Breaking the ICE

A new big bore diesel engine, comprehensive changes to cab aerodynamics and a pathway to an alternative propulsion future are just some of the key elements in Volvo’s new line-up.
Volvo FH 17-litre 780hp prime mover.

Volvo has kicked off 2024 with quite a bang, starting with the launch of its new VNL conventional cab in the United States with an all-new platform capable of accommodating the latest in diesel technology as well as the powertrains of the future.

This will include battery electric, fuel cell electric and internal combustion engines using diesel and alternative fuels such as natural gases as well as hydrogen. The VNL features the first 24-volt electrical infrastructure in the North American trucking industry and the multiple active safety features introduced in this new generation of Volvo trucks will be the standard for the future commercialisation of fully autonomous trucks.

On the other side of the Atlantic in Sweden, a significantly re-engineered Volvo FH16 was the main news with comprehensive improvements in aerodynamics to further enhance fuel efficiency, and a new 17-litre “big bore” engine which can be rated up to 780-horsepower and 3,800Nm of torque, which gives back to Volvo the horsepower bragging rights.

In addition to a bore size 5mm larger than the to-be-discontinued 16-litre engine, the other main difference is the fitment of a single variable geometry turbocharger which, as well as improving engine response and power, contributes to an over-all reduction of engine weight by 70kgs.

Despite the larger 17-litre engine, the FH16 nomenclature for the truck remains, as Volvo consider this to be model branding rather than a description of what’s under the cab.

The new engine is referred to as the D17 and many of its components are carried over from the D16. Other ratings for the 17-litre are 600hp/3,000Nm and 700hp/3,400Nm.

All variants utilise Volvo’s innovative patented wave piston design to optimise combustion and reduce emissions, while the new injection system ensures the best fuel economy, and the increased peak cylinder pressure enables the high-power outputs to be maintained.

The D17 engine is certified to run on biofuels including HVO (Hydro-treated Vegetable Oil). The Volvo engine brake has been long acknowledged as one of the best in the business and with the 17-litre it provides an impressive up to 540Nm of engine retardation.

There is only one very short descent on the Volvo test circuit we are using, and the engine brake effectively slows the trucks without any need for the service brakes.

Similarly, coming down from around 80 km/h on the more open sections to almost a standstill to perform a U-turn, was achieved with almost no application of the wheel brakes which now feature Volvo’s patented low drag design as a contributor to fuel efficiency.

Volvo FH770.
The new FH Aero cab deliver an 11 per cent aerodynamic improvement.

This section of road was shared with other traffic including tippers involved in the earthworks associated with the construction of Volvo cars’ battery plant.

Volvo’s I-Shift transmission has been equipped with polished gears which reduce internal friction losses to save fuel and to also deliver even quicker shifts.

The oil change interval for the gearbox has been taken from 450,000 kilometres out to 800,000 kilometres. The wheelbases remain the same with the front axle location also unchanged, although the new FH cab is 240mm longer than its predecessor.

This is taking advantage of some EU vehicle length rules changes enacted in 2019 which are intended to encourage the design for improved aerodynamics for commercial vehicles.

Those new rules mean that the Volvo XXL cab, so popular in Australia, is now available to the European market, adding 600 litres to the interior capacity. Both the FH and FM cabs have received significant aerodynamic improvements including seals around openings for components such as lights.

A noticeable feature is the addition of the optional Camera Monitoring System that replaces the traditional left and right mirror assemblies and provides a wider field of view than a standard glass mirror and can shift that view accordingly as an articulated combination negotiates turns and intersections as the view will pan dependent upon the position of the steering wheel.

An additional outcome is the aerodynamic efficiency gains of not having mirror housings on the side of the cab. Driving with the CMS technology very quickly becomes second nature.

While our short experience is during the rather limited daylight hours in Sweden during mid-winter, a demonstration of the CMS capabilities in darkness, low light and changing light (such as entering and leaving tunnels or reversing into dark warehouses) shows that the CMS’s incorporation of infra-red lighting provides a substantial improvement to rear and side vision on the screen displays. The passenger side screen is three centimetres longer than the one fitted to the driver’s A pillar to account for the longer distance from the driver’s eyes.

Adjustable reference lines provide the driver with an accurate view of the end of the trailer(s). The A-pillar mounted CMS screens can also be activated remotely from the sleeper for additional security while the driver is resting.

The mid-winter conditions in Sweden at the time of our visit also affect the presentation of the trucks due to the grime from driving through snow slush.

New seals have been introduced around openings such as lights.

A benefit of the CMS is this common problem is alleviated and clear vision remains on the internal display screens.

The new lower grill section opens out to become a platform for use when cleaning the windscreen as well being used as a seating bench complete with integrated cup holders in case the driver is in the mood for a roadside picnic.

Winner of the International Truck of the Year 2024 award, the Volvo FH Electric Aero version impresses, as does a natural gas powered 500hp FM rigid with a side tipper body. This engine utilises an initial shot of diesel to initiate the combustion of the gas rather than using spark ignition.

Unlike diesel, natural gas does not ignite due to compression alone, so this technology overcomes that issue at the same time as maintaining a high engine compression ratio which retains the effectiveness of the engine brake.

A 780hp FH16 is at the launch in Gothenburg, connected to what can be best described as Europe’s closest combination to an A-double, with an overall length of 34.5 metres and loaded up to a gross combination weight of 64 tonnes. It tracks remarkably well due to the integration of a steer axle on the quad axle front trailer and, at this weight, the power and torque of the 780hp engine make light work of the 12 per cent grade on the test circuit.

Volvo has taken a “little drops make a mighty ocean” approach to its quest for improved fuel efficiency (regardless of the particular fuel being used) and the changes to the laminar airflow of the new FH Aero cab deliver an 11 per cent aerodynamic improvement which will translate in the real world to a five per cent improvement in fuel economy which is maximized at normal highway speeds when air resistance is the biggest consumer of energy.

Other changes include revised cooling ducts and a higher rear plate over the chassis behind the cab.

There is no current timeline for the introduction of the enhanced FH Aero cab into Australia and it will most probably be restricted to electric versions when it eventually becomes available here. Australia has proved to be the largest market globally for the FH16 model, while Greece is Europe’s biggest recipient of the FH16.

As is almost the standard situation at truck launch events, there are very limited opportunities to experience a comprehensive driver test but the few short kilometres we are able to drive across a number of models in the new Volvo line up only serves to whet our appetite for more when they are available to be assessed under local conditions.

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