Volvo changes truck spec'ing with new VNL

Volvo changes truck spec’ing with new VNL

Trim and powertrain packages, why you shouldn't panic, and the craziest thing I learned about this truck.

Volvo is trying to shake things up with its new VNL; after all, the company says this truck was “designed to change everything”—a mantra that’s also seeping into spec’ing the new trucks. Instead of piecemealing your truck together component by component, Volvo is stepping down a path that’s new to the industry, but one you may be familiar with: vehicle packages. I had a chance to speak with Volvo’s director of product marketing Johan Agebrand at TMC to learn how this is going to work, and why you shouldn’t panic.

Powertrain packages

Putting powertrain options into packages. While that may make some of you shake your heads and clutch your spec books, let’s get some details before you pass judgment.

“In the U.S. industry, we’ve talked about downspeeding, we’ve talked about faster rear axle ratios, everyone is trying to really optimize their own operation and figure out that rear axle ratio. We’ve seen so many miscalculations and errors in it. So we’re like, okay, we’re going to start fresh,” Agebrand says.

Enter the three new powertrain packages: Super Direct, I-Torque, and Straight Torque.

“Super Direct comes with a direct drive 12-speed transmission optimized for speeds equal to or less than 68 mph carrying 80-110k lbs. We’re limiting the rear axle ratio you can have with it,” Agebrand continues. “So we’re basically saying, okay, we know from the U.S. operations this is where you should be. If that doesn’t fit you, it’s something else.”

Volvo went back to the drawing board to recalculate rear axle ratios and powertrain options to see what works well when focusing on fuel economy, acceleration or power. Instead of picking specifics to spec a truck, you would select the package that Volvo already paired and tested to get the best results for an intended use.

The company says I-Torque represents a versatile vehicle equipped with an overdrive transmission, capable of achieving optimal fuel economy at both 50 and 75 mph. Its efficient utilization of the top two gears pays dividends in fuel efficiency, according to Volvo. However, for applications demanding heavier loads ranging between 80-143k lbs, or for drivers prioritizing performance over fuel economy, Volvo provides the Straight Torque powertrain package.

Volvo broke down the rear axle ratios for me as follows:

  • Super Direct ratios range from 1.95-2.47;
  • I-Torque uses 2.15-2.17 for loads at or under 80k lbs, while Volvo says ratios of 2.47 or 2.64 are good options for loads of 103-110k lbs; and
  • Straight Torque ranges from 2.47 to 3.42.

Let’s say you know better than Volvo—you can feel it in your bones. This isn’t about being prideful or pompous, you’ve done the math and are certain that your fleet needs a different combination of options. Good news, à la carte options are still available. The packages are not eliminating options, but are designed to put the needs of the majority of customers into neatly organized boxes.

Spec’ing with style

Volvo also wanted to simplify selecting interior and exterior trims, which it says will save customers time and money. From basic to luxurious, you’ve now got four trim options: Core, Edge, Edge Black and Ultimate.

“If you have the fleet, we have a lot of durable parts that easily are replaced. You don’t have to make sure the color matches and paint and all that stuff,” Agebrand said, referring to Core and Edge options. “You want more presence, you want something to show more and be an extension of you, we have that. So we go everywhere from Ultimate, which is really the owner operator kind of like, chromed out—a version of that is Edge Black, which will be more sporty and more modern.”

From left to right: Core, Edge, Edge Black and Ultimate trim options for the new Volvo VNL

Basically, Core and Edge models use more basic designs on areas that are commonly scraped up (bumpers, fairings, mirrors, etc.) to make them easy to replace, while the Edge Black and Ultimate keep looks top of mind, alongside performance.

“Now what’s interesting,” Agebrand continued, “is we let them pick. You can have customer profiles that want a really fancy exterior, but a very simple interior. So we let them actually mix and match that. You can have Ultimate exterior and Core interior, or you can do Core exterior and Ultimate interior if that’s what you want to prefer. Really the idea of packaging is a little bit coming from the automotive side—being able to scale, but also being able to make it simpler for the customer, knowing what they want.”

I asked if these spec’d-on-scale options have any cost benefit over à la carte spec’ing, and while Agebrand didn’t have specific numbers, he did tell me that the customer will see some savings.

An example of the Ultimate trim package inside a Volvo VNL 840 cab.

“Our pricing structure will be that you get with all those things, you get a couple of pieces for free that you otherwise might not have gotten. Of course there is a cost to the package as such, but let’s say there’s 10 things in there, you’re probably going to get four or five of them almost for free,” said Agebrand. “It’s five of them that carries the cost of the package and the rest of it you get, if you want to buy it a la carte, you would pay for all of it.

Climbing in the cab

There are also amenity levels that pair with the trim packages: level 1 is for Core and Edge, while Edge Black and Ultimate get level 2, which is the more premium option.

Johan Agebrand sitting in the driver’s seat, explaining differences in trim options across Volvo VNL packages.

“So Edge Black and Ultimate, it would be what we call technology package 2. So they will have a little bit more USB chargers, they will have wireless charging, certain things,” Agebrand said. “The packages are a preference of taste and what kind of equipment you want.”

The rest of the interior follows suit with options for wardrobe, cabinets, dining and work spaces, a bed and an overhead bunk. The VNL I got to sit in at TMC was a mid roof model, and while you could get into that overhead bunk, I think it might be better suited for storage space unless you opt for a full height truck.

An illustration of the Volvo VNL shift stalk with steering wheel edit out, for better visibility.

Other features are all designed around driver comfort. In addition to the adjustable steering wheel, Volvo put more on-highway controls at the driver’s fingertips. A stalk-mounted shifter now manages the engine brake and has twist controls for the automatic transmission—there’s also a button to switch from automatic to manual, which would then let the stalk function as a paddle shifter.

The rear console above the driver’s bed, which can control the radio, lights, HVAC and more.

Another design choice that makes sense to me puts radio and climate controls where the driver can reach them, day or night. One console sits in the normal position up front, but Volvo put a second console next to the bed so you don’t have to crawl back to the cab to cool off or switch songs.

It might just be me, but one of the last things mentioned when touring the new VNL blew my mind.

The craziest thing Johan Agebrand said to me

“Then one other thing we have is we have modular switches, so these switches can pop out. If I don’t like this switch over here, this can pop out and I can move it here for example and switch them around,” Agebrand casually said as if it wasn’t the wildest thing I’d heard all day.

Each bank of controls can accommodate switches from that bank in any order you like. Don’t like where the lift controls are? Move ’em. Not happy with the lane assist position? Rip it out and try again. The technology to activate these functions is in the switches, themselves.

The rocker switches beneath the climate console are swappable within that bank, a feature shared with several banks of switches around in the cab’s control center.

“They have some computer chips and they go to a computer network and it identifies the switches, or the switches identify themselves, and then we know what function that switch has,” he explained. “So yeah, that’s something new here as well with the modular switches, which means that the customer can adapt a little bit to what’s good for them, right?”

Okay, the switches may have only fascinated me, but I think the modular idea parallels what Volvo is aiming to do with the new VNL. These package options were built around Volvo’s research into finding what works well together. Additionally, the company expects this to speed up truck production, save you money and make life more simple for salespeople. If you find that another option works better for your fleet, you can always pop out of the packages and switch things around.

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