Volvo Trucks North America’s first new over-the-road VNL in seven years features a more powerful electrical system to help power eventual autonomous driving while aerodynamics and powertrain improvements boost fuel efficiency by up to 10%.

The truck comes in four configurations led by flagship VNL 860 sleeper cab. Two other sleeper configurations and a day cab round out the offerings. All four trucks feature an aerodynamic wedge-shaped cab, a reshaped windshield and tighter clearances around wheel openings, the bumper and the hood paired with chassis fairings.  

The Volvo VNL lineup includes three sleeper cabs and a day cab. (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

Volvo leads in aerodynamic design dating to the 1996 Volvo VN model. It applied a lot of lessons from its SuperTruck 2 concept truck to the new VNL. The current VNL introduced in 2017 borrowed aerodynamic gains from SuperTruck 1. 

The truck goes on sale in the third quarter. A new speccing process introduces packages for interior and exterior, powertrain, and safety packaging options. Simplified configuring and ordering processes streamline assembly.

24-volt power system future-proofs for autonomy

Powertrain improvements, led by an industry-first move from a 12-volt to a 24-volt electrical system, make the biggest contribution to fuel savings. A 24-volt system provides more power for accessory systems. One example: the new Volvo Parking Cooler that reduces emissions, noise and vibrations from engine idling during stops.  

The 24-volt system also future-proofs the VNL for driverless operation. Volvo is partnering with autonomous truck developer Aurora Innovation to create a chassis with redundant braking, steering and compute power. Dual components require more energy than a traditional truck where the human driver iakes over when something goes awry.

“With 24-volt systems you can make certain components smaller and lighter,” said Johan Agebrand, Volvo Truck North America director of product marketing. “Truly developing redundant systems means we have two of everything in there. That’s more weight.”

Aurora is partnering with Tier 1 supplier Continental AG to mass produce Aurora Driver systems for integration into OEM assembly lines in 2027.

Platform enables other technology scaling

Standardizing the VNL platform enables more efficient scaling of technology platforms including battery-electric, fuel cells and internal combustion engines running on hydrogen and other renewable fuels.

“Progressive solutions are needed to help tackle the challenges of the transportation industry, including the need for increased productivity and efficiency while also reducing costs and emissions. Companies must prioritize driver retention and well-being with driver-friendly features and advanced technologies,” VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve said in a news release.

Volvo invested $400M for new cab building

Volvo spent $400 million to build a new cab plant next to its New River Valley plant in Dublin, Virginia. For the first time, sub-assemblies created by 164 new robots in the new shop flow to the main plant.

“We started this project with a blank sheet of paper and thoroughly analyzed the trends and transformations that will impact the industry and our customers’ needs, including the sustainability and transportation demands of the future,” Voorhoeve said.

The absence of a manual transmission offering is an example of an out-with-the-old mentality that engineers took in redesigning 90% of the truck over the past six years. Volvo led the industry toward today’s nearly complete adoption of the automated manual transmission (AMT) with the introduction of the I-Shift in 2007. 

“The AMT has all the features we need,” Agebrand said.

Without a floor shifter, Volvo moved functions to a steering wheel-mounted stalk. Moving the stalk up and down regulates engine braking. Rotating the stalk governs AMT shifting.

Host of safety features ‘almost all standard’

From the bright colors of the safety belts to pedestrian and cyclist detection features, Volvo rolls out numerous new safety features. Most of them come standard.

The new Volvo VNL cab offers a side-curtain airbag as standard equipment. Driver-only or driver and passenger airbags are optional. An E-Call feature automatically connects the driver to emergency services in a rollover crash or airbag deployment, providing precise location details.  

Murphy bed riff in redesigned interior

Inside the redesigned interior, an optional Murphy bed-style folding bunk in the sleeper berth gives way to a pop-up dinette. 

“You don’t have to make the bed,” Agebrand said. “You just fold it up with its sheets.”

Also featured: A streamlined control panel, enhanced insulation and a larger refrigerator, powered by the 24-volt power system engineered to handle most electricity-powered functions in the truck.

The interior of the new Volvo VNL.  (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

The Volvo VNL lineup includes three sleeper cabs and a day cab. (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

Related articles:

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Aurora points to driverless trucks in Texas in 2024

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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