Back in 2011, with support from both the Swedish Energy Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, Volvo Trucks began a research project to develop new solutions to increase the efficiency of long-haul truck transportation by 50 percent. After five years of tireless research, in May of this year, the team assigned to Volvo Trucks’ American SuperTruck project introduced their first concept vehicle to the public, the Volvo Concept Truck.
“We continuously work on developing more energyefficient vehicles,” said Claes Nilsson, President and CEO Volvo Trucks. “This is a high-priority area both out of environmental concern and in order to reduce our customers’ costs. We’re proud to be able to drive this development. Our concept truck showcases the immense power of on-going technical advances.”
After road testing the concept truck in autumn of 2015, researchers found that the new design helped cut the vehicles fuel consumption by more than 30 percent. To achieve that, Volvo Trucks looked at improving the exterior. They changed the design of both the tractor and the trailer and improved the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle by a whopping 40 percent.
The first thing one may notice when looking at this svelte take on a semi-truck is that it’s missing something big – mirrors.
“We’ve modified the entire rig and optimized it for improved aerodynamics as much as possible,” said Åke Othzen, Chief Project Manager at Volvo Trucks.” For instance, we use cameras instead of rear-view mirrors. This cuts air resistance, so less energy is needed to propel the truck.”
Not only does upgrading from mirrors to cameras greatly increase the aerodynamics of the vehicle, but it also helps alleviate an issue that big rigs are notorious for – huge blind spots. For a long time, dump trucks have had to post warnings to fellow drivers on the backs of their trailers to stay out of their blind spots or risk an accident, but the introduction of cameras to replace mirrors has the advantage of better visibility for drivers, making the roads a safer place for everyone.
In addition to nixing the mirrors, the body of the truck was given a makeover. Aerodynamically optimized chassis side skirts over the wheels as well as a spoiler to extend the trailer helped cut wind resistance and optimize the airflow to the engine’s cooling system. The redesigned trailer is two tons lighter, increasing its fuel efficiency. It also comes equipped with newly developed tires that decrease rolling resistance.
As the Volvo Concept Truck is part of the ongoing American SuperTruck project, you won’t be seeing it on the road any time soon. However, while the concept truck is not for sale, it is a little glimpse of what the future may hold for the long-haul trucking industry. In fact, representatives from Volvo Trucks said that some of the aerodynamic features of the Volvo Concept Truck have already been incorporated into the design of Volvo Trucks’ series-produced vehicles. While the improved vehicles may not be on the market today, we now know that a big boost in the productivity of long-haul trucking transportation is just a little ways down the road.