Volvo has unveiled a special, locally developed fuel saving prototype truck, set up as a full B-double, utilising aerodynamic and other efficiency technology and aimed at giving truck operators a ‘grab bag’ of ideas from which to draw greater fuel efficiency.

Volvo is claiming its Fuel Super Truck is worth up to 20 per cent in terms of fuel efficiency improvements and Truck and Bus News had the chance to try it first hand this week on a drive from Sydney to Melbourne.

Loaded to its maximum allowable of 62.5 tonnes, the FH16 Volvo rated at 540 hp was able to record 2.1km to the litre or around 46.4 litres per 100km, while averaging 87.1km in the ten hours of actual driving south on the Hume. This was despite a strong headwind, rain and a 7am departure from Sydney, which put us directly into the peak hour rush, while our 6.30pm arrival put us on Melbourne’s Western Ring Road with the evening rush in full swing.

Volvo Trucks recently appointed fuel efficiency manager, Matt Wood, accompanied us on the trip and provided useful tips on how to get the best out of the vehicle.

Bedecked in aerodynamic aids including side skirts and drag resistance optimisation on the B and A trailers, minimisedair resistanceatthefront of theprime mover around the wheel housingsand entrysteps,the Fuel Super Truck has been Matt Wood’s first major project in his new role at Volvo.

Wood worked closely with the Volvo Group Trucks Technology team (GTT) based at the Volvo factory at Wacol along with support from the Volvo GTT network in Sweden, as well as with trailer company Maxitrans and tyre maker Michelin.

Because of our unique conditions and specs in Australia Volvo claims this is the first B-double fuel saving concept truck in the world, although Volvo has produced single trailer fuel super trucks in Europe and North America in the past.

Volvo claims that more than two years of development time has gone into creating the Fuel Super Truck and recently appointed Volvo Trucks Australia vice president of sales, Clive Jones says it is a testament to Australian ingenuity and engineering skill, along with the great benefits gained from the partnership of Swedish and local engineering teams

“TheVolvoFuel Super Truck is morethan just aconcept.It is areal-world truck specially engineered forAustralian conditions with a fuel efficiency-optimised driveline and streamlined aerodynamics,”Jones said.

“The truck is designed to run on the least amountof diesel possible, without compromising productivity or performance.

“With fuel accounting for one-third of operator costs, the industry is looking for answers to the problem ofhow to maximise fuel efficiency while still getting the job done.

Volvo says that for owners and operators looking to reducefuel consumption, the majority of features in the Volvo Fuel Super Truck are available for order now.

Volvo added that it is committed to working with every customer in order to find the best specification for their unique operational conditions.

Prior to the truck being publicly announced Volvo says it was tested under rigorous real world conditions in Australian trials which showed a gain in fuel efficiencyof 20 per cent over the baseline FH16, which itself is known for its fuel efficiency.

From our perspective the drive to Melbourne showed just what some of the innovations and fuel efficiency modifications can achieve in a real world situation.

The greatest tangible benefit is the increased rolling ability off hills and the momentum that can be carried into climbs.

Using the Volvo cruise control with its iRoll function, which automatically kicks the iShift into neutral on down hill runs, the engine revs drop to virtually nothing thanks to the momentum delivered by gravity.

With the Fuel Super truck’s low rolling resistance Michelins, extensive aero work and optimised driveline the truck quickly gathers pace off the top of hills and it requires focus and concentration to ensure you don’t exceed the speed limit. Using the cruise control the driver can toggle back the cruise speed on the steering wheel control to limit pace on the down hill runs. Engine braking and the transmission help with the task. The optimum is to toggle back to 100km/h and release the engine brake stalk as you hit the flat alloeing momentum to keep the truck rolling along at  legal speeds with minimum revs and fuel usage. The real benefit of the low rolling resistance and aero is realized here with the truck often rolling for amazing distances before the I Shift kicks back in and the engine revs rise to maintain the cruise speed.

Of course when the truck is rolling and the revs and turbo boost are low you are getting distance virtually for free.

There are, however, some impracticalities with the full suite of mods and additions to the Fuel Super Truck. The skirts for instance are low to the ground and there is not a lot of clearance between them and the road, which on some Australian highways might not be ideal, particularly those littered with road kill. However on a highway such as the Hume or the soon to be completed Pacific motorway, it is eminently usable, as we proved on our run to Melbourne.

Similarly the skirts shielding the trailer wheels drew comment from other drivers about the extra work required if a tyre change is needed. But with the best rubber fitted along with remote tyre pressure monitoring it would be easier to stay ahead of any tyre failure and again the likelihood of this in a motorway environment is minimal anyway.

However, as we mentioned, some operators could potentially adopt the entire suite of fuel efficiency ideas and others might just use parts of it to suit their own area of operation and road conditions and to reduce fuel usage.

The Volvo Fuel Super Truck is a well thought out and very intelligent truck. Hats off to Volvo for putting the budget and effort into building it for Australian conditions.

If it does nothing more than start a dialogue about maximising fuel efficiency in trucks then it will be a success. If it awakens fleets to the enormous gains that can be made, and we think it will, then it will be a huge benefit to Australian road transport.