Driving Volvo’s Optimized Series VNM 430 regional haul tractor

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DUBLIN, Va. – When it comes to removing weight from a Class 8 truck, how do you determine the value of a single pound removed? That’s one of the questions Volvo sought to answer when optimizing its regional haul tractors for lighter weight.

To find an answer to this question, Volvo queried several weight-sensitive customers, who said they’d pay from $6-$12 for every pound saved.

The fact customers are willing to pay a premium for lighter-weight trucks sent Volvo on a quest to develop the Optimized Series of regional haul tractors – a line of eight VNL and VNM tractors that were designed to be as lightweight as possible. The new line-up includes: the VNL 300, 430, 430 mid-roof and 630 mid-roof; and the VNM 200, 430, 430 mid-roof and 630 mid-roof. This new series of regional-haul tractors runs the gamut from day cabs to 62-inch mid-roof sleepers, suiting everyone from local drivers to those who are on the road for two to three nights at a time.

The lesser-known VNM trucks have a 10-inch shorter bumper-to-back-of-cab (BBC) than the VNLs, but share the same cab design. The easiest way to differentiate them at a glance is that the inverted hockey stick-shaped vents on the side of the VNL hoods are replaced with simple rectangular vents on the VNMs.

With the exception of the VNL 630 – which contains the D13 – each of these trucks is powered by Volvo’s D11 engine. But most intriguing of all; each of these optimized models provides up to 1,200 lbs in weight savings, which means more payload for bulk haulers and improved fuel efficiency for those who run light.

How’d Volvo find 1,200 lbs of weight savings in its Optimized Series? Chris Stadler, product marketing manager, regional haul, said the savings came from: vendor components (-190 lbs); aluminum components (-150 lbs); wide-base tires and aluminum wheels (-300 lbs); an aluminum fifth wheel (-240 lbs); and a 6×2 drive axle (-380 lbs). That’s 1,260, if you’re keeping score, and doesn’t even take into consideration the 300 lbs in weight that moving from the D13 to the smaller D11 will net.

Granted, Volvo knows not every customer will want or require every one of those weight-saving options.

“You may need that 13-litre engine or some other features that are not in these spec’s,” Stadler acknowledged. “But the key point here is, you’re going to see value in taking weight out of the truck.”

How much value? That, of course, depends on application. Examining customer scenarios where payload is paramount, Stadler said a fuel hauler could increase its profits by $95,000 per truck each year if it increases payload by just 320 lbs. His calculations are based on carrying an extra 50 gallons of payload per trip, making three deliveries a day, 250 days a year. That scenario totals 37,000 gallons of additional product delivered at the end of the year.

Those are big numbers, and offer insight into why bulk haulers would happily pay extra for a lighter-weight truck. And they’ll pretty much have to. The reality of lightweighting is that aluminum components, wide-base tires and the like are generally more expensive than their more conventional, but heavier counterparts.

“Aluminum can be very pricey in this market, so usually what happens is when you get into lightweight (spec’ing), you’re going to pay a little bit more,” Stadler noted.

Bulk haulers understand the value of additional payload, but the bigger question, at least here in Canada, is will they trust unorthodox components such as 6×2 axles or even an 11-litre engine? Volvo says it has customers in the Upper Midwest running 6×2 vehicles without any issues relating to traction – one of the most common concerns among fleets. These trucks use the Meritor FueLite 6×2 with electronics that shift weight to the powered axle in low-traction situations. It should be noted, not every province allows 6x2s at this time, though that could change if demand exists.

Every truck in the Optimized Series line-up features the FueLite 6×2 rear axle, but customers can order the weight-reducing components a la carte and still enjoy some benefits.

Canadian customers may be uneasy about using a D11 engine in place of the popular D13. The D11 has some faithful fans here in Canada. I recently visited auto parts hauler Verspeeten Cartage and was surprised to find many of the trucks in its yard were D11-powered. Count me among the skeptics, who wondered about the D11’s ability to provide sufficient power to pull 80,000 lbs across even moderately hilly terrain.

Volvo recently gave me the opportunity to put the truck to the test on the more-than-moderately hilly terrain around the company’s truck plant in Dublin, Va. This is a demanding part of the country, with some serious grades and 70 mph posted speed limits.

Volvo gave me a VNM 430 mid-roof sleeper with an unbaffled tanker trailer loaded up with water and grossing about 78,000 lbs.

John Moore, marketing product manager, powertrain, admitted Volvo would likely have suggested the D13 if I were to run these hills on a regular basis. But they had a point to prove. And prove it, they did.

The I-Shift held top gear up most of the hills and I was able to keep pace with traffic.

Sure, the D11 was breathing hard while pulling some of the steeper grades I encountered on my drive, but I never felt like a moving chicane – at least not to other truck traffic.

I cannot say the D11 engine was grossly underpowered. It was actually nice to drive on the flatter sections of road. It seemed a tad quieter than the D13 and it wasn’t a big downgrade in terms of terms of torque or power. The truck, just a few thousand miles old, had been averaging 8.5 mpg in its young life. I’ll take that any day.

Moore bristles at any suggestion the D11 is a “throwaway” engine or bored-out 9-litre.

“It’s one of our most reliable engines,” he said. “It’s actually reverse-engineered from our 13-litre. If you look at the size of the bearings on this, the bearing surfaces are larger than those of the 13-litre Paccar MX or the 13-litre MaxxForce. They’re also equal to the size of the DD15 and DD16. These engines can easily get a million miles without any problems.”

Volvo backs the D11 with the same base warranty it offers on its 13L. But it does have its limitations. Volvo holds firm on its 80,000 GVW rating for the D11 and it doesn’t suggest running it over the Rockies on a regular basis. It’ll get you from Calgary to Vancouver, but it’ll be a slow trip. It’s best suited for regional haul applications grossing no more than 80,000 lbs and with cruise speeds of 63 mph or less.

“We don’t want to underpower a vehicle, because drivers are going to hate it and they’ll think it’s a bad engine. It’s not, but it can be put into the wrong application, so we have to be very careful here,” Moore said.

Volvo’s keen on promoting the D11 engine because it is well suited for a wide range of regional haul applications and that’s a segment where the truck maker wants to grow its presence. Volvo recently expanded its popular XE (exceptional efficiency) powertrain package to include the D11. This involves mating the engine to an I-Shift overdrive transmission with a ratio of 0.78:1 and axle ratios of 2.64-2.80. Spec’d this way, the sweet spot is widened and the engine runs about 200 rpm slower, providing a fuel savings of about 3%.

But the XE package isn’t for everyone. Moore said it works best in applications where vehicles are running high average speeds and delivering diminishing loads. Spec’ing trucks, as if it wasn’t complex enough to begin with, is even more so today with the advent of more sophisticated powertrains and an even broader array of lightweight components. Volvo seems to want to challenge
truck buyers to re-evaluate some of their traditional spec’ing decisions. That may mean different spec’s within the fleet for different customer sets or routes.

“The say of having one truck for everything is pretty much gone,” Moore said. “Customers can’t afford to lose money every year because the truck is not optimized.”

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  • Thanks for the insight on the d11…I’ve been considering getting one and learned things from the article…most importantly the sturdy build and reliability factors…maybe this is the heavy truck version of Irv Gordon’s indestructible b18 powered p1800! Thanks much.