Volvo’s new weapon

Usually an impending launch of a new truck model sees information coming to light well before the release date, but Volvo has been very successful in keeping details of the new FH series under wraps – despite a five-year development period and extensive testing carried out in its Swedish home environment before the trucks were finally unveiled.

Before the new FH was officially presented, its predecessor has undergone a number of improvements that caused a rise in market share in Australia. This was mainly due to the continuous introduction of performance, safety and comfort features, so it is little wonder the interest levels rose dramatically when news of the impending arrival of a new series in Europe broke through in Australia.

And, even in Australia you could follow the unveiling live on the internet as the launch in Gothenburg was broadcast online to countries around the globe, including Australia – a first in trucking circles.

And despite being a relatively small market, Australia has played a big role in the development of the FH. In 1982, Simon National Carriers was running a prototype on line haul and road train routes, well prior to its European release in 1993, putting the vehicle through its paces in the world’s toughest testing ground.

Although the new models will not be available in Australia for at least 12 months, you can already place money on it that again this country will play host to rigorous testing.

“A truck that will carry us far into the future”, is how Claes Nilsson, President of Volvo Trucks, described the new versions of the Volvo FH and Volvo FH16 in a statement prior to the release in early September.  “For almost two decades, the Volvo FH Series has provided haulage companies with safety, efficient transport and high quality. With our new replacements, we are going to be even better in all three areas.”

Never before has Volvo conducted so many tests among drivers and haulage firms with the aim of ensuring that the new model meets the highest requirements. The result is a product that not only meets today’s needs; it also offers features previously unseen in a truck. 

“It really is our customers who have influenced the end-product, and I’m convinced that we’re setting a new benchmark for the entire truck industry,” Claes says.

One priority in the development process was to create a truck with the market’s best handling. As a result, the new Volvo FH series now comes with a new Individual Front Suspension (IFS) system for heavy trucks with left-hand drive, something that is some time away from the local Australian market at this stage.

The individual front suspension means that each front wheel is suspended separately from the other so it does not affect the movement of the other wheel. Since both front wheels move individually, the result is gentler, more settled and stable progress on the road for exemplary handling manners.

“For more than 15 years the Volvo FH has been a reliable growth engine for both Volvo Trucks and haulage companies the world over. The new Volvo FH will play the same significant role. It’s an innovative truck that puts the driver in firm focus while at the same time allowing operators to do the best business possible. It’s a truck that’s going to carry us far into the future.”

In fact, Volvo hasn’t just delivered a new cab and an innovative suspension system, rather it has loaded the new trucks with a host of technologies – pushing the envelope for what a premium truck can offer. Fuel economy, reliability, ergonomics, superior handling, active and passive safety, and timesaving features are hallmarks according to the company.

The Volvo FH is a truck built with the driver in mind and with the focus on improving operator profitability. For instance, there is no doubt that fuel economy is one of the highest priorities for haulage firms today, so it was naturally in firm focus during the development of the new Volvo FH. The already fuel-efficient Euro 5 driveline is therefore even more economical, according to Swedish truck experts. At the same time, Volvo’s first Euro 6 engine sees the light of day, significantly reducing emissions again.

“Of great interest is the new I-See function designed to cut fuel consumption by up to five per cent. I-See reads the road and logs it into a memory. I-See is an example of technology that makes life easier for the driver and saves fuel. Meanwhile, a software package for the I-Shift transmission stores information about hills as the truck drives along. The next time the truck uses the same route, I-See operates the accelerator, gears and brakes to ensure that progress is as economical as possible,” explains Claes Nilsson.

In late 2013, a new driveline will be launched, labelled I-Torque, setting a new technological benchmark and delivering even lower fuel consumption and further improved driveability.

An additional fuel saving of up to five per cent is possible with the new Fuel Package, according to Volvo. This package encompasses training and monthly assistance – Fuel Advice – and its aim is to cut fuel costs by changing driving styles and increasing knowledge of how to drive for maximum fuel-efficiency.

And with Volvo Trucks’ new I-Torque Euro 6 driveline – production of which for the European market will get under way in autumn 2013 – the savings are supposed to be even greater.

“Volvo I-Torque reduces fuel consumption by up to four per cent. Together with I-See and other minor improvements, the result is that fuel consumption drops by up to 10 per cent. This corresponds to 4100 litres of fuel a year for the average truck,” Nilsson comments.

Volvo says maximum uptime is part of the new FH package. This promise is based on Volvo Trucks’ new technology for remotely monitoring component wear and the vehicle’s overall condition. “The workshop can remotely check the actual wear of various truck components via the computer. As a component approaches the end of its service life, the workshop can get in touch with the transport firm well in advance to schedule a service when it is most convenient. According to Nilsson, this is a real “paradigm shift.”

New technology also increases on-board safety, creating a more economical driveline and transmission, and is used to keep uptime at high levels.

“Having said all that, we haven’t just packed in technology for the sake of it. In order to reap the full benefits of innovative technology, it’s important that the people using it know how to use it and actually do so. That’s why we’ve worked hard to develop a truck that puts the driver firmly in focus,” he explains.

The driver’s work-place is a good example of this focus. From the improved driver’s seat, the driver has a better view of the road, not least owing to the increase in the cab’s usable window area and to the innovative rear-view mirror design. Stalks and controls are arranged in priority so that the most important are closest to the driver. All in all, these various changes give the driver far better visibility.

The driving position is better and offers greater flexibility. For instance, the steering wheel now has a neck tilt function, a world-first in the truck world. A better driving position means the driver is less likely to be fatigued – and of course an alert driver does a better job.

In addition, an all-new cab structure is meant to make the new Volvo FH an even safer truck. Never before has a Volvo truck passed the comprehensive collision tests as well as the new FH cab. The improved visibility, also contributes to the safer work environment. More upright A-pillars have given the cab an additional one cubic metre of interior space. This means an extra 300 litres of storage capacity, as well as greater comfort on board.

“The cab is optimised both for work and free time. A better bed, integrated parking cooler, new lighting, low noise levels and other features all increase the chance of pleasant relaxation and a good night’s sleep, which in turn means drivers are less tired and more alert,” says Nilsson.

Driver attraction and retention is an issue the world over and Volvo says good drivers who have the opportunity to work as efficiently as possible increase profitability. A truck built for the driver also improves ability to attract the very best drivers.

“There’s already immensely tough competition over good drivers in Europe and that competition is going to get even tougher. I’m convinced that trucks which are popular among drivers will push them to apply for jobs with haulage companies that operate these models. That is why the new Volvo FH will increase profitability in many different ways in the future,” says Claes Nilsson.

Volvo has a reputation as being a safety and technology leader and the new FH trucks are a major step forward in both areas. They are all-new in every sense and have opened another new chapter for Volvo.

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