DUBLIN, Va. — Volvo has continued to revamp its North American product line, with the introduction of a new VNL model at its new customer center here. The first VN was launched in 1996, but was due for an update, Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America acknowledged during remarks before the unveiling.
The new Volvo VNL.
“Twenty years ago, we turned the industry upside down,” said Nyberg, moments before the truck was revealed for the first time. “We created a new commercial truck standard for aerodynamics, driver comfort, and safety. Since then, our competitors have been happy to benchmark everything we have been doing and they have slowly chipped away at our leadership position. In a few cases, I have to admit, we have lost the edge in areas where we stood head and shoulders above the competition. Well, that ends tonight. You’re about to see the most innovative, exciting new trucks from Volvo in 20 years.”
The completely redesigned VNL is an upgrade in every imaginable way, particularly as it relates to driver comfort and amenities. As with the design of the VNR regional haul tractor Volvo introduced earlier this year, designers relied heavily on feedback from drivers.
Rikard Orell, director, product design, said the new VNL was designed to be: bold, edgy, innovative, modern, and human. Its design was inspired by everything from sleek speedboats, race cars, and even the human body. For example, the front and grille are wider at the top, and taper in towards the bottom, like the human body does from the shoulders down to the waist. Orell said Volvo aimed to capture a timeless design.
It’s a sleeker looking truck, with a curvier front end and strong stance. Its lines give it a sense of motion, even when parked. But beauty runs only skin deep and this truck boasts more substance than just a prettier face.
Jason Spence, product marketing manager, longhaul, said, “From the inside out, the driver was the informant, the person we asked. We went through surveys, we did clinics, we sat in the truck as drivers drove them, to get feedback and we did this over and over and we refined these products so the driver is the focal point of this vehicle.”
Volvo is predicting the VNL 760 with a new, larger, 70-inch sleeper will be the high-volume seller, replacing the VNL 670 with 61-inch sleeper that previously held that distinction.
A reclining bed – an idea borrowed from Europe – is now available in the VNL.
“We have confidence in this because our customers and their drivers have told us this is the truck they want,” said Spence. The new sleeper is nine inches longer and six inches wider than that found on the previous VNL 670.
Improved aerodynamics deliver about a 1% improvement in fuel economy over the previous model, while engine enhancements this year add another 5.5% when taking advantage of the D13 engine with turbocompounding. The front bumper was moved 1.5 inches forward for improved aero, the bumper to back of cab (BBC) extended from 122.5 to 124 inches.
Airflow across the front and sides of the truck have been improved, for greater fuel economy. Even the hood-mounted mirrors are now more aerodynamic. They’re also heated. Customers can spec’ an optional skylight, which wasn’t possible with the previous design. Cab side windows that open provide additional light and ventilation.
The air intakes have been moved forward and redesigned; gone is the distinctive inverted hockey stick design. But Spence said the new design provides better airflow along the side of the vehicle and gets cleaner air into the engine. The redesigned grille features a satin finish, with a larger Volvo logo planted in the center.
The LED headlights are the most “innovative in the trucking industry,” Spence claimed. “These are not just LED headlamps, they’re intelligent.”
The lamps can produce heat when needed to keep the lights free of ice and snow. They’ve also been designed for better nighttime visibility.
In a nod to its European heritage, Volvo has brought the Globetrotter moniker to the North American market. The Globetrotter distinction means the truck has been equipped with all the most luxurious options.
The seat selection has been expanded, and customers can now choose any seat they wish with any level of interior.
Drivers will also appreciate the additional storage. A hoarder would be happy in this truck. Redesigned door panels feature deeper pockets, the dash has been cleaned up, blank switches removed, and more storage put in their place. A clever rail design allows for the installation of removable cupholders or storage bins, creating an aftermarket parts opportunity for Volvo and seemingly endless customization possibilities for drivers.
“Everywhere we can put storage, we did,” Spence explained.
Volvo also provides more power outlets – both USB and 12-volt – in traditional places and also atop the dash, where it found many drivers store their devices.
The new steering wheel is home to 21 buttons for frequently used controls. It’s also more adjustable, adding 20 degrees of neck tilt to the 30-degree column adjustment and 4.5 inches of telescoping available.
The five-inch driver display uses vibrant colors to communicate important information to the driver, with as little distraction as possible. It can be customized to display whatever info is most important to the driver. In 2018, a new infotainment system will also be available.
Maintenance managers will appreciate easier access to components located under the cab floor. The engine cover can now be removed without taking out the seats, thanks to removable floor inserts that fit around the bases of the seats. These floor mats also provide additional insulation and soundproofing.
The living area of the VNL has been completely revamped for improved comfort. The control panel has been moved to the rear wall, where it’s more accessible to drivers while laying down – they no longer have to reach behind their head to adjust the temperature.
The fridge is larger, thanks to the extra space available in the new sleeper. And drivers can spec’ a passenger seat with an integrated fridge, placing drinks and cold snacks within reach of the driver’s seat.
Visibility out the windshield and in front of the truck is better, thanks to the curvier hood design. And to further improve safety, Volvo announced it’s making the Volvo Active Driver Assist collision mitigation system standard on the new model.
To help simplify the spec’ing process, Volvo has identified several fuel efficiency packages, consisting of bundles of aerodynamic and powertrain options that contribute to greater fuel economy. How much fuel will owners of the new VNL save? It depends, of course, on how the truck is spec’d, but Spence said improved aerodynamics improve fuel economy by 1%, the new engines with turbocompounding add another 5.5%, and I-See – a feature of the I-Shift transmission that memorizes hills along a route and adjusts the truck’s speed accordingly – can add another 1%.
“The D13 with turbocompounding gives massive amounts of torque with low rpm. In combination with a low rear axle ratio, you’re going to see drastic improvements in fuel efficiency in these trucks,” Spence said. A 7.5% improvement equates to about 0.6 mpg.
Initial drives of the new VNL were limited to 40 mph laps of a new one-mile track at the customer center. More extensive evaluations have been promised for later this summer. But first, Volvo will be cycling some 3,000 customers and dealers through the new 36,000 sq.-ft. customer center to introduce them to the new truck.
The new VNL will enter production in mid-September (day cabs) and mid-November (sleepers).
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies