VN Again

The VN780 has a 50 percent wheel cut and a new type of clutch.

Volvo VN780
HP 500 ISX Cummins*
Torque 1850
Axle ratio 3.74

*Can be spec’ed with Volvo’s new D12 engine for 365 hp to 465 hp or Cummins’ ISX line for 500 hp to 600 hp.

Volvo has unveiled a new line of trucks with improved weight, fuel efficiency and styling, making the company the first to design a heavy-duty truck in conjunction with the new emissions technology.

The August launch in Greensboro, N.C., of the VN highway tractors, including new 630, 670 and 780 models (replacing the 610, 660 and 770), culminates a three-year, $190 million effort. It involved substantial styling changes and the redesign of at least 1,000 parts. The trucks have more “emotional appeal,” while improving Volvo’s already-strong aerodynamics, says lead project designer Ruben Perfetti.

“Drag coefficient has been lowered 3.2 percent,” says Perfetti. This improvement can mean a 1.5 percent increase in fuel economy. While engine weight has increased because of the technology used to meet the emissions standards that took effect Oct. 1, Volvo achieved an average overall weight savings of 1,500 pounds on the trucks.

Volvo says the design aimed for improvements in productivity, performance, serviceability, aerodynamics and weight. Wrapped in a beefier skin, the new Volvos could appeal to owner-operators looking to help their bottom lines and drive a truck that shows elements of classical styling while remaining strongly aerodynamic.

The timing of the introduction takes advantage of Volvo’s new engine technology, which differs from other cooled exhaust gas recirculation systems because of its V-Pulse turbo, says Susan Alt, vice president of marketing. “We knew that as an integrated manufacturer we had an opportunity to make the entire vehicle work in concert – cab, chassis and engine all needed to be developed at the same time to work as a single unit for the truck to be as efficient as possible,” she says.

Based on short test drives, Volvo has executed its strategy well. The 780’s lower profile contributes to aerodynamic improvements and looks. Handling is better, thanks to a 50 percent wheel cut and what Volvo calls a new “catapult-type” clutch, which is easier to depress. Clutch feel and steering, particularly tight maneuvers, are reminiscent of an automotive experience. Perhaps that’s no accident because, Perfetti notes, “Many changes in the Volvo have come from looking at advances in Cadillac technology.”

Many design features were made to incorporate EGR, leading to stylistic and aerodynamic improvements. The air intakes, integrated into each side of the hood, help lower temperatures resulting from EGR. The intakes also add a style point without increasing air drag. The redesigned grill accommodates a bigger, more efficient cooling package. Headlights are covered with shields and blend with the new flared fenders to cut drag. The mirrors allow more visibility to the front and have improved line of sight to the rear.

Seating options are plentiful and include fully electronic controls. The seats allow more storage behind them than was previously available. Given the highly adjustable seats and the Hendrickson Air Tech air ride steering axle, the ride is very comfortable.

In a test drive, the 670, pulling a flat with sides and weighing 75,000, performed quite well. Handling in a tight parking lot was easy, even with the spread axle flat, thanks in part to excellent visibility around the hood.

The new wrap-around dash is simple but stylish. Gauges are visible through the steering wheel, as is the driver data center, brought over to the middle of the instrument cluster from the right side of the dash. The savvy owner-operator might add a pyrometer, given EGR technology, but the dash gives a complete picture and accessibility to controls. Radio controls and lights, located on the steering wheel, are easily operated. The sleeper has improved electronic climate control and other features, including pull-down work spaces and lighted under-bunk storage.

I drove Volvo’s new 465 hp D12 in the 780 and found it more than adequate for highway applications. A full range of transmissions – two-pedal automatics and three-pedal automateds, as well as standards up to 18 speeds – can be spec’ed with Volvo or Cummins engines.

The new Volvos have the look and feel of premium equipment, with efficiencies aimed at helping owner-operators stay in business. Designing a truck line in response to government regulation need not have produced anything but stopgap measures, but this series goes beyond that to combine enhancements in performance, ergonomics, safety and productivity.