Volvo Trucks Unveils its Latest Creation

VNL 860 Large SleeperWilliam Paine/Patriot Publishing

The VNL 860 Large Sleeper (pictured) is the biggest of the new trucks.



Patriot Publishing


Volvo Trucks hosted a media presentation recently at their Customer Center in Dublin to unveil their latest and perhaps greatest creation –  the Volvo VNL truck.

This exclusive presentation was attended by members of industry media, who write for transportation and logistics-oriented publications. This niche group of trucking journos came from all over North America to view Volvo’s new Class 8 tractor (truck).


However, since these trucks are being produced exclusively at the newly built Volvo Trucks plant in Dublin, The Patriot and The Southwest Times was invited to the VNL unveiling. As a bonus, the invitation included a test drive of the VNL, and who hasn’t wanted to get behind the wheel of one of these big rigs … at least once?


For whatever reason, I was the first to arrive through the gleaming doors of the Volvo Customer Center that morning. For those who’ve never ventured inside, the Volvo Customer Center is fronted by massive glass doors leading to a high-ceilinged futuristic entryway. A greeter then directs visitors to a vast circular room, where the latest Volvo trucks, as well as their individual parts (engines, transmission, turbochargers) are carefully, even glamorously displayed. Apparently, a bus full of industry media types, who had stayed at a local hotel, had yet to arrive. As a result, Frank  Klevenfeldt, Director of Brand Marketing Communications,

volunteered to fix me a coffee on one of the most elaborate coffee makers I’d ever seen.


“Is that a Swedish coffee maker?” I asked.


“No, we leave the coffee making to the Italians,” Frank replied as he handed me a tiny cup full of espresso.


Fredrik Klevenfeldt is from Sweden, but six years ago moved his family to the Volvo HQ in Greensboro, NC. His accent is heavy, but he speaks English quite well.


“Sweden is a small country with 10 million inhabitants, like North Carolina, so we need to speak another foreign language,” said Klevenfeldt.


“Warmer in North Carolina than Sweden?” I posited.


“Especially in the summertime,” said he. “It doesn’t get that cold in southern Sweden in the Winter, but in the summertime definitely, we enjoy the blue skies and the sunshine.”


Before the presentations began, Klevenfeldt informed me that the Volvo Trucks plant in Dublin is the largest Volvo truck plant in the world. The two other main assembly plants are at Volvo headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden and Ghent, Belgium.


As we spoke, a bus full of trucking industry media arrived and availed themselves to the breakfast Volvo Trucks provided for them. Soon after, Volvo Trucks Public Relations Manager Kyle Zimmerman began his presentation.


“We started with a piece of paper with really one goal in mind, and that was to completely reset the trucking industry in North America,” said Zimmerman. “It isn’t the first time. In 1996, we launched the Volvo VN, the first aerodynamic truck in North America … In 2007, we brought an automatic transmission to a market dominated by manual transmissions. Today AMTS are the industry standard.”


Zimmerman went on to say that Volvo Trucks also set the industry standard in other areas including safety, the production of battery powered trucks and “renewability,” a term mentioned frequently throughout the many presentations of the day. Sustainability and decarbonization were often stressed as one of Volvo’s top priorities.


According to Zimmerman, the battery truck market continues to expand but still represents a relatively minuscule percentage of the truck market.


“So how can you make the greatest impact on decarbonization today when, in North America, the battery electric truck market is just 1,000 units?” He asked. “A ten percent more fuel efficient all new VNL.”


Zimmerman then explained that a ten percent more fuel-efficient diesel-powered truck would significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions worldwide simply by using less fuel than its predecessors.


“Out of a 300,000-truck market like we saw last year in North America, that’s the equivalent of 30,000 battery electric trucks on the road,” he said.


Next, Magnus Koeck, Vice President of Strategy, Marketing and Brand Management took the stage in front of the huge Volvo Trucks video screen and gave his presentation.


Koeck spoke about the economics of the trucking industry, noting that 2023 saw a general decline in truck sales in North America, especially in Canada. Volvo Trucks also lost a little market share last year but according to Koeck, this was due in part to supply chain issues, which included a UAW strike at the Mack truck plant.


“It’s a little hard to build trucks if we don’t get the parts we need,” said Koeck.


Koeck showed graphs representing the peaks and valleys of the freight hauling market over the past decade. The years 2020 and 2016 were slower sales years with the 2017-2018 fiscal year reaching the highest levels of sales. The current year is expected to be a “correction” year, but Koeck expects pre-orders to pick up significantly in 2025 and 2026.


All new Volvo Class 8 VNL trucks will be riding on the same platform. This includes Volvo trucks sold in the European market, the new electric powered trucks and even their still-in-development, autonomously-operated trucks.


“We say all new for a reason because 90 percent is new,” said Koeck in reference to the VNL. “It’s a new platform developed in North America and designed by American engineers.”


The new VNL will come in four varieties, the VNL 300 Day Cab, the VNL 440 Short Sleeper, the VNL 640/660 Medium Sleeper and the VNL 840/860 Large Sleeper, which provides 74 inches of cab space behind the driver.


“Our previous (model) truck was 77 inches, but thanks to clever packaging when it comes to storage and utilization space, it feels much roomier than last year’s model,” said Koeck.


Powerplants for these new trucks include 405, 425 and 455 horsepower engines, just as in the previous generation. For the first time this year, Volvo will be offering a 500-horsepower engine for the new VNL, though it is claimed that fuel milage stays relatively constant for all powertrains because most of the fuel savings comes from the truck’s aerodynamic design.


Volvo began producing these new VNL trucks in the third quarter of last year at their newly built and nearby production facility. Volvo trucks provided two of these newly minted vehicles for a test drive on their recently expanded three-mile test track. Though fully functional, these trucks are still considered to be prototypes and not completely up to full production standards.


Product Market Manager Bobby Compton took his turn explaining how engineers were able to make the new VNL trucks 10 percent more fuel efficient than the previous generation. Compton was hired by Volvo Trucks 25 years ago as an hourly employee who built trucks. He’s now based out of the corporate headquarters in Greensboro.


According to Compton, 7 percent of the VNL’s improved fuel efficiency stems from the aerodynamic shape of the new VNL cab, which has a more wedge like appearance than the previous generation. Air is also channeled through the front of the truck and allowed to flow out the sides of the cab, which helps make the VNL more slippery in the wind. Compton likened the difference in aerodynamics of the VNL to that of more standard truck designs to “a pontoon boat that plows through the water, compared to a ski boat which floats on top of the water.”


The additional 3 percent in fuel savings is due to several mechanical innovations including stroke to ratio improvement, which entails making the rods a little longer and the pistons a little shorter in order to reduce internal friction. The pistons were also made with a “wave piston design,” which results in better control of the oxygen flow inside the cylinder. The new VNL has a seven-wave design, as opposed to the previous generation’s six-wave piston design.


The engine’s new variable speed oil pump also improves efficiency by “delivering the right amount of oil, just when it’s needed,” said Compton. “Anytime the engine is creating horsepower that’s used to protect the engine in the form of fans or oil pumps, that’s just to protect the engine … That’s not creating horsepower to drive the load.”


The more efficient these pumps and fans are, the more horsepower can be directed to pull the load.


Lastly the transmission has a 30 percent faster shifting performance which also improves efficiency.


Following these presentations, those who wanted to drive the new trucks, which was everyone, were shuttled to the test track to take their turn behind the wheel. Because this is a closed track and not open to the public, no Commercial Driving License (CDL) was necessary, though each driver was accompanied by a Volvo Trucks employee to help navigate the cockpit controls.


Two trucks, each carrying a full load, were provided for our test drive.


I chose to drive a brand new 300 Day Cab truck with Volvo Trucks employee Eric Gordon as my co-pilot.


It’s a bit of a climb to get in one of these trucks but once inside, the seat automatically adjusts to the height of the driver. The steering wheel adjusts to the driver’s needs as well. Unusually for a truck, the gearshift is located on a stalk on the steering column, similar to a windshield wiper control in a car.


Once the emergency brake was released, and the gear set to D, I gingerly stepped on the gas and the Volvo VNL 300 began easing forward.


As I emerged from the parking area, the truck seemed to drive on its own, even starting to accelerate on its own, as we began to ascend a little rise at the beginning of the course. The steering too, was almost automatic, as the truck seemed to anticipate the curvature of the road ahead and turn the steering wheel accordingly. In this way, the VNL approximated the driver assist in many modern automobiles.


Cruising around the test track felt effortless, like driving a (very) big sedan, though the weight of the load became more evident when climbing and descending steeper sections of the track. Halfway through the course my driving companion switched travel modes, so that I could experiment by using the gears and alternatively the air brakes to slow our speed coming into a sharp curve.


The overall impression was that driving these enormous Class 8 tractors complete with fully loaded trailers wasn’t a terribly difficult task. Heck, it made it seem like driving one of these was a lot of fun, though a long-haul trucker may well disagree.


In any case, it appears that Volvo Trucks is well prepared for the future, as the new VNL Class 8 tractor is ready for production and will surely set the new industry standard.