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Volvo continues focus on driver comfort and vehicle uptime in U.S. and Europe

Recent Volvo Truck innovations in the U.S., and a new truck line in Europe continue to focus on driver comfort and keeping vehicles and drivers productive. (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

As Volvo Trucks continues to innovate, a focus is on building value for trucking fleets and driving efficiency and productivity for drivers.

That is evident in the new line of trucks the company’s global operation announced in Europe on Feb. 27, and it was evident in a conversation FreightWaves had in Atlanta this week with Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) representatives Allison Athey, product marketing manager for VTNA’s VNL on-highway tractor, and Ash Makki, product marketing manager with a focus on connectivity solutions.

“Fuel efficiency is a topic that is always on the forefront of our customers’ minds,” Athey told FreightWaves.

To that end, VTNA will be making FlowBelow’s Tractor AeroKit aerodynamic system a factory option. The AeroKit, which includes wheel covers and drive wheel fairings, has been shown to deliver up to 2.23% in fuel saving based on third-party SAE J1321 fuel economy testing using EPA SmartWay guidelines, FlowBelow has said. The product has been an aftermarket option since 2017.

Athey noted more fleets are looking to close trailer gaps and the use of sliding fifth wheels for this remain popular. Add in Volvo’s Turbo Compounding engine and its Xceed fuel efficiency package, which was made available on trucks for the first time in January 2019, and fleets have plenty of options to boost performance.

Volvo said its Xceed fuel efficiency package, available for Volvo VNL 760 and VNL 860 models, improves fuel efficiency by up to 11% when compared with Volvo’s Fuel Efficiency Plus specification. Xceed is 3.5% more efficient than the Fuel Efficiency Advanced specification, the company has said.

Truck drivers remain key

Drivers, though, are critical to the equation, and work done inside the cab is equally important.

“Keeping good drivers is always a challenge,” Athey said. “So, we continue to see [fleets request] more driver comfort features.”

This includes spec’ing of Volvo’s iShift automated transmission, which is included on 90% of VNL orders today. Athey said the inclusion of automated transmissions is one part of the extensive driver comfort features that fleets are interested in.

“It’s not just how easy it is to drive [the truck], we’ve made the driving experience [more enjoyable],” she said.

Athey pointed to the automotive-style steering wheel with controls at the driver’s fingertips, the ability to adjust the steering wheel column for more comfort, and the introduction of Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS) last year. Announced first in September 2019, VDS came to the U.S. from Europe. The system analyzes inputs from sensors throughout the vehicle to continuously monitor drivers’ actions, environmental factors and road conditions, and provide assistive steering when needed.

Among Athey’s favorite driver comforts, though, is the reclining bunk that changes position so drivers no longer have to strain to watch television or read when on a break.

Other driver-focused features Volvo has introduced in the last year include:

  • A new workstation, optional on the VNL 70-inch sleeper cab and VNX models, with a more comfortable sitting area and folding table that lowers to provide a base for the mattress cushions which can be unfolded to make a bed.
  • 23-inch wide-width seats
  • A Pre-Trip Assistant upgrade that features an exterior light inspection switch, located to the left of the ignition, to make it easier for drivers to perform an exterior light check during their pre-trip inspection.

Vehicle uptime impacts driver productivity

On the connectivity side of the equation, driver productivity is also a big part of the equation, Makki said, and the uptime factor of the vehicle impacts this.

“Our goal is always to minimize downtime,” he said.

That is evident in the new over-the-air (OTA) remote diagnostics change VTNA announced last week. Driver Display Activation gives drivers the ability to complete OTA updates at a more convenient time for them. According to Makki, once a customer – referred to as the ‘decision maker’ by Volvo – requests an update, the Volvo Certified Uptime Center will send that update to the requested vehicle or vehicles and an icon will flash on the instrument cluster screen. The driver can activate the update via the truck’s instrument cluster at their next planned stop or at a convenient time – such as during a mandated break.

“We cut the process down with this next generation by about 50% because we took out the conversation,” Makki said, noting that time was spent communicating the download to the driver, and the driver then stopping to allow the download to happen at a time that may have been as inconvenient for the driver.

If a driver does not complete the download within a set period of time, the decision maker is notified and can handle it through the proper fleet protocol for such a situation. At all times, Makki said, the decision maker is in charge of the process. Makki compared it to a phone update where the final download occurs when the phone holder presses the button.

Europe takes the lead

In the case of a global company like Volvo Trucks, innovations can come from many places. That was true with VDS, and it could be true again with driver comfort features. Volvo introduced four new trucks in Europe today with a large focus on driver comfort and features.

“Drivers who handle their truck safely and efficiently are an invaluable asset to any transport company. Responsible driving behavior can help reduce CO2 emissions and fuel costs, as well as helping reduce the risk of accidents, injury and unplanned downtime,” Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks, said. “Our new trucks will help drivers work even more safely and productively and give our customers stronger arguments when competing to attract the best drivers.”

Volvo introduced new versions of its Volvo FH, FH16, FM and FMX European models, which represent about two-thirds of its deliveries in Europe. In long-haul trucks, the cab is often the driver’s second home. In regional transport trucks it often serves as a mobile office, the company said. Therefore, visibility, comfort, ergonomics, noise level, maneuverability and safety were focal points when developing the new trucks.

On the driver comfort side, Volvo has introduced new cab designs for the FM and FMX models with improved ergonomics and displays. Their interior volume has been increased by up to one cubic meter for more working room, and larger windows improve visibility. The steering wheel is equipped with a neck tilt function, allowing the driving position to be individually adjusted and the lower bed has been raised, increasing under-bunk storage. The day cab has a new 40-liter storage compartment with interior lighting on the back wall. Cab comfort is further enhanced through reinforced insulation that helps shut out cold, heat and noise, while a sensor-controlled climate unit with a carbon filter promotes good air quality in all conditions.

The new driver interface includes a fully digital 12-inch screen, a supplemental 9-inch side display available for infotainment, navigation, information and camera monitoring. The functions can be controlled via buttons on the steering wheel, by voice control, or via the touchscreen and display control panel.

Whether it is in Europe or the U.S., Volvo continues to design not just for fleets, but for their drivers.

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]