"The real showstoppers were Volvo Dynamic Steering and a new battery powered electric VNR"
At the Volvo Technology Summit that took place in Dublin, VA on September 12, 2019, Volvo Trucks North America presented their latest achievements and shared their perspective of the industry and Volvo Trucks in particular.
Roger Alm, President of Volvo Trucks, reminded journalists that Volvo is a global brand with a Swedish origin, and that Volvo assembling trucks in 15 countries across the globe. Last year there were 127,000 Volvo trucks delivered worldwide including 26,477 in the USA, 6,405 in Russia, and 4,624 in Canada. Mr. Alm ambitiously pronounced, "While other truck companies change with the times, we are committed to changing the times". As proof, he revealed Volvo Trucks market share data by major markets: North America - 10%, Brazil – 21.1%, Europe – 15.4%, Russia – 25.4%, South Africa – 22.1%, and Australia – 17.1%.
Peter Voorhoeve, President of Volvo Trucks NA, echoed his boss by stressing the importance of the North American market to the company as a second after Europe's home market. Over the last 10 years, Volvo heavily invested in a dealer network - about $620 million of combined investments from Volvo and the dealers - have been spent on dealer network expansions that amount to 435 locations.
Mr. Voorhoeve acknowledged that Volvo's market share in the US dropped a bit at the beginning of the year but is gaining momentum day by day and is currently in the range of 10%. By contrast, the Canadian market share just grew from 13.5% in 2018 to the current 13.9%.
"We strive for our customers' success and satisfaction", assured Volvo Trucks NA President. He also announced that over the next six years, the company will invest $400 million to the New River Valley plant expansion no matter how the US economy performs in the near future.
While specialists of different Volvo Trucks NA departments ran very informative sessions on productivity, fuel economy, safety, and automation, the real showstoppers were Volvo Dynamic Steering and a new battery powered electric VNR.
"A battery-electric truck with renewable energy might be a sustainable solution for an environmentally concerned customer," Brett Pope said during the electric VNR presentation. "But, obviously the pace of development of supporting infrastructure will be crucial for the wider use of electric trucks", concluded Chad Burchett, a presentation partner of Brett Pope. Volvo starts commercial production of the battery powered VNR in 2020. First, it will be a straight truck with the axle's configurated to 4X2; 6X2 liftable, and 6X4. The predicted limit of the GVW/GCW is 66,000 lbs. It's equipped with two traction batteries that weigh 500 kg each and are powered by dual electric motors with a 2-speed gearbox. By the end of the year 2021, there will be production advancement to a class 8 tractor with GCW up to 80,000 lbs, improved electric driveline, and next-generation batteries.
Among other questions from reporters was what does Volvo think about being a leading role in electric truck production belongs to newcomers like Tesla and Nikola?
Roger Alm's response was univocal: "We're confident in what we're doing."
The second showstopper, Volvo Dynamic Steering, was presented by Magnus Koeck, Volvo Truck NA Marketing and Brand Development Manager. Dynamic Steering was presented as a world-class innovation, sporting an active steering system which increases road safety, driver productivity and health.
"VDS is an active steering system that features an electric motor mounted on top of the hydraulic steering gear. Input from multiple vehicle sensors, at over 2,000 times per second, determine the appropriate steering wheel response. The system continuously monitors drivers' actions, environmental factors, and road conditions faster than the blink of an eye. The motor provides additional torque when needed to keep the truck safely on the road. This supports driver reactions with greater control and less abrupt maneuvering" (Volvo Trucks NA press-release, 2019).
All attendees were given a chance to experience VDS in action behind the wheel of the latest models VNL or VNR on a Customer Experience Track adjacent to a plant and Customer Service Center. And, I must admit, it was an unparalleled experience, primarily because by the touch of a button you could engage and disengage the system. With the VDS on, I had the impression that I was not driving a class 8 tractor pinned to a 53 feet fully loaded trailer, but rather the latest model of Volvo's XC90. So effortless and precise it was.
The inventor of the VDS, Jan-Inge Svensson, Technology Expert of Volvo Sweden, was on hand, and I asked him how he came up with the idea.
"At Volvo, we always think about the safety and comfort of our drivers. In this case, my thoughts were on how to make a steering experience for a professional trucker easier and more relaxed — bringing it closer to the experience of steering a car".
Industry insiders who are already familiar with Volvo VDS predict that this innovation might be as attractive and essential to the customers as the famous and reputable Volvo I-Shift.