Volvo back on top (for now…)

Volvo has regained the ‘World’s Most Powerful Truck’ title with its 551 kW FH16 750 model.

In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON takes the “world’s most powerful truck” story to its next level, examines more interesting developments in the global van industry, and reports on a further rolling out of Volvo’s global engine strategy.

While Global Focus was speculating on a possible assault by Mercedes-Benz on the “World’s Most Powerful Truck” title with a specially-uprated version of its recently-launched New Actros flagship, those flaxen-haired boys up in Gothenburg were busy shifting the goalposts!

Early in September, Volvo Trucks announced the 551 kW (750 hp) version of its FH16 flagship, eclipsing Scania’s 537 kW (730 hp) V8 Series, which had held the title since April 2010. This is three-quarters of the way to the 745 kW (1 000 hp) benchmark, which is starting to look increasingly attainable as each new occupant of the “throne” takes the game yet another step forward.

For the record, the holders of the title prior to the Scania 730 were:

• The 2004 Mercedes-Benz “Black Edition” Actros, with 456 kW (612 hp) of OM 502 power;

• Volvo’s 492 kW (660 hp) FH16 in 2006;

• MAN’s 500 kW (680 hp) TGX with D28 engine in 2007;

• Volvo’s 522 kW (700 hp) FH16 with D16G engine, announced in September 2008.

It is notable that all of the above are products of European manufacturers, and that most European countries limit truck and trailer combinations to 44 tonnes all-up mass, which can be quite easily handled by power outputs considerably lower than those listed above.

But there are some individual markets, such as Sweden and Finland, which sanction domestic 60-tonne limits, while special operations under permit could gross up to 90 tonnes. In Australia, multi-trailer road train rigs running on public roads in the outback operate at up to 200 tonnes Gross Combination Mass, so there are numerous opportunities for high output engines on the wider world stage.

Having the most powerful engine also brings serious bragging rights to the incumbent titleholder, while drawing attention to technological capability, and creating the perception that its branded products can perform transport tasks with a greater margin of comfort than its rivals.

Volvo has chosen the 25th anniversary of its 16-litre engine as the appropriate time to retake the lead in this particular contest. During the past quarter century, the output of this engine displacement has grown from an initial rating of 350 kW (470 hp) to the current D16G750 level, which also produces a whopping torque output of 3 550 Nm, or approximately 2 615 lb.ft!  This engine drives through Volvo’s I-Shift ATO3512 automated 12-speed splitter/range-change overdrive gearbox which has been optimised for the increased torque input, and is approved for GCMs of 60 tonnes, or more in specific applications.

This transmission is the only approved companion to the 551 kW engine, and it can also be supplied with an oil cooler, compact retarder, and an emergency power steering pump.

This D16G750 version of the 16-litre Volvo diesel can be supplied in both Euro-5 compliant or Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle formats. The latter version can be used in those city environments and metropolitan green zones which impose stricter particulate and smoke emission standards.

Engine design features include an overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder, unit injectors, turbocharger, intercooler, Selective Catalytic Reduction with Crank Case Ventilation – Open Extended, and a centrifugal oil purifier as options. The VEB+ version of the Volvo Engine Brake, providing 425 kW of retardation at
2 200 revs/min, is also available.

A selection of single reduction or hub-reduction rear axles, including solo axles and tandem sets with either single or twin differentials, is available to cover the GCM spectrum from 60 to 100 tonnes. Vehicle safety features include EBS, EBD, Lane Keeping Support, Lane Changing Support, Driver Alert Support, Adaptive Cruise Control, Electronic Stability Programme and cornering lights. Three different cab configurations, ranging from a low-roof sleeper to the top-of-the-range Globetrotter XL, are available.

It is notable that Volvo’s launch publicity for this new FH16 variant makes no reference to Euro-6 compliance, which will be compulsory from January 2013, particularly in view of Mercedes-Benz’ recent highly-publicised launch of its Euro-6 compliant OM 471 engine.

This leaves the door wide open for further product announcements at the 2012 Hannover IAA Show, when all European manufacturers are expected to reveal their product strategies for Euro-6. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out, and if there will be still further changes to the “horsepower pecking order”.

The significance of the arrival of the all-new Mercedes-Benz Actros cannot be understated, however, and it remains to be seen if Daimler Trucks still has a marketing ace up its sleeve to draw even more attention to its new flagship. Watch this space!

Global van cross-fertilisation
Our recent series of articles on Ford Cargo-branded trucks being manufactured in Turkey and Brazil for global markets suggested a substantial revival in this manufacturer’s interest in the commercial vehicle business.

Much of this seemed to relate to the “One Ford” strategy, which has moved the Blue Oval away from being parent to several formerly unrelated light vehicle marques – including Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar – and, after their disposal, is now re-establishing it as a powerful stand-alone icon, seeking to restore the clear, unambiguous brand image that was the envy of many global competitors back at the start of the 1980s.

Notwithstanding its 50-year run of American success, Ford’s E-Series seems destined to be replaced by a derivative of the European Transit van.Part of the strategy has seen Ford’s European products, notably the current Fiesta hatchback and Transit Connect diesel light van, successfully introduced in largely unchanged form to North American buyers. Ford estimates that the global potential for a rationalised range of passenger and commercial products could be 8 million units by around 2015, which would bring this manufacturer squarely into contention for world motor industry leadership.

From recent press reports, it also seems likely that this process is to be migrated up the payload scale to the market position occupied by Ford of Europe’s hugely successful Transit van. The plan, reportedly revealed in a presentation made to a Frankfurt Auto Show Investor Conference, is to commonise the currently disparate platforms of the Transit, and its American counterpart, the E-Series. Although not confirmed per se, evidence points to the Transit being the basis of the future product, and not its transatlantic cousin.

This supposition supports the investment, in 2010, of US$630 million in Ford Otosan’s Kocaeli plant in Turkey for next generation Transit manufacture, and fits with announced plans for new model integration at Ford’s Avon Lake, Ohio plant in 2014, where the E-Series is currently produced.

The decision to “Europeanise” the North American product would not have been taken lightly, however, as the E-Series, despite its 50-year-old design heritage, still accounted for 56,8% of its US market segment during the January-August 2011 period. The increasing success of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in the US market has been identified as one of the apparent reasons why more European-source vehicles are being considered for transatlantic transplants in the near future.

Meanwhile, the hitherto somewhat low-key “wide-ranging strategic co-operation agreement”, announced in April 2010 between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler AG, has started to gather momentum. Based on a relatively small 3,1% cross-shareholding of Renault, Nissan and Daimler equity, this includes technical, product and production co-operation identified as the joint development of new rear-drive small vehicle architecture, the cross-supply of power units, and small van model product exchanges.

The longer-term objectives include the sharing of modules and components between Mercedes-Benz and Nissan’s luxury car brand, Infiniti, corporate co-operation in the US, China and Japan, and joint technology development relating to electric vehicles. The van element of this co-operation is now reportedly about to emerge in the form of an upcoming Mercedes-Benz version of Renault’s Kangoo, while Renault is slated to supply the next generation powertrain for Mercedes’ Vito van.

Volvo’s global engine family developments
One of the most interesting stories to emerge on the world truck manufacturing stage in recent years has been the rolling out of the Volvo Group’s global diesel engine strategy. Headed up by Volvo Trucks, the Group comprises Renault Trucks, Mack, UD Trucks, Volvo Buses and a number of other Volvo-branded operations dealing in construction equipment, marine propulsion, aviation and financial services.

The Group also has developing joint ventures with DongFeng in China and Eicher in India, which, together with ownership of UD, has greatly increased its presence in rapidly growing Asian markets.

For quite some time, Volvo’s visible influence on the other truck manufacturing brands in the Group was quite limited, with most of the inevitable rationalisation taking place in corporate structures “below the radar”. However, this is now changing, and evidence of considerable convergence in the area of diesel engine usage has recently emerged.

The first sign was the application, during the first decade of the 21st century, of common 11- and 13-litre engines across the Volvo, Renault and Mack ranges, although these were differentiated by specific nomenclature, according to brand. The Volvo versions were designated D11C and D13A, Mack engines carried MP7 and MP8 labels, and Renault’s power units were listed as DXi 11 and DXi 13.

More recent announcements carried the process forward. UD Trucks quoted the Volvo Group’s “Common Architecture Shared Technology” concept in their publicity material, and this appears to identify the guiding philosophy. Back in 2009, the Group announced that it was to introduce a “medium-heavy” global engine family which, presumably, would replace all the engines listed in the preceding paragraph, and others lower down in the displacement spectrum. A recent report, emanating from Swedish and Japanese sources, has identified a whole family of engines, ranging in capacity from five to 13 litres that have been developed by Volvo Powertrain in Ageo, Japan. These power units have already entered production at UD Trucks and are reported to form the basis of the global family.

With the exception of the smallest unit, which has four cylinders, all of these engines share a six-cylinder in-line configuration. Displacement values, in litres, are indicated by engine designation, with the range being made up of GH5, GH7, GH11 and GH13 derivatives. Power outputs range from 158 kW (212 hp) for the GH5, to 353 kW (480 hp) for the 13-litre GH13TD unit.

Common features of the engine design across the range include a newly-developed ultra-high pressure common-rail fuel injection system, lightweight variable-geometry turbocharger,  upgraded urea-based FLENDS (Final Low Emission New Diesel System) catalytic reduction technology, unit injectors, and large exhaust gas recirculation unit. All of these units have been designed to meet the latest Japanese JP09 emission standards that were enacted in 2009, as well as Euro-6, which comes into force at the beginning of 2013.

According to the report, the GH5 and GH7 engines, which were the launch power units for UD’s new Condor MK and LK series, are also to be used in Volvo’s FE and FL models from 12 to 18 tonnes GVM, Renault’s Midlum and Premium ranges from 14 to 26 tonnes GVM, and some Volvo buses and coaches. This will see them replacing the bought-in Deutz 4,8-litre four- and 7,15-litre six-cylinder engines currently used in European-market Volvo and Renault models, from the 2013 implementation of Euro-6.

As reported last year in Global Focus, VE Commercial Vehicles (the Volvo-Eicher Indian joint venture established in 2008), has been identified as the production source for 85 000 Volvo Group medium duty base engines per annum. These will be manufactured at its Pithampur facility, starting in 2012, where VECV will also carry out final assembly of Indian market engines, as well as those built for worldwide Euro-3 and Euro-4 applications.

Other production and assembly facilities involved with the “medium engine” will be located at Venissieux in France, where European market power units will be assembled and, again, Ageo in Japan, where manufacture for the Japanese market will take place.

It is notable that this engine line-up does not include any power unit over 13 litres in displacement, so it can be assumed that the premier position in the Volvo Group engine catalogue has still been reserved for Volvo’s D16 unit, which is the subject of the first article of this edition of Global Focus. This has been confirmed by the announcement that Mack will be offering a version of this engine, branded MP10 and with a top rating of 510 kW (685 hp), in its Super-Liner and Titan models before the end of the current year. Presumably, a Euro-6 compliant version of this engine will appear before 2013, and it remains to be seen if Renault or UD follow suit in offering variants of the D16 in products carrying their nameplates.


Global FOCUS is a monthly update of international news relating to the commercial vehicle industry. It is compiled exclusively for FOCUS by Frank

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