SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Volvo Trucks North America has burst onto the premium owner/operator market with a new truck designed to combine beauty with brawn and some good old-fashioned common sense.
The Volvo VT 880, unveiled to Volvo dealers and truck media at a special event near the Arizona desert, will serve as the company’s flagship truck.
Meant to appeal to a market segment for which “high horsepower and intense visual appeal” is a must, this is no mirage. Housed underneath a traditional long hood and all the chrome that an owner/operator could possibly desire is the most powerful engine on the market today; Volvo’s own D16, with ratings up to 625 hp with 2,250 lb./ft of torque.
How powerful is that, you may ask? Good enough to maintain 65 mph running at 1,400 rpm while climbing a three per cent grade with an 80,000 lb. load in the trailer.
“That’s a combination of huge torque, big power and sophisticated aerodynamics no other truck in this category can match,” boasted Peter Karlsten, Volvo Trucks North America president and CEO.
Horsepower has been trending upwards among owner/operators, particularly those who buy new trucks (our own market research shows 18 per cent of Canadian O/Os have engines with 520 hp or higher).
Volvo is banking on such power becoming popular with customers who need to maintain high average legal road speeds through mountains while transporting full-weight loads, such as refrigerated operations, heavy haulers, drop frame and other high gross weight applications. The ability to efficiently maintain high average speeds with heavy loads reduces fuel consumption, according to Karlsten.
And, of course, Volvo is looking to appeal to the most image conscious of owner/operators.
In the recent past, instability in the owner/operator ranks has made this a tough market to conquer but the continent’s O/O population is growing again after several years of decline.
There has been a 20 per cent growth in O/O vehicle registrations over the past year (again, our own research shows 46 per cent of Canadian O/Os plan to be in new trucks this year).
Volvo already has about 10 per cent of the O/O market with its current line-up, according to Karlsten, and sees a clear opportunity to expand its product line with “premium” owner/operators.
“This customer demands performance, power and an on-road image that matches the way he views himself – a successful and progressive businessman,” Karlsten said.
“People like how our trucks drive and handle…But our trucks lack the emotional appeal that owner/operators seek. Our dealers and customers told us we need a long hood, traditionally styled truck – but it had to be an authentic Volvo.”
Not having their competitors’ long-nose truck heritage, Karlsten said Volvo’s design engineers were free to find their own solutions to the difficult task of designing a truck that meets the tastes of the most discerning owner/operator while keeping in mind that his or her earning potential is tied directly to miles driven.
To provide the image many owner/operators expect from a premium truck, the VT 880 designers stayed true to two of the key elements owner/operators typically look for in a “classic style” truck: a set-forward front axle and a long hood. But Volvo officials say they took these classic elements and gave them a modern interpretation. For example, the truck is prepared to meet the demanding cooling requirements that will come with the 2007 and 2010 emissions standards. Its large grille (15 per cent larger than other Volvo grilles) and long hood, along with aerodynamic features, are designed to channel airflow around the engine. And, as Scott Kress, Volvo’s senior vice-president, sales and marketing explained, the reduced visibility tradeoff that comes with the longer hood was addressed by raking the hood and using a massive, curved, one-piece windshield. (Visibility was further improved by using chromed and lighted air intakes, instead of exterior air cleaners, which can impede the driver’s view as well as create aerodynamic drag.)
Karlsten adds that while the VT 880 has an aggressive and powerful stance, the entire chassis has been tuned by Volvo engineers to produce a comfortable ride and smooth handling.
The 625 hp under the hood produces an incredible 2,250 lb./ft of torque and Volvo turned to Hendrickson to help it keep the power under control.
Hendrickson responded with the Primaax non-torque-reactive rear suspension to ensure the ride remained smooth and comfortable under high torque applications. (Cummins’ ISX offering, providing up to 475 hp, is the other engine option.)
The front axle, meanwhile, has been moved forward 12.4 inches (315 mm) to what Volvo calls the “Comfort Position.” This position, company officials claim, optimizes cooling airflow for the high-horsepower engine, while giving the Volvo VT 880 a 45-degree wheel cut.
Just as the front axle was moved forward, the cab itself was moved back eight inches (200 mm) on the chassis to isolate it from the engine for a quieter, smoother ride. That also made for a 200-inch BBC (bumper to back of cab measurement), which allows owner/operators to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy by spec’ing a smaller gap between the cab and trailer.
Volvo designers also came up with modern interpretations of these classic features:
A chrome grille with a full chrome surround.
Chrome bezels for the headlamps, inside the aerodynamic lamps.
A polished, all-steel bumper, with a three-piece design for improved serviceability, plus available inset fog lamps with LED accent lights.
Chrome air intake surrounds, with inset LEDs for a distinctive look at night.
Polished steps, fuel tanks and tank straps, and quarter fenders highlight the side of the cab.
Polished twin exhaust stacks, moved outboard to follow the profile of the cab; or, the stacks can also be mounted inboard for a more aerodynamic look.
Kress said research shows 73 per cent of owner/operators drive 75,000 miles per year and almost 50 per cent drive more than 100,000 miles annually.
This makes cab comfort and a restful sleeper a must. In fact, 44 per cent of owner/operators own sleepers 70 inches or longer.
The Volvo VT 880’s 77-inch sleeper cab has more than 374 cubic feet of space, and more than 520 cubic feet of total living space, including the driver and passenger seat area.
The high-roof design provides plenty of stand up room. (In fact, a person of average height can easily sit up in the top bunk and stretch with no concern about hitting the roof.)
The sleeper has an optional workstation that functions as dining table, office desk and den. After supper, the bench seats convert to a full-length lower bunk. The upper bunk with mattress folds out from the back of the cab, and a foldaway ladder allows easy access.
There are three interior design packages to choose from.
On the safety front, the cab is made from welded high-strength steel and complies with the Swedish Impact Test, the most stringent truck crashworthiness test in the world. A driver’s airbag is standard. And the VT 880 can be spec’d with Bendix enhanced stability protection braking systems. The VT 880 is available to order now, with customer deliveries beginning in June.
Production at Volvo’s New River Valley Plant will start in April at a low level and ramp up, with full production beginning in the fourth quarter of this year.
Volvo has made a $67 million investment in the VT 880 and D16 engine in its attempt to become a player in this market segment. And now it’s banking on this investment paying for itself beyond the “premium” owner/operator market. It’s hoping that if the VT 880 is a hit with its intended audience it will boost the image of its trucks overall and attract new drivers to the brand.
“These owner/operators also influence other buyers’ purchasing decisions. The premium owner/operator sets the standard for success in their market. Other drivers, especially newer drivers, want to emulate them,” Karlsten pointed out.