Volvo new VNL: Diving into the details and the driver's seat

Volvo new VNL: Diving into the details and the driver’s seat

A lot has changed with the new VNL. Fleet Equipment got to learn all about it and test drive the OEM's new flagship Class 8 truck.

At Volvo Trucks North American Customer Center in Dublin, Va., the OEM took us through a six-part educational program to delve into the ins and outs of the all new VNL—the new fuel efficient diesel-powered tractor that’s also poised to be the future platform for all powertrains going forward. Here’s a rundown of the features that, when you add them all together, can save your fleet $20,000 per truck, per year, according to Volvo.

‘Every on-ramp is a trucker’s drag strip’

That’s how Duane Tegels, product marketing manager for powertrain at Volvo Trucks North America, began his powertrain-focused presentation. Based on aerodynamic improvements, faster action on the I-Shift transmission, changes to piston and turbo specifications as well as plenty of other tweaks that seem small on their own, Volvo said the all-new VNL is 10% more fuel efficient than its predecessor. That improvement in efficiency can save approximately 1,364 gal. of fuel per year, for a truck driving 120,000 mi. annually. According to the company, at $4.00/gal, that’s a savings of nearly $5,500. But efficiency gains doesn’t mean sacrificing power. Volvo explained the improved aerodynamics allow the new VNL to use 393 HP. while traveling at 75 mph, while the previous-generation VNL would need 422 HP..

Volvo’s Duane Tegels presenting the speed comparison between an older VNL with 2.47:1 RAR to a new model with 2.15:1 RAR, the latter of which got from 0-60 mph 4 seconds faster than the former.

To test the speed of the redesigned VNL, Volvo pitted one in a head-to-head race with a previous-generation flagship model. One key difference was the rear axle ratio designed to help fleets overcome fear of specs they may not be used to seeing. The new VNL was sporting a 2.15:1 rear axle ratio, while the older model had a more traditional rear axle ratio of 2:47:1. The older truck made the first big leap off the starting line, but failed to take holeshot. After about 100 feet, the new VNL claimed the lead, and didn’t give it up for the rest of the race from 0-60 MPH, reaching that metaphorical finish line with a four second lead.

I took two laps of Volvo’s 3 mile test track, and that thought kept popping up in my mind. On the first lap I was behind the wheel of a VNL with Ultimate trim, then again piloting a Core level model, though both seemed to glide and stop with nearly the same ease as my daily driver. I’ll delve into some specifics that made driving feel safe and comfortable, but it was a very intentional move by Volvo. The company said some changes, like the new automatic trailer air supply and parking brake control valves, push button start and automatic shifting, were for driver convenience, while others, like redesigning the front, engine, cab and rear suspension systems were meant to improve drivability by smoothing out the ride and helping the truck hug the road.

A new three-piece exhaust aftertreatment system which is 75 lbs. lighter than its predecessor. Additionally, Volvo says the modular design helps with sustainability and uptime, as its faster (and uses less materials) to replace just one part of the system, if it fails.

According to Volvo, the company worked with drivers and fleets to learn features that would help them the most. Then, they used that information when developing the new VNL to attract newer drivers by making trucking more approachable.

A zero-accident future

Speed and power are great, but making sure the driver, as well as pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers are safe, is at least equally important. Fewer accidents also means fewer insurance payouts or premium rate hikes. Volvo has added numerous passive and active safety features in the new VNL. From a wider, rounder windshield with improved visibility, to driver lane assist and automatic braking, the company focused on offering a bevy of tools to move toward its goal of zero accidents.

This well-tested truck cab is on display in part of Volvo’s Customer Center. Despite the rough-and-tumble appearance, the door opens and closes and space around the driver was not compromised–a factor Volvo tries to ensure for all new VNLs.

Here’s a short list of some safety features Volvo spoke about during the event:

  • Backup cameras for general purpose and attaching a trailer to the fifth wheel. The cameras also have infrared technology to improve night visibility. Additionally, a driver can activate the camera system from the sleeper bunk to see anything happening outside at night;
  • Improved lighting around the truck for better security when walking to/from the truck when it’s dark;
  • Hardened steel cab structure, side curtain airbags and 911 e-call to help protect the driver in an accident;
  • Adaptive cruise control with the ability to completely stop for a traffic jam;
  • Road sign detection and alerts;
  • and radar systems that look ahead of the truck and over 53′ behind, to detect objects that may be hard to see.

The company said some changes, like the new automatic trailer air supply and parking brake control valves, push button start and automatic shifting, were for driver convenience and safety while others, like redesigning the front, engine, cab and rear suspension systems were meant to improve drivability by smoothing out the ride and helping the truck hug the road.

Other options to fit fleet needs come in the form of infotainment and console options, some of which were shown through these kiosks. The red and yellow switches on the top right are for the new automatic trailer air supply and parking brake control valves.
In-cab monitors on the A-pillar and infotainment display, showing views for some of the optional cameras available with the VNL. The “mirror” cameras, which are mounted above the doors of the cab, automatically pan out when turning to show past the edge of the trailer.

The safety segment capped off with another fan favorite, the VNL VR experience; a decidedly more responsible way to demonstrate pedestrian crash avoidance systems. Here’s Fleet Equipment Content Director Jason Morgan taking it for a virtual spin:

Connectivity and uptime

Telematics and data management solutions are being used more across the industry, and OEMs like Volvo are taking note. In Volvo Connect, the company has its own offering which doesn’t require communicating through any third party systems. Volvo Connect can immediately give insight on a fault code. The OEM noted that it allows for faster diagnosis of potential unplanned service issues. But you don’t just have to take the technology’s word for it. Volvo backs up its Volvo Connect portal with the Volvo Customer Center.

When an issue arises, Volvo explained an alert goes to a specialist at the Customer Center, who then looks into the problem. From there, Volvo said specialists can tell you if it’s a red (immediate) or yellow (non-emergency) code, help you fix it or direct you to find a qualified service technician. Additionally, if it’s a software issue, over-their-air updates can be sent and downloaded by drivers, at a time that works for them.

Some of the other benefits of the program include asset location tracking, remote data collection truck fluid statuses and efficiency tracking. Fleet managers can compare their most and least efficient trucks to learn why there may be such a difference among drivers and address any equipment, personnel or routing issues. As an editor’s note, the Volvo Connect platform looked clean and presented data in easy-to-understand ways, during the demonstration.

Taking aim at the No. 1 fleet cost

Across all of the fleets that Volvo talks with, one financial pain point rises above the rest–drivers, specifically recruitment, training and retaining. One of the biggest challenges is fleets who invest the money and time to train drivers only to have them jump ship for another driving gig after they have their road legs under them. Volvo quantifies this at about $10,000 per driver.

There are several factors that can weigh a driver’s decision to leave, but VTNA said opting for a truck that was built to make the driver feel safe and at home, may help influence some to stick around.

The four VNL trucks that raced through part of the desert in Volvo’s promotional video live on in its Customer Center, all now featured as cutaway cabs to easily look at different available options.

Volvo tells us it spoke to drivers to learn what was most important in a truck, and tried to take those messages to heart when crafting the interior of the VNL. Even the mid roof models are plenty spacious enough to stand and stretch in for me at 6′ flat on a good day, with the high roof only adding to the spaciousness. The truck can come in several sizes and configurations, with multiple options for the style and firmness of mattress (or mattresses), storage, amenities technology and more.

Volvo said it also improved stability and damped vibrations throughout the cab and the driver’s seat, making for a more comfortable ride, especially for long-haul truckers who may be behind the wheel for long stretches. At the event, the company had 5 seats on display to see the differences from bare-bones to primo.

Miniature models showing changes through trim package levels. The Ultimate trim is on the left, then Edge Black, Edge and Core.

Lastly, Volvo highlighted the value in your fleet making a good first impression when transport deals are on the line. Some features, like the more larger headlamps with sequentially-lighting turn indicators, help others to take note of your truck on the road. There are also aesthetic options amid trim levels and paint jobs that Volvo has offered with the new VNL to match your fleet’s style. Options can be chosen a la carte, but Volvo noted that the most-ordered features were grouped into its trim level packages, and that cost savings increase as you rise through the trim levels–going from Core, to Edge, Edge Black and ending at Ultimate. Those 4 levels apply to both interior and exterior trims, and can be mixed and matched, if you like.

Volvo tells us it spent more than seven years developing the new VNL to meet the needs of drivers and fleet managers. To check out all the new offerings and put the saving claims to work, head over to the VNL truck configurator.

During a VNL promotional, the screen rose up, revealing a team of drivers performing what we referred to as a “truck ballet.” A display choreographed to the video so convincingly, it took several moments before we realized it wasn’t a live feed from a drone camera. Afterwards, the drivers parked, stepped out and waved, to the tune of well-earned applause.

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