Take 19 of the country's safest, most professional drivers and have them walk onto the truck factory floor and see their brand-new ride waiting, and they turn into a bunch of excited teenagers taking selfies.
That was the scene Friday at Volvo's New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, Virginia, where all Volvo truck models for North America are assembled. After the 19 new captains of American Trucking Associations' America's Road Team were named last week, Volvo Trucks, which sponsors the Road Team, hosted them at the plant.
The agenda? Handing over a 2015 Volvo VNL 780 model equipped with advanced safety features, which Road Team members will use to pull the "Interstate One" mobile classroom trailer as they perform their safety and image outreach duties over the next two years.
Magnus Koeck, Volvo Trucks vice president of marketing and brand management, officially presented the new VNL model’s keys to Pat Thomas, American Trucking Associations first vice chairman, who accepted the truck as the newly selected America’s Road Team Captains looked on.
Also participating in the ceremony were Susan Alt, Volvo Group senior vice president of public affairs, and Franky Marchand, vice president and general manager of the NRV plant.
Thomas, who is vice president of state government affairs for UPS, introduced each Road Team member, or captain as they are called, by name, as each raised his hand to applause and sometimes fist-bumps or pats on the back from their fellow team members.
Marchand talked about the care that went into making the truck by plant employees, saying the Road Team would be taking "a piece of our heart and soul of NRV out on the road, reinforcing what the truck industry does in America."
Alt told the road team, "We may be calling on you to help us say it like it is, keeping that positive voice."
Talking to reporters following the ceremony, Thomas talked about the Road Team's impact on state legislation and regulations. When legislators have a chance to talk to the people behind the wheel, when they can ride along and learn about the challenges of getting the goods on the shelves, he said, "they kind of get that 'Ah-Hah' moment."
Elisabeth Barna, senior vice president, Communications & Public Affairs, Image & Outreach Advocacy, works closely with the Road Team and said "A 20-minute ride makes a huge different," saying legislators as well as media are very interested in all the safety technology. This includes Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology, Volvo Enhanced Cruise (VEC) with Active Braking and Volvo’s Lane Departure Warning system. The new tractor is powered by a Volvo D13 engine and is equipped with Volvo’s I-Shift automated manual transmission.
The drivers also were treated to a two-hour tour of the plant. It's the largest Volvo Trucks plant in the world, according to Marchand, employing 2,750 people with an average of 13 years of service. The company is proud of its relationship with the United Auto Workers union.
"The secret to making trucks is the same secret to driving trucks – people," Marchand said.
The America's Road Team program, sponsored by Volvo Trucks, is a national public outreach effort led by expert professional truck drivers who have logged millions of accident-free miles. The 2015-2016 America’s Road Team captains will travel the country in the new VNL model to help spread the word about how the trucking industry delivers America's freight safely, securely and on time. The ATA created the America’s Road Team in 1986.
The new Volvo VNL 780 model will be used by the America’s Road Team Captains to haul the ATA’s Interstate One mobile classroom. The 53-foot show trailer, which is equipped with a conference room, seven presentation screens and educational displays, enables the captains to deliver interactive trucking demonstrations on safety and the impact trucking has on everyday life.