A new Volvo VNL tractor awaits walk-arounds in the main conference room at the Volvo Customer Center in Dublin, Virginia, on Feb. 13, 2024.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

A new Volvo VNL tractor awaits walk-arounds in the main conference room at the Volvo Customer Center in Dublin, Virginia, on Feb. 13, 2024.

Photo: Jack Roberts

With the official unveiling of the new Volvo VNL in the history books, the global truck-builder invited a select group of journalists in to its New River Valley truck plant in Dublin, Virginia, for a closer look.

Magnus Koeck, vice president, strategy, branding and marketing for Volvo Trucks North America, introduced the 2024 VNL by noting that the truck is 90% brand-new.

“This platform was developed in North America for North America by North American engineers, and it will be built in North America,” Koeck said.

The Safest Truck in the World

Koeck said the story of the new Volvo VNL really goes back to the next round of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Emissions regulations that will become law in 2027.

“We are seeing more stringent regulations across the board,” he added. “It’s not just about emissions. But also about safety and technology. There is a lot going on today and we want to stay competitive with our product offerings.”

Almost 30 years ago, I attended my first-ever new truck launch, when Volvo introduced the first VN series tractors to the North American market.

“Those trucks were based on a cabover platform we inherited from Europe,” Koeck noted. “But this model you see today is a brand-new North American-based platform that has been optimized for fuel efficiency, driver environment, productivity and connectivity. The result is a completely new level of customer value.”

In practical terms, Koeck said the new VNL nets a “conservative” 7% gain in aerodynamic efficiency compared to the current VNL. Another 3% efficiency boost comes from the updated standard Volvo powertrain. All told, Koeck said the new truck is 10% more fuel efficient than current VNL trucks.

A VNL tractor prepares for a lap around the newly expanded test track at the Volvo Customer Center.   -  Photo: Jack Roberts

A VNL tractor prepares for a lap around the newly expanded test track at the Volvo Customer Center. 

Photo: Jack Roberts

“We have also made major steps forward in terms of safety,” Koeck added.

Volvo is using the launch of the VNL to also unveil its Volvo Proprietary Safety Solutions. This is both an active and passive safety system that will be standard on all new VNL models.

“This is really an overdue offering from us,” Koeck told me during a VNL walk-around later in the day. “Current safety systems work well. But they’re often cobbled onto an existing vehicle platform. It just makes sense for us to offer our own safety system that is fully integrated into the design of the truck.”

With the addition of the Volvo Proprietary Safety System, Koeck called the new VNL “the world’s safest truck.” He noted that among the new safety offerings it features are optional side-curtain air bags that deploy to protect drivers and passengers from lateral impacts in a crash. These side-curtain airbags are an industry first in North American heavy commercial vehicles, Koeck added.

The sleek lines of the new Volvo VNL are designed to connect, attach and move air around the truck.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

The sleek lines of the new Volvo VNL are designed to connect, attach and move air around the truck.

Photo: Jack Roberts

There are new active safety systems as well. Now, when the airbags deploy on a Volvo VNL, the Volvo Safety System automatically sets the park brakes on the trucks, unlocks the doors and activates the hazard lights. Additionally, the system automatically cuts fuel flow to the engine to minimize fire risks and calls the local 9-1-1 emergency with the pinpoint location of the accident.

'A Completely New Level of Customer Value'

Chris Stadler and Bobby Compton, product marketing managers for Volvo, took over the briefing at this point to do a deep-dive on the new economics the VNL will offer for fleets.

Stadler said the VNL’s design will boost fleets’ annual bottom lines by offering an overall 10% increase in fuel economy, $5,000 per year in driver productivity, $5,800 in safety, and $3,400 thanks to vehicle connectivity and uptime.

“That’s $20,000 in savings for fleets,” Stadler emphasized. “And we measured those savings as best as we could compared to current VNL models. We conducted apple-to-apple testing using sleepers, the same rear ends, routes, drivetrains — you name it — even drivers whenever possible. And our final results were very good across the board. We are confident in listing these annual savings. And we’re even a bit conservative with some of those numbers, to be honest.”

Compton said the key to the VNL’s sleek front end and cab structure was a design that connects with, attaches to, and moves the wind around the entire tractor-trailer.

“This truck cuts through the wind,” Compton said. “It doesn’t plow through it. And we were able to do that in part with extra-low ground effects and an aggressive front hood slope that moves downward to a narrow point at the bottom of the grille.”

This overview of a new Volvo VNL tractor (left) and the model it will replace highlights the aerodynamic enhancments Volvo has made with the new design.  -  Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

This overview of a new Volvo VNL tractor (left) and the model it will replace highlights the aerodynamic enhancments Volvo has made with the new design.

Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

The sloped front windshield and the VNL’s wedge-shaped cab, along with the front bumper and functional air intakes atop the hood work with the truck’s aerodynamic roofline and improved flow-below characteristics to connect with the wind and help move it efficiently back and transfer it to the trailer.

“You have to stay connected to the wind or you lose aerodynamic benefits,” Compton explained. “And the air intakes on the hood help keep the engine cool. As a result, the new VNL’s engine fan turns on less often. That’s important because every time the engine fan kicks on, it adds a parasitic horsepower load to the engine. And any horsepower that’s not being used to drive the tires is not a value to our customers.”

Other performance enhancements include a faster-shifting version of the Volvo I-Shift automated transmission, a new variable-speed oil pump and enhanced combustion performance inside the Volvo D13 diesel engine and powertrain.

“This new version of the I-Shift changes gears 30% faster than pervious versions” Stadler said. “And we’ve redesigned our wave pistons. They now feature a seven-wave design instead of the previous six-wave version. That gives us more precise control of oxygen in the combustion process. We’ve optimized the rods and piston strokes inside the engine for better efficiency as well.”

A multitude of enhancements to the Volvo D13 powertrain alone give the new VNL an additional 10% boost in fuel economy compared to the current Volvo VNL model..  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

A multitude of enhancements to the Volvo D13 powertrain alone give the new VNL an additional 10% boost in fuel economy compared to the current Volvo VNL model..

Photo: Jack Roberts

But, Compton added, the most fuel-efficient truck in the world isn’t much god unless you spec it correctly. Which is why he said Volvo is introducing a new, simplified spec packages for the 500-hp, D13 engine:

  • Straight Torque is the new performance spec
  • Super Direct is for optimized highway cruising at 68 mph or lower
  • I-Torque is optimized for heavier loads and low-end pulling power.

Also new is the VNL’s 24-volt electrical system — another North American trucking first, according to Stadler.

“A 24-volt battery management system has a lot to offer fleets,” he said. “It makes it a lot quicker to diagnose and repair the truck when issues arise. And the system even has an automatic start to crank the truck is a low battery is detected.”

Driver Comfort and Productivity

According to Koeck, Volvo engineers put everything they could in and on the new VNL to boost driver satisfaction.

That effort started with the front suspension on the truck. A new, longer, parabolic leaf spring, coupled with stronger engine mounts and a new cab suspension system reduces powertrain vibrations into the cab while providing a smoother ride.

“Now VNL drivers can complete a 500-mile drive and not feel stressed out when the day is over,” Koeck said.

Under-vehicle design extends to a new rear suspension system, as well. According to Stadler, it’s a more robust design that gives drivers a better feel for the road while making them more comfortable throughout the day.

“We also talked to younger drivers as we designed this truck,” Compton added. “We wanted to make sure we were building a truck that gives them the technology they expect and the amenities they need to do their jobs better and relax when the day is done.”

Among these amenities are a new, larger refrigerator with more storage space, a versatile, Murphy-style, fold-away bunk. The bunk now also reclines to make drivers more comfortable before they retire for the night.

“One major new feature is a single control panel in the sleeper that controls any system or function the driver needs to access,” Stadler said. “Too many sleepers have different control panels for different systems scattered all around the interior of the truck. We’ve combined every system drivers need — infotainment, lighting, climate control — into one, easy-to-reach control panel conveniently located right there in the sleeper berth.”

Speaking of climate control, Volvo has also put a brand-new HVAC system in the new VNL. This includes the new Volvo Parking Cooler system.

Designed to keep drivers cool in warmer climates without idling, Parking Cooler is fully integrated into the VNL’s battery and electrical system that is installed on the assembly line. Capable of keeping a cab comfortable for up to 18 hours, it can detect a low battery charge and automatically start the truck before a jump start is needed. However, Compton noted, the system will not automatically start the truck if the hood is open or a driver is not onboard.

The sleep area of the new VNL has been optimized for comfort and features a fold-away bunk to enhance living space.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

The sleep area of the new VNL has been optimized for comfort and features a fold-away bunk to enhance living space.

Photo: Jack Roberts

Another new climate control feature is the Short Stop cab heater. As its name implies, this is a no-idle cab-heating solution for drivers on break or during short waiting times around 30 minutes or so. Volvo also has two parking heater options for the new VNL. These bottom-bunk units include a 2 kW version, and a new, 6 kW option that is fully integrated into the truck’s cooling system.

A More Connected Driver

Volvo Connect and a new, enhanced, My Truck app for drivers are also key enhancements on the new VNL. Stadler said that Volvo Connect delivers for fleets with real world operational benefits. These include:

  •  51% fewer faults
  • 24% fewer visits to shop
  • $3,400 in annual maintenance savings

Drivers get connectivity benefits, too, Stadler said, with the Volvo My Truck app. The new VNL has been optimized to work seamlessly with the My Truck app. That means that drivers can perform a whole host of tasks right from their smartphone. These include checking fluid levels, battery and lights on the truck during a pre-trip inspection. Drivers can also remote set and schedule cabin heating and cooling. They can check to make sure doors on the truck are locked and get an instant alert if some attempts to break into the vehicle.

Current model VNLs have a 77-inch sleeper option. A 74-inch sleeper is the largest available on the new VNL. However, Koeck said that thanks to refined packaging and a better use of available space, the 74-inch sleep actually feels much larger inside than the larger option available today.

Koeck said that order books for the new VNL will open in April and that Volvo dealer and customer feedback so far has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. He said he expects current VNL production to continue for some time after April. So, Volvo will produce both models concurrently for some time this year — although he doesn’t believe that production overlap will last for more than six months or so.

“This is the here and now for Volvo,” Koeck said, wrapping up his introduction of the new VNL. “But this is just the start for us. We have a brand-new, American truck for North America. But this is the vehicle platform Volvo will use for all our products going forward. And there will be many more vehicles to come: Battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, autonomous… Whatever we develop going forward will be based on this platform.”

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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