Its taken a while but Volvo’s impressive I-Shift with Ultra Low Crawler Gear automated transmission is now being actively marketed by the company in Australia and New Zealand with the truck media getting its first crack at the much vaunted addition to Volvo’s driveline options at an event in Brisbane last week.

Volvo’s unique gearbox for heavy vehicles has been much anticipated and was launched at Brisbane’s Mt Cotton facility last week along with the I-Shift Dual Clutch, which Volvo claims is the first transmission on the market with a dual clutch system for heavy vehicles.

Volvo lined up an array of hardware to show off its Crawler gear and Dual Clutch options on the various Mt Cotton tracks and the capabilities proved truly inspiring.

Two Volvo FH16 700 hp prime movers both fitted with the Crawler gear options were tasked with hauling low loader trailers, one with 136 tonnes aboard and the other with 203 tonnes were tasked with demonstrating just how practical the it is.

The greatest feature is the flexibility the Crawler gear delivers, enabling a prime mover to haul a massive load from start up with a single prime mover and then to seamlessly transition to a fuel efficient highway cruiser with a low engine speed thanks to the normal part of the I-Shift and its highway spec diff ratios. No longer do operators have to choose between a low diff ratio and the high engine revs and fuel consumption that comes from that and a high diff ratio with good fuel consumption and less tractability with a high GVM.  The Ultra Low Crawler gear option enables operators to have the best of both worlds.

While Volvo only demonstrated a load up to 203 tonnes, the company did show the truck hauling 700 tonnes in Sweden when it launched the concept in 2016 and sources from Volvo unofficially say that the option could handle 1000 tonnes if called upon. Officially the company claims 325 tonnes as its maximum hauling weight.

In a gearbox with one crawler gear the lowest ratio is 19:1 in a direct-drive gearbox, or 17:1 in an overdrive gearbox. By comparison, the ratio of the lowest gear in a regular I-Shift direct-drive gearbox is 15:1.   In a gearbox with two crawler gears, the lowest ratio is 32:1 and 37:1 in reverse.

The other benefit the UHC gears deliver is the ability to manoeuvre at very low speeds from around 0.5km/h, which quite literally is crawling speed.

The option is available with Volvo’s 13- and 16-litre engines on the FM, Volvo FMX, FH and FH16 models. The option adds 46 kg. to the  weight of a normal I-Shift, not a lot when you are talking about the higher hauling weights it can handle, while the box is only 120mm longer than a normal I-Shift

Volvo introduced the Ultra Low Crawler gear globally in 2016 and has produced more than 10000 trucks with the option since then and already it is accounting for around seven per cent of Volvo’s Australian heavy FH market and the company predicts it will be up around eight per cent in the  next 12 months.

From a dead stop on the Mt Cotton demonstration area both  the 136 tonne and 203 tonne low loaders  easily  hauled away from stand still up a decent grade  and then handled the descent back to the flat without drama. It was an impressive demo of the capabilities the Ultra Low Crawler opens up.

The Australian media had the privilege of having the man they call Mr I Shift, Ove Wikstrom on hand to give a presentation on the Crawler and  also the  dual clutch option  the company was also launching.

Wikstrom has worked on every generation of the I Shift including the previous incarnations including the early Geartronic, which had few friends, through the various improvements to now where it is thought of as the best automated box in the heavy market.

Back in 2002 the Volvo Geartronic was fitted to less than three per cent of  Volvo’s trucks. I Shift by 2005 had around 17 per cent of the production. Today  I-Shift accounts for 100 per cent of Volvo  trucks in Australia and around 97 per cent globally.

The new I Shift dual clutch option’s main  benefit is that it delivers constant torque without interruption thanks to its power-shift gear changes so the truck doesn’t lose any speed during gear changes, the result being more comfortable and efficient progress on the road for the driver.

“The introduction of I-Shift Dual Clutch to the Australian and New Zealand markets was a result of strong customer interest in Volvo Trucks technology, said Mitch Peden, vice president, of sales for Volvo Trucks Australia.

“We are immensely proud to now offer this innovation to our customers in Australia and New Zealand. Volvo Trucks invests heavily in talking to customers and getting to know exactly what they need. I-Shift Dual Clutch is a product that our customers asked for – we listened and we are delighted to give them exactly what they want,” Mr Peden said.

“In situations that require a lot of gear changes, I-Shift Dual Clutch brings an entirely new dimension to truck driving.”

The I-Shift Dual Clutch transmission consists of two input shafts and a dual clutch, which means that two gears can be selected at the same time. It is the clutch that determines which of the gears is currently active. I-Shift Dual Clutch is based on I-Shift, but the front half of the gearbox has been redesigned with entirely new components.

I-Shift Dual Clutch makes a big difference when transporting moving or liquid cargoes, such as animal transports and tanker operations, since the seamless gear changes prompt less movement in the cargo itself. Thanks to I-Shift Dual Clutch power-shifting, there is less risk of getting stuck on slippery or uneven roads, for instance when hauling timber in the forest.

“I-Shift Dual Clutch allows seamless gear changes without any interruption to power or loss of speed, and delivers smooth acceleration when driving uphill, even on a slippery road,” Mr Peden explained.

“Ultimately it cuts wear on powertrain, tyres and the rest of the truck, while also saving on fuel as the engine disengages when going downhill.

“I-Shift Dual Clutch has already proven very popular with truck drivers in Europe as it gives a more comfortable ride with smooth gear changes, and without dips in torque the noise level in the cab is reduced.

“For trucks, this gearbox will truly make a major difference to driveability. The heavier the transport and the tougher the operating conditions, the more you will gain with I-Shift Dual Clutch. Power-shift gear changes, where there is no interruption in power delivery, means it is easier to keep up with traffic, especially on tricky stretches of roads. The result is more relaxed and safe driving.”

I-Shift Dual Clutch is now available on the Volvo FH with Euro 5 D13 engines and with 500 and 540 horsepower. Transmissions with dual clutches are already used in cars, but Volvo Trucks is the first manufacturer in the world to offer a similar solution for series-produced heavy vehicles.

Volvo says I-Shift Dual Clutch can be described as two gearboxes linked together. When one gearbox is active, the next gear is preselected in the other gearbox. During gear changing, the first gearbox is disconnected at the same instant as the second gearbox is connected, so gear changes take place without any interruption in power delivery.

Dual Clutch is based on the I-Shift transmission and despite its many new components the new gearbox is just 12 cm longer than a regular I-Shift unit.

Volvo  demo’d two FH540s  Dual clutch I shifts, one with Crawler gear and  another without  and both performed exceedingly well, pulling away smoothly with uninterrupted torque. They also showed their fuel efficiency features with I-Roll (Volvo’s automatic coasting function) and  the efficiency of their retarder  on the undulating Mt Cotton circuits.

We will have an in depth coverage of all of Volvo’s latest transmission offerings in full in coming months in Transport & Trucking Australia and here at Truck & Bus News