Driving the Volvo VHD with I-Shift crawler gears

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — Sometimes, you just have to take it slow. Really slow. And in vocational applications where low-speed precision is required, the automated manual transmission (AMT) tends to be overlooked in favor of fully automatic Allisons or manual transmissions, which can allow greater low-speed control through clutch manipulation.

A Volvo VHD 200 with 2017 engine and I-Shift with crawler gears.
A Volvo VHD 200 with 2017 engine and I-Shift with crawler gears.

Volvo aims to change that, with the addition of two new crawler gears to its I-Shift AMT.

“This gets us into all the applications we haven’t been able to play in with an AMT,” said Wade Long, director, product marketing with Volvo Trucks North America, when introducing the new product to truck editors.

The new 14-speed I-Shift with two crawler gears was demonstrated in several Volvo VHD 200 dump trucks at Volvo Construction Equipment’s sprawling customer center in Shippensburg, Pa. The facility boasts an off-road course with grades of up to 21%. The trucks were loaded with 26 tons of gravel. The crawler gears allow the truck to creep at speeds as low as 0.6 mph – even up and down that 21% grade – providing the operator with exceptional control of the vehicle.

It’s also an ideal fit for mixer applications, where crawler gears can be used to slowly and consistently pour cement, or chemical and livestock applications, where smoothness at low speeds is equally important.

Volvo also demonstrated the benefit of crawler gears in a paving application. Long said the new I-Shift offers better low-speed maneuverability and control while also offering efficient performance at highway speeds. This also makes it ideal for heavy-haul applications in the VNX, where loggers, for instance, may want the low-speed precision offered by the crawler gears while in the bush but also demand efficiency at highway speeds.

“With the VNX heavy-hauler, we’re bringing fuel efficiency to a market that’s just been focused on getting to the top of the hill first,” Long said, noting the new I-Shift offers great startability off-highway and lower cruise speeds on-highway.

The I-Shift is rated for gross combination weights of up to 220,000 lbs, and possibly more, with special permission.

Magnus Koeck, vice-president of marketing and brand management, predicted the addition of crawler gears will all but eliminate manual transmissions in vocational applications within five years.

“The I-Shift we have now with crawler gears can do all the work the customer needs,” he said. Already, 88.8% of all trucks Volvo sells in the North American market are being spec’d with the I-Shift.

I drove a VHD 200 with 500-hp D13 engine rated at 1,850 lb.-ft. of torque. The transmission shifted smoothly and the C1 and C2 crawler gears allowed me to easily and safely maneuver the truck in ultra-slow-mo. Other features of the I-Shift 12-speed have been carried over to the new 14-speed as well, including Hill Start Assist and Power Launch. I experienced Hill Start Assist by stopping the loaded truck halfway up the 21% grade and then removing my foot from the brake. The transmission held the truck in position, providing ample time to move my foot to the accelerator.

Mixer applications are ideal for crawler gears, according to Volvo.
Mixer applications are ideal for crawler gears, according to Volvo.

Power Launch helps the driver break free of mud or sand, by building up torque and then thrusting the truck out of whatever sticky situation it finds itself in. Collectively, Volvo feels these features offer vocational truck operators all the tools they need to do even the most demanding off-road vocational jobs with an AMT.

“This is going to open the door for a lot of applications,” said Volvo’s Ash Makki, who was my co-driver on the course. “A lot of our construction guys in the business are really excited.”

These trucks were also equipped with Volvo’s 2017 engines, marking the first time the revamped engines have been provided for test drives. The new D11 and D13 feature a new common rail fuel system, which is fully encased underneath the valve cover, where Long said it’s less susceptible to damage.

Also new is a patented wave piston, which Volvo claims allows for a more complete fuel burn and less soot accumulation.

“It improves flame propagation for increased efficiency and reduced soot,” Long explained. The six tabs along the rim of the piston force the fuel and oxygen to better circulate, providing a cleaner burn, Volvo claims, adding soot in the cylinder has been reduced by 90%.

Volvo says the engine enhancements will provide a 2.2% fuel economy improvement in the D11 and 2.5% in the D13, making them GHG17-ready. Power in the D11 has been boosted to 425 hp and a new assembled camshaft reduces weight by 27 lbs. Long said moving to the D11 from the D13 allows an operator to shave off 390 lbs and this is now viable, thanks to the extra power, in applications topping out at 80,000 lbs gross.

The D13 features the same improvements as its smaller sibling, as well as a 44-lb weight reduction in the block, which when combined with the lighter assembled cam, affords a 71-lb total weight savings. The D13 now has an extra 100 lb.-ft. of torque, allowing drivers to get up to road speed faster and maintain top gear longer. The new D11 goes into production in January 2017 while the D13 improvements will begin rolling off the production line in November of this year.

Also new, but not yet made available for test drives, is a D13 with turbo-compounding, which Volvo says will improve fuel economy by up to 6.5%. The turbo-compounding system collects previously wasted exhaust heat and converts it into 50 additional hp, which is then transferred back into the engine.

When spec’d with a 2.47 rear axle ratio and the XE powertrain package, Long said the new D13 with turbo-compounding will allow a driver to cruise down the highway at 1,050 rpm. The D13 with turbo-compounding will enter production in mid-2017.

The new I-Shift with crawler gears allows low-speed precision and high-speed efficiency.
The new I-Shift with crawler gears allows low-speed precision and high-speed efficiency.
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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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