Volvo Reveals New VNL with SuperTruck Influence

Volvo Trucks announces ground-up redesign of its Class 8 truck designed specifically for North American roads.

The new VNL will be Volvo’s platform for all upcoming commercial vehicle technologies.

Volvo Trucks North America has launched the completely redesigned VNL Class 8 truck. The all-new VNL was designed specifically for the North American market and features Volvo’s next generation of powertrain technology and advanced safety features.

A total of four exterior and interior trim levels are available for the new VNL with six cab configurations. (Volvo)

“The all-new Volvo VNL was designed to change everything,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America, during the virtual launch event for the truck in late January. “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.”

Volvo states that the new VNL will be the company’s platform for all upcoming commercial vehicle technologies, including battery-electric, fuel-cell and internal-combustion powertrains that operate on renewable fuels such as hydrogen. The new VNL features the company’s first 24-volt electrical infrastructure in North America and is available in three powertrain packages, each featuring the Volvo D13 engine with five different horsepower and torque ratings. A total of four exterior and interior trim levels are available with six cab configurations.

“This is a very significant launch for Volvo Trucks in North America, probably our most significant since 1996 when we first introduced the VNL in the U.S.,” Voorhoeve said. “Roughly 90% of the truck is brand new. We listened to our customers in North America and looked at the requirements for the coming decades. This is our platform for years to come.”

Swedish styrka

All VNLs will utilize an updated I-Shift automated-manual transmission, which reportedly features up to 30% faster shift speeds. (Volvo)

The VNL’s D13 engine features power ratings ranging from 405 to 500 hp (302 to 373 kW) and torque ratings from 1,750 to 1,950 lb-ft (2,373 to 2,644 Nm). Volvo states that its powertrain engineers in Hagerstown, Maryland, exhausted every area of improvement for optimized combustion, reduced friction and robust longevity. Design enhancements to the D13 include a new wave piston with a shorter height and longer connecting rod, smaller injector needle control valves, a variable-vane oil pump and improvements to the turbo system.

Volvo first introduced a patented six-wave piston in 2017. The launch of the new VNL marks the launch of an enhanced seven-wave piston that, according to Volvo, provides further directional control of the air and fuel mixture to promote more efficient combustion. The company also states that the decreased piston height paired with a longer connecting rod minimizes cylinder sidewall pressure, which decreases friction and improves overall performance and durability thanks to fewer parasitic losses.

Smaller needle control valves in the fuel injectors reportedly provide improved fuel flow combined with a reduced control valve size, which translates to more precise and rapid control over the fuel flow rate from the injector tip. These changes culminate for improved fuel atomization and better combustion efficiency.

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications are another consideration in onboard sensor usage. (TE Connectivity)

The D13’s new variable-displacement oil pump allows for optimized oil pressure regulation while also minimizing friction losses. According to Volvo, the pump employs adjustable vanes that dynamically adapt to the engine’s oil pressure demands, ensuring a consistent and precise delivery of oil. By dynamically altering the vane angles, the pump also can vary its output to match the engine’s requirements, thereby preventing excess oil flow and maintaining optimal pressure.

Refinements to the D13’s turbo system include a smaller compressor and turbine wheel, which enables the system to recover surplus energy more effectively. The system now also features an insulation cover to minimize heat loss and increase efficiency. Other highlights include a new linear exhaust aftertreatment system that Volvo claims will be easier to service and deliver better DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) treatment.

The flexibility of the updated D13 powertrain allowed Volvo’s engineers to be more aggressive on down-speeding. “This truck has a tremendous amount of torque at just 900 rpm,” Voorhoeve explained. “So to really utilize that trait, our powertrain team decided to be very aggressive on the rear axle ratios.”

I-Shift you not

Refinements to the D13’s turbo system include a smaller compressor and turbine wheel, which enables the system to recover surplus energy more effectively. (Volvo)

All next-generation VNLs will utilize Volvo’s I-Shift automated-manual transmission, which reportedly features up to 30% faster shift speeds. The introduction of the new VNL will also mark the end of Volvo Trucks’ manual transmission offerings.

According to Volvo, the increase in shifting speeds has been achieved through a comprehensive overhaul of the transmission’s software, electronics and clutch mechanisms. Volvo’s engineers have refined the algorithms, reduced the clutch throw and introduced a new clutch brake system that significantly reduces the transition times between gears.

“It’s really the work we’ve done with clutch engagement and how quickly we can ramp up the power from the engine,” said Duane Tegels, Volvo Trucks NA product marketing manager of the faster shift speeds. “The transmission’s ability to optimize gear shifts, reduce energy loss and harmonize power delivery significantly influences overall vehicle efficiency.”

The driver interface for the updated I-Shift gearbox is a new stalk-mounted shifter. “It’s a three-dimensional shifter,” Tegels explained. “You have a rotation to put it into gear, move it up and down to activate engine brake, and then you can pull on it for manual gear shifting. You don’t want drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel to use [the shifter]. We also tried to position it so operators can actually see it while they’re driving.”

Safety first

Sensor-fusion development isn’t exclusive to passenger and commercial vehicles; for this Volvo automated hauler, sophisticated sensing assures safety and reliability. (Volvo)

Volvo’s latest active and passive safety features are a centerpiece of the latest VNL design. “Safety is very core to our heart,” said Johan Agebrand, director of product marketing. “We have an all-new safety platform that improves the forward collision mitigation systems, the lane keep assist, and we’re also bringing a lot of new market firsts like pedestrian and bicycle detection and a side-curtain airbag for rollover events.”

Active safety systems on board the VNL include Volvo Active Driver Assist Plus with Pilot Assist, which provides active lane centering. The new VNL also will be equipped with Volvo Dynamic Steering, which improves maneuvering at all speeds including more controlled reversing.

Volvo claims the system increases stability at road speeds and adapts and corrects for crosswinds, highway crowning, soft shoulders and emergency situations like tire failure. The new VNL also features a pedestrian detection system that alerts the driver when a pedestrian or bicyclist may be in their path or blind spots. The system will activate front automatic emergency braking for objects directly in the path of travel.

Passive safety systems include a bonded and wrapped windshield that Volvo claims to not only improve aerodynamics, but also visibility for drivers as well as wind noise in the cab. The VNL’s cab will offer a side-curtain airbag, with options for driver-only or driver and passenger airbags, which Volvo claims is a first for North America.

All VNL cabs are constructed of high-strength steel to deflect the energy of a crash and reduce the chance of injury. Additionally, VNL’s frame rails are flared to allow the powertrain to drop down below the cab to protect the driver in the event of a collision. Volvo’s E-Call system will automatically contact emergency services and provide precise location details in the event of a rollover crash or airbag deployment.

Another drive safety feature is Volvo’s camera monitoring system. “We added this system for safety guidance so that the driver can truly see the entire truck and trailer,” Agebrand explained. “We designed the VNL from the start to be able to remove the mirrors should regulations come that permit us to do so. It’s built into the basic design. We’re expecting the system to be available in Q4 of this year or Q1 next year.”

Smooth operator

New for the latest VNL is an optional air suspension system, which Volvo dubs GRAS (Global Rear Air Suspension). The system utilizes dual leveling rods to reduce roll and pitch angles, improve lateral stability and minimize road shocks while maintaining a constant ride height.

The GRAS and the supporting Volvo Smart Suspension software integrate with Volvo’s Dynamic Steering system to provide precise steering control and reduce driver fatigue over any terrain, road conditions or engine torque levels. The system can toggle between three different settings to adjust the suspension for different loading and unloading conditions.

The exterior design has also been streamlined for the new VNL courtesy of a “more angular, wedge-shaped” cab design in addition to the redesigned windshield. Additional aerodynamic improvements include tighter clearances around turbulent air areas like wheel openings, the bumper, hood and chassis fairings, as well as a tighter trailer gap. These designs were developed and tested in parallel with Volvo’s SuperTruck 2.

“There’s a lot of learning we brought into the new VNL from the development of SuperTruck 2,” Agebrand said. “The aerodynamic shape, especially the windshield, was developed and tested alongside the SuperTruck. The SuperTruck has a slightly narrower hood, but the ground effectspackage was developed in conjunction. We really utilized SuperTruck to draw a lot of learnings for this product.”

Volvo claims a 10% net gain in fuel efficiency from these changes in addition to the powertrain improvements. “We saw a net gain of 3% from the powertrain and roughly 7% on aero improvements,” Agebrand said. “But we have also seen a 10% improvement from the new aero alone during our own testing.”

Order up

Production of the next-gen VNL will begin during the third quarter of 2024 at Volvo’s New River Valley Plant in Dublin, Virginia. Volvo stated during its press conference that VNL order books should be open by the end of March or the beginning of April. The legacy VNL will be produced in parallel throughout 2024 before being phased out.

“The new VNL is not a European design that we just carried over,” Voorhoeve stressed. “This truck has been designed completely from a U.S. perspective. Our goal was to design a truck based on what customers wanted. And that’s what we’ve done based on all the feedback we received.”