Volvo previews 2017 menu of powertrain options

By John Bendel, Land Line editor-at-large | 3/28/2016

Volvo Trucks North America introduced its 2017 powertrain lineup to the trucking press at its manufacturing plant in Hagerstown, Md. The new and enhanced engines and transmissions, which Volvo says will achieve fuel savings of from 2 percent to 6.5 percent, will be produced at the Hagerstown facility.

Image courtesy of Volvo Trucks NA

Arguably the most significant enhancements presented were a fuel-saving option called turbo compounding, digital technology to save fuel on hills, and crawler gears for I-Shift automatic manual transmissions.

Turbo compounding
Turbo compounding is a technology that recovers wasted exhaust heat and converts it to usable energy. An assembly on the side of Volvo’s D13 engine cycles the exhaust under pressure through a turbine, turning a shaft that returns mechanical energy back to the powertrain. Think of it as a small turbine motor mounted on a big diesel, with both doing the same job – though in very different proportions.

Volvo says the assembly contributes to that 6.5 percent fuel efficiency improvement as measured against previous Volvo engine models. Turbo compounding works best in long-haul applications.

Volvo’s D13 engine with turbo compounding can also be spec’d with Volvo’s XE (eXceptional Efficiency) powertrain package. XE technology benefits truckers who for maximum fuel efficiency want to run in top gear in states with 55 mph speed limits. XE “downspeeding” allows the D13 to cruise at lower RPMs for improved fuel efficiency. 

Low RPMs, high torque
Despite those lower RPMs, Volvo Trucks North America President G?ran Nyberg promised the D13 would provide plenty of torque for acceleration. More than 27 percent of all Volvo models sold in 2015 featured XE technology.

Image courtesy of Volvo Trucks NA

Meanwhile, Volvo’s 11-liter D11 engine and the D13 both include a common-rail fuel injection system and redesigned pistons for greater combustion efficiency. The new pistons feature ridges that direct six injected streams of fuel to the center of the piston for cleaner ignition. These improvements can boost the D11 to 425 horsepower, while improving fuel efficiency by up to 2.2 percent, according to Wade Long, Volvo’s director of product marketing.

Crawler Gears for heavy loads
For construction and heavy-haulers, Volvo introduced a new I-Shift automatic manual transmission with crawler gears. With crawler functionality, the new transmission can move up to 220,000 pounds forward from a dead stop. I-Shift with Crawler Gears will be available in 13- and 14-gear versions and will be available as an overdrive in Volvo VHD, VNX, VNM and VNL models.

I-Shift with Crawler Gears can be spec’d with the D11, the D13, and D16, Volvo’s 16-liter, up to 600 horsepower engine. According to the company I-Shift was spec’d in 83 percent of Volvo-powered trucks in 2015. That seems to reflect increased acceptance of manual automatic transmissions in general. 

I-See looks for hills
Long said the 2017 I-Shift transmission will be taking to North American roads with Volvo’s I-See technology, which has been available in Europe for a couple of years. I-See was featured by Volvo at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2014 and makes its North American highway debut with the 2017 model year.
I-See involves software that essentially takes control of the powertrain when cruise control is engaged. It’s designed for maximum fuel efficiency in hilly territory.

In conjunction with GPS, I-See can “remember” a route it has driven in three dimensions – not just left, right, forward and back, but uphill and downhill as well. The next time the truck uses that route, I-See can manage the drivetrain for optimum fuel efficiency. So when the truck approaches a hill, I-See increases speed enabling the truck to drive longer in higher gears. Just before starting downhill, the truck is allowed to essentially freewheel (Volvo calls it Eco-Rolling). Of course I-See engages the engine as needed. The I-See system stores up to 4,500 different hills.

The press saw presentations in a series of demonstration spaces with numerous large-scale graphics on the walls. One image in particular stood out. With reference to driver turnover and Volvo’s driver-oriented efforts, it pictured a smiling older driver behind the wheel of a Volvo truck. The caption read “Volvo drivers last longer.”

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