketing, said the VAH comes in three cab lengths, including two sleeper models. The VAH 400 sleeper model includes a 52-inch interior cab height and 145.6 BBC (bumper to back of cab) length. It comes in 97.5-inch or 102.5-inch roof heights. The 600 sleeper model adds nine inches to the cab height, boasting a 61-inch height for longer trips that require multiple nights on the road, and 36-inch wide mattress. Its BBC is 164.1 inches with either the 97.5-inch or 102.5-inch roof height.
“The roof heights are an important aspect when it comes to auto hauling,” said Agebrand. “It makes a difference if you can haul 11 vehicles as you can with a Volvo auto hauler or something less.”
The roof heights allow for larger SUVs and pickup trucks to be loaded above the cab, Volvo said.
Also available is a 300 day cab model that features that 11-vehicle capacity on a truck with 113.6 BBC and either 94.5-inch or 97.5-inch roof height.
The VAH features deep-drop front axles and low-height Volvo Air Ride rear suspensions. It includes the updated Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA) collision-avoidance system with radar and automatic braking technology that monitors road hazards.
The tractor comes with Volvo’s I-Shift automated manual transmission and the option of Volvo’s D11 or D13 engines. It also features Volvo’s “Position Perfect” steering configuration, new LED lighting for increased visibility, cruise control and a symmetrical instrument cluster with a high-resolution, programmable LCD screen that transmits critical vehicle alerts and system settings. An optional infotainment system features a seven-inch color touch screen and integrated premium audio.
Remote Diagnostics is standard and Remote Programming is part of a service bundle for those fleets interested in over-the-air programming updates.
Fontaine Modification is handling the modifications for the three vehicle configurations.
Introduced in March at ConExpo, the nation’s largest construction show, the VHD vocational truck has been met with positive reactions to date, Koeck said. Andy Hanson, vocational product marketing manager, provided a virtual walk-around of the vehicle on the press call.
Standard with Volvo Active Driver Assist, the VHD features several upgrades over Volvo’s previous vocational vehicle. A Volvo T-Ride suspension is available in two capacities – 44,000 pounds or a 46,000-pound Firm Ride option. The Firm Ride option is used when roll stiffness is needed, Hanson said. A short ride suspension is also available for applications where short overhangs, such as for rolloff dumpsters, are needed.
The I-Shift transmission includes either one or two additional “crawler” gears to allow the vehicle to start on steep grades. The 12-speed transmission also benefits from the crawler gears when providing low-speed control.
A new grille design is part of the exterior improvements, which also include new LED high/low beam headlights with available de-icing features, and a heavy-duty 45 mm tow pin rated at a full 80,000 pounds. The tow pin is recessed on the axle back model.
The interior features five full feet of height and a 2,000-square-inch windshield for added visibility.
The VHD includes Remote Programming and Remote Diagnostics and Volvo Active Driver Assist.