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A truck for all kinds of truckers
Volvo's newest trucks and exclusive technology offer broad appeal

By Suzanne Stempinski
field editor

When’s the last time you tried to design your next truck? While you were running down the road? While you were waiting at a loading dock? While your present truck was beating you up as you ran over some of the country’s roughest roads? Well, you may want to check out a new Volvo.

As some of you may already know, my husband and I owned a 1999 Volvo VN770. That could make me one of their biggest fans – or their harshest critic. Ours had a 14-liter Detroit Diesel 550-horsepower engine, 18-speed Eaton AutoShift transmission, big torque, excellent fuel economy and a great ride. When we sold it, I was convinced I’d never find a truck that would satisfy me as well as that one did. I might have been wrong.

In fact, the folks at Volvo have added more trucks to their product line. Want a big hood and grille? Look at the VT880. Want a mid-roof model? The VT730 might suit you. Want a sloped nose, tank fairings and awesome aerodynamics? Check out the VN780. Looking for day cab or heavy hauling applications? For any trucking application you can think of, Volvo offers something to consider.

There’s a lot more to these trucks than meets the eye at first glance. Volvo recently introduced some powerful new engines: the D11, rated at 325 to 405 hp and sold in VN day cabs; the D13, which is Volvo’s flagship model and was recently upgraded from 12.1 to 12.8 liters, sold in VN and VHD products; and the D16, which was new in 2005 and offers up to 600 hp with 2,050 lbs.-ft. of torque for VN and VT models.

The driver displays include a lot of information, from miles per gallon to messages from dispatch. When you’re running along in the sweet spot of the motor and maximizing your fuel economy, little $$$ signs light up.

Effective with the 2007 engines, all Volvo trucks will come standard with the Volvo Link two-way satellite communications system and Volvo Action Service (VAS) 24/7 roadside assistance service. Volvo Link provides the ability for drivers and fleet managers to communicate using the display in the truck’s gauge cluster.

Messages transmitted from trucks are sent to Volvo customer support or fleet terminals via the Internet. The Sentry feature reads fault codes involving the truck or engine electronic control units and then transmits that information to VAS. VAS interprets the fault code and provides the driver or owner with recommended actions, either via the driver display or by telephone.

I also took the opportunity to drive a VT880, equipped with a D16, 600-hp engine, with an Eaton 18-speed manual transmission. The power and performance were admirable, the comforts superb. But if I were buying a truck today, I’d have to include an automated transmission.

What could be done better? There were a couple of things I’d like to see changed on the trucks I drove.

The I-Shift control box was bolted to the side of the driver’s seat. It needs to be either on a swivel so it rotates out of the way or mounted to the dash. In its present location, it is sure to get bumped or banged and it makes switching drivers on the fly very challenging.

My understanding is that this will be changed once the transmission goes into production. There is a cup holder mounted awkwardly close to the driver’s right knee. Again – guaranteed to be banged – and probably removed.

The driver display is located too low in the gauge cluster. If the steering wheel is turned at even a 15-degree angle, it blocks the visibility of the display. And lastly, the split-door design of the long closet in the sleeper makes it somewhere between difficult and impossible to house a Porta Potty – an essential for team drivers on the road today.
So who will these truck and transmission combinations appeal to?

Fleet managers will love ’em. It will aid in driver training and retention. Even freshly minted drivers will feel better about being behind the wheel of a truck that allows them to concentrate on the road and driving conditions, and worry a little less about which gear they should be in. That will result in less wear and tear on the drivetrain, which should result in less equipment failure and down time.

Owner-operators will love ’em for many of the same reasons – and the increased fuel economy means greater profitability. In addition, these high technology features should result in an increase in resale value – always a prime consideration when investing in a piece of equipment that may cost more than your house!

A two-pedal transmission system means that you’ll lose the muscle in your clutch leg. It also means that at the end of your driving shift, you’ll be less tired and stressed.

The new Volvos are a combination of form and function wrapped in a high-performance package – and well worth considering.

Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at


Skip shift without a hitch

By Suzanne Stempinski
field editor

Volvo has just introduced the I-Shift automated transmissions, which have been running successfully in Europe since 2002 and are going to be available in the second quarter of 2007 for trucks in North America.

The I-Shift was designed and built to incorporate fuel-saving and productivity-enhancing features.

“The truck, the engine and the transmission have all been engineered and designed to work as one integrated, exceptionally efficient machine,” according to Scott Kress, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “(You) can always get the perfect ratio at the right time for optimal engine and vehicle performance, which means a higher degree of productivity, fuel economy and reliability. And the I-Shift’s light weight means more payload per trip.”

The transmission is actually an automated mechanical transmission. That means electronics control the operation of the transmission, not you. The same team that designed the electronics for the new Volvo engines also designed the electronics for these new transmissions. Integration from the design level makes sense.

Because of the design integration, the I-Shift is programmed with the engine’s efficiency map for each engine rating. The transmission combines this knowledge with sensors to continuously calculate the vehicle’s speed, acceleration, torque demand, weight, rolling and air resistance, and road grade to predict and select the most efficient utilization of the engine for the next 30 seconds.

I-Shift’s road grade sensor not only helps the transmission determine which gear to start off in, but also when it can skip shift. This road grade sensor is exclusive to Volvo. The I-Shift is also fully integrated into the engine brake.
In practical terms, the combination of engine and transmission can result in a 3-percent fuel economy savings over the most recent generation of Volvo engines.

That’s money in your pocket. If you’re spending $50,000 a year on fuel, you’ll save up to $1,500 – that’s running on the new ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.
How does it happen? The I-Shift offers a variety of features such as Eco-Roll, an energy management feature that improves fuel economy in top gear when operating in rolling hills. Eco-Roll automatically disengages the engine when the vehicle is in top gear on a long, slight downgrade that requires no engine torque input.

Eco-Roll re-engages the engine as soon as the driver touches the brake, engine brake control or accelerator; or if the speed reaches the engine brake set speed for cruise control; or if the vehicle speed increases past a pre-set limit. Again, this is a Volvo exclusive feature.

I-Shift is also available with a kick-down switch on the accelerator pedal. When engaged, the kick-down switch gives the driver maximum acceleration – useful when passing.

But, let’s talk about how it drives.

I got behind the wheel of a Volvo VT730 mid-roof equipped with a D13, 425-horsepower engine with the 12-speed I-Shift transmission at a test track in Savannah, GA. The flatbed trailer was loaded with lumber, and we grossed about 75,000 pounds. Great visibility, sunny day, ready to rock.

My left foot automatically went to find the clutch – nope, not there. I reached down next to my seat and found the controls. I had two choices for operating modes – “E” for fuel economy and “P” for performance. In “E” mode, the transmission will select the shift points and engine parameters to maximize fuel economy. In “P” mode, gradeability is maximized. And, I could also decide manually which gear I wanted to start out in.

It was smooth, no grinding of gears or “brushing of teeth” to let me know my skills were rusty. The transmission and engine worked together like a dream. With rapid acceleration on a straightaway, the transmission skip-shifted up to three gears at a time without a hitch.

Slowing down coming into a curve, and accelerating again, the transitions were seamless. Approaching a stop, I allowed the transmission to downshift, again skipping gears and finding the right ones for performance. It was almost too easy.

Another lap around the track; this time, when coming to a stop, my Volvo “trainer” instructed me to leave the transmission manually set in ninth gear as I came to a stop. The engine decelerated smoothly, no bucking or jerking. Even as we completed our stop, the driver display showed ninth gear, but we were at a standstill. The truck did not shut off, the engine did not lug – we were simply at a stop at idle.

I was instructed to try to get going again – the transmission would not re-engage – the driver display told me I was in too high a gear to start moving. I could either manually shift down to an acceptable gear or put the transmission back in automatic mode to begin. Wow.

There’s also an option for times when traffic is creeping like a herd of turtles and there is no good way to go – or so you thought. The idle governor driving mode allows the engine to operate at idle without using the accelerator pedal for maximum fuel economy and to adjust the speed by selecting the gear that best suits the pace of traffic.

Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at