Volvo Trucks unveiled the latest model of its Volvo VNL semi-truck Monday, the first full redesign of the trucking industry mainstay since 1996.
The 2018 model, which will go into production in September at Volvo’s New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, Va., features a new sleek aerodynamic design with a sloped hood that signals the look of future trucks from the Swedish vehicle manufacturer.
The company sees the VNL as its flagship model and primary product offering for the long-haul trucking market.
Volvo has about a 10.5 percent market share of the market for trucks in the heaviest Class 8 weight segment, according to WardsAuto, an industry research firm, and trails rivals including Freightliner, Kenworth and Peterbilt.
The new model features improvements in fuel efficiency – up to 7.5 percent over the current VNL – automated safety systems, increased reliability and driver comfort, areas where Volvo believes it can better compete, said Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo trucks North America.
“We have lost the edge in areas where we stood head and shoulders above our competitors,” Nyberg said. “That ends tonight.”
The VNL had its last major refresh in 2002 and was aging at a time when rival truck makers are bringing out new models.
Mack Trucks, which is also owned by Volvo, plans to introduce a new long haul truck in September. The company has not released any details except to launch a website counting down to the Sept. 13 introduction.
Daimler Trucks unveiled the latest model of its Freightliner Cascadia semi-truck last September, the first full redesign since its introduction in 2007. Also in September, Navistar International Corp. launched its new line of International LT over-the-road trucks. Navistar’s last introduction of a large, over-the-road truck was its ProStar in 2007.
Nyberg told Trucks.com that the flurry of new introductions show that the product introduction cycle for heavy-duty trucks is speeding up as a result of keener competition and legislation dictating fuel economy and emissions improvements for big rigs.
“We will be forced to bring greater fuel efficiency,” he said.
While a decade or more can pass between heavy-duty truck redesigns, passenger vehicles typically have a five-year product cycle.
The new VNL features swept back headlights a bold new Volvo grille and hood. Airflow up and around the cab has also been optimized with a new chassis and roof fairing. There is a highlight line that stretches from the top of the hood to the back of the cab.
“We wanted a design that was confident and assertive,” said Rikard Orell, Volvo’s director of product design.
The company worked to make the driver environment better by designing a dashboard that puts the most-used controls within easy reach. Centered in the gauge cluster is a configurable, five-inch color driver information display that provides trip and diagnostic data.
An optional infotainment system is available, featuring a seven-inch color touchscreen, navigation and an exterior back-up camera. Another option is Apple CarPlay, which allows a driver to plug in an Apple phone to use for calls, music, messaging and navigation. A dash-top tray provides both 12-volt power and USB connectivity to keep devices fully powered.
“We relied on feedback from nearly 2,000 driver interviews to make sure the changes we were making aligned with drivers’ needs,” said Jason Spence, Volvo Trucks long-haul product marketing manager.
Volvo also redesigned the sleeper cab, offering a 70-inch sleeper that is available in the Volvo VNL 760 and 740 models. the interior of the new VNL sleepers have curved cabinets that open toward the back to maximize space and an integrated, reclining bunk, which the company said is a North American trucking industry first.
The VNL series comes standard with the 13-liter Volvo D13 engine. Daycab and VNL 400 models get the 11-liter Volvo D11 as an option. The 15-liter Cummins X15 is also available in the VNL series.
Volvo also is packing a variety of safety improvements in the new truck.
Airbags are standard as is Volvo Active Driver Assist by Bendix. It has a camera and radar-based system that combines forward collision warnings and active braking and can spot and react to stationary vehicles. The system features an industry-first heads up windshield display if a driver approaches too closely to an object in front. If the driver does not hit the brakes, the system automatically kicks in to slow the rig.
“We know automatic braking saves lives and it’s time to make it standard,” Nyberg said.
Nyberg said the new VNL is coming out at time when the North American truck market is turning up following a prolonged slump
Volvo forecasts that manufacturers will sell about 215,000 trucks in the Class 8 weight segment this year, with second half sales topping the first half.
The improving market for big trucks should carry into 2018.
Broad economic factors, including high levels of construction spending, low diesel fuel prices and moderate growth in the manufacturing sector have positioned the industry for a healthy 2018, he said.
But while the long-haul truck segment is growing, it still faces headwinds by a high-used truck inventory that has suppressed trade-in values
The VNL series was designed and engineered at Volvo Trucks’ North American technology center in Greensboro, N.C., The engines and transmissions for the new truck will be produced at Volvo’s powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Md.
The 2018 VNL reveal took place at a new Volvo Trucks Customer Center adjacent to the factory. The company plans to cycle about 3,000 dealers and fleet buyers through the center between now and late August to introduce the new truck to customers, Nyberg said. e
“Now, our trucks, engines and transmissions are all spotlighted in one location, in a one-of-a-kind facility designed to offer a unique brand experience that only Volvo can offer,” Nyberg said.
The facility includes a product showroom, two exhibit rooms, and a theater-in-the-round at the center of the building that features an 82-foot turntable to display new trucks.