Past has a role in Volvo’s vision

John G Smith

ATLANTA, GA – In preparing for the future, Volvo is still taking the time to look to the past.

Keith Brandis, the company’s director – product planning, said in a briefing during the North American Commercial Vehicle Show that the road toward improved connectivity, electro-mobility, and automation also involves looking at the way trucks with older technology operate in developing nations – and exploring how trucks have become the major or only supplier of goods in eight out of 10 communities.

“It’s a great time to understand how we matter to society and we will make a difference going forward,” he said. “It started with investments in the technologies that continue the business today, and will continue for the foreseeable future.”

Those futuristic investments include everything from what Brandis calls automating the mundane, with adaptive cruise control and braking systems, to developing waste heat recovery technologies, to making diesel engines more fuel-efficient.

Brandis said that while the cost of diesel continues to be low for time-being, efficient engines using diesel-based technology will continue to be in demand.

Volvo also recognized the impact fuel prices have on the way regional haulers choose the kind of engine to purchase. Brandis said that for those region of the world where fuel costs two or even three times more than other areas, the company is working on electric-hybrid and fully electric models.

He expects that fully-electric trucks will be adapted first in medium-duty vehicles, and not Class 8 models, as well as vocational vehicles like construction and waste removal trucks. In these areas Volvo already has fully electric vehicles on the streets for testing in other countries.

In addition to more efficient, cost-effective, and automated machines, Brandis said the future will rely on connectivity. Volvo boasts more than 600,000 vehicles connected to its system, allowing them to monitor and give real-time updates on performance, as well as informing fleets about needed maintenance and repairs. Volvo is betting on the early-warning notices, combined with 92 “uptime centers” in North America, to keep trucks on the road for longer, avoiding the average three-day repair time when something goes wrong.

Brandis says the connectivity, combined with automation, is also allowing futuristic ideas like platooning to become a reality, and that on that front, the industry is just waiting for the legislators to catch up.

“The regulations do not allow testing in all states, nor do they give guidance to manufacturers,” said Brandis, calling the legislation on automation a patchwork across states. Brandis said he believes the industry would be better served by one clear, federal regulation.

Brandis said for all of the new technologies being developed, availability will come down to one time-tested concept – a cost-benefit analysis.

The costs of adapting new technologies will be weighed against their benefits and will only be widely adapted by the industry if their value is deemed great enough, said Brandis. Meaning the company will be working to refine both the exciting and futuristic, alongside the familiar.

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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