Volvo commits to ‘changing the times’

by Jack Roberts

Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America
Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America

DUBLIN, Va. — In his opening remarks to journalists attending the Volvo Trucks North America Technology Summit, Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks said, “Other truck companies change with the times. Volvo is committed to changing the times.” And looking at the wide array of diverse new products, systems, technologies and upgrades the Swedish truck OEM unveiled during the course of the day it would be hard to argue with him.

New Volvo product offerings detailed included a second-generation turbo-compound diesel engine, a new steering assistance system, upgrades to Volvo’s advanced active safety systems as well as a first-look at an all-new, Class 8 VNR battery-electric tractor.

The day began, however, with business news and the announcement of a major investment in Volvo’s North American manufacturing facilities and processes.

“We are moving into new technology today. We will start serial production of electric trucks next year,” Alm said. “But the internal combustion engine will be the dominate power source in trucking for many years to come. But we are are investing in our product portfolio and bringing new technology to market all the time.”

Before a team of Volvo engineers and designers began briefing on the new products being unveiled, however, Alm and Peter Voorhoeve briefed reporters on the state of the North American truck market as seen by Volvo analysts, as well as significant investments in both dealerships and manufacturing facilities.

Alm said that if current build rates hold up, he expects to see a total of 311,000 new Class 8 trucks roll onto North American highways this year. That number is a bit lower than the company’s initial estimate of 325,000 units — which Alm said was a natural consequence of the economy slowing down somewhat.

Still, Voorhoeve noted that 2019 was shaping up to be a “very good year,” and added that while the economy did indeed seem to be cooling off somewhat, this was to be expected given the red-hot production numbers the industry has seen over the past couple of years.

Volvo currently has North American marketshare of 9.6% — a figure lower than the 10% marketshare the company posted in 2018. Voorhoeve said this was due to delivery issues that hobbled the company in early 2019 — but that he expected to make up lost ground and finish the year at 10% once again.

“In some ways, Volvo is still a new brand in North America,” Voorheve noted, “We’ve been here since 1982.” The success of any truck brand in North America — which remains Volvo’s largest market globally, depends on having a solid dealer network, which Voorheve said Volvo has made a priority from its earliest days in the United States and Canada. To date, he noted, Volvo has invested $619 million in its dealership

network, which has grown to 435 locations since 2010, along with a whopping 296% increase in Volvo Master Technicians and a 64% increase in service bays.

Building on those successes, Voorhoeve announced that next, Volvo will invest another $400 million in its New River Valley truck plant in Dublin, where all Volvo trucks sold in North America are built.

“The outstanding product line currently produced at NRV has strongly positioned Volvo Trucks for the future,” Voorhoeve said. “This investment is another sign of our confidence in that future, and will help us prepare for even more exciting products – powered by both diesel and electric drivetrains – in the coming years.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam joined company and local officials to announce the expansion, which will be eligible for a Virginia Major Employment and Investment grant of up to $16.5 million and other incentives. Virginia’s Pulaski County will support the project by granting Volvo 222 acres of adjacent property to expand the campus, and providing $500,000 toward site improvements. In addition to its financial investment, Volvo announced plans to create 777 new jobs at the facility over the next six years.

Major components of the investment include a new 350,000-square-foot building that will ultimately house truck cab welding operations; an expansion of the existing plant to allow for further improvements to the facility’s paint operations and overall material/production flow; and a variety of equipment upgrades, including installation of several state-of-the-art dynamometers for vehicle testing.

“This investment will give our employees the tools they need to continue providing our customers the highest quality products,” said Franky Marchand, Vice President and General Manager of the NRV plant. “We’re very grateful to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Pulaski County, and the citizens in this community for their continued support of our business and our people. Creating more value-added processes through these investments is good for our employees, our plant and our region.”

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