For many attending the Brisbane Truck Show this year the striking custom Volvo FH16 XXL taking centre stage at the Volvo Group Australia stand was a highlight.
I also may be guilty of being just a little biased on the subject as that truck and its paint scheme was my idea and project! But there was more going on with this truck than just a fancy candy apple paint job.
The multicoloured swirls and whirls flowing across the panels of this prime mover represents the movement of air around the truck in motion. A visual representation of aerodynamic drag.
The design is based on the computer-generated drag modelling our design teams use to make our trucks more fuel efficient.
Drag is a major factor when it comes to fuel efficiency. Air flowing around a moving truck is disrupted by mirrors, door handles, wheels and mud guards which then swirls along the vehicle creating drag.
Sixty per cent of the aero effects are from the truck whereas the remaining 40 per cent is contributed from trailer wheels, chassis, and base wake from the rear. But since the truck is upstream quite often the downstream effects can be reduced by the truck spec.
The truck pictured here, a Euro 6 FH16 550 is already a smooth operator when it comes to fuel efficiency.
However, there are lots of different factors to take into account when it comes to maximising your bang for buck out on the open road.
It’s tempting to extol the features and benefits of terrain reading cruise control and more efficient low-drag engines and transmissions.
The latest generation I-Shift transmission shifts even faster while minimising unnecessary gear changes. And the availability of 13-speed and 14-speed variants means we have the option of downspeeding the engine by using taller (faster) final drive ratios while maintaining start-ability.
While all these features will absolutely save fuel, there’s also some simple, relatively low-tech factors to bear in mind. Hence the Volvo FH aerodynamic study built for the show.
Tyre choice alone can affect fuel use by up to 5 per cent per tyre class. Bullbars, stone guards, light bars and air horns all contribute towards creating drag and that’s not taking into account gaps between the prime mover and the trailers it is towing.
Of course, some of these things are application dependent.
However, does a truck that rarely leaves the Pacific or Hume Highway really need a roof mounted light bar, two spotlights and a bullbar the size of an outback cattle grid? Probably not!
Does that same truck need to be carrying 1400-litres of fuel and 150-litres of DEF? It’s not that there’s a right or wrong answer to these questions. But I’d suggest that it doesn’t hurt to ask them when speccing a new truck.
The internal combustion engine will continue to be the heart of many powertrain configurations for a long time yet when it comes to heavy transport and new fuel efficiency features will continue to be developed.
It’s worth challenging some preconceptions when updating your truck fleet. So next time you are looking to spec a new truck, think about how you could be more aerodynamic, how you pair the rear axle ratio with the engine torque curve specific to application, challenging the configuration of the vehicle.
Doing something one way just because it has always been done that way will not continue to achieve results with evolving technology.
While I clearly will be biased towards choices around prime movers (after all that’s what we manufacture), trailers also have a big part to play when it comes to fuel efficiency. B-double combinations often live a hard life as they twist and turn from deliveries and pickups.
I have already mentioned tyre impact to efficiency (which relates to trailers also) but regular maintenance and assurance of pressures as well as axle alignment does wonders for reducing fuel consumption as does making sure trailer curtains are tensioned and not flapping in the wind.
So while Brisbane Truck Show 2023 gave me an excuse to build a cool truck, it’s really so much more than that. The air that swirls and eddies down the side of a truck on the highway costs more than just money.
As we talk more and more about sustainability and the environment, fuel efficiency has a part to play here as well.
We think electromobility is the answer for low emissions urban transport but as I pointed out earlier the internal combustion engine will also be with us for quite a while in heavy long haul roles. Obviously, the less fuel you burn the lower your emissions.
It’s no secret that Volvo Group has some ambitious emissions targets. And the first steps on the path to zero emissions start with more fuel-efficient trucks. You’ll note I used the words “internal combustion” engine rather than just plain old “diesel”? This is an area where there will no doubt be a lot more development.
This multicoloured FH has HVO (Hydrated Vegetable Oil) in its fuel tanks rather than old fashioned dinosaur bones.
While HVO isn’t zero emissions, as such, it still represents a significant reduction (up to 90 per cent) from well-to-wheel emissions as a synthetic fuel.
Despite not yet being readily available in Australia, HVO is just one example of what could be done to lower emissions now (without voiding your warranty).
No doubt we’ll see more development in this area too.