If the 1980s had been the decade of sophistication for the truck, the 1990s was a decade devoted to environmental considerations.
This led to more efficient vehicle combinations and (at the end of the decade) we saw the integration of IT-solutions such as Volvo Dynafleet 2.0, which provides haulage companies and drivers with tools that increase the efficiency and safety of each journey.
With top priority being given to cleaner emissions and low noise levels, engines were refined and, in a few cases, totally new engines were introduced, such as the revolutionary Volvo D12 .
Now have a closer look at the refinement of the Volvo trucks of the '90s.
Ten years after the take-over of the White Motor Corporation's truck assets in 1981 Volvo had established a strong position, especially after having reinforced the sales and service network through the acquisition of General Motors´ 'Class 8' truck activities.
Combining Europe and America
There were many reasons to try to concentrate all development and manufacture of trucks to America, instead of importing trucks for certain transport segments from Europe. It seemed natural to develop a distribution cab-over-engine truck for manufacture in America, which combined the best traditions of Europe and America.
Volvo's biggest truck sales success until then had been with the F6 and the FE6/FE7, both being very efficient distribution trucks with modern ergonomic and safe cabs. It seemed natural to 'marry' the ultramodern FE cab (produced in Umeå, Sweden) to efficient and reliable Volvo-designed American components. The result was presented in 1990 as the 'FE42' truck.
Suited for regional distributions
The FE42 was a very strong truck intended for distribution transport based on the chassis from the well-recognized WG truck (introduced in 1998 and designed completely within Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corporation, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA) and the FL6/FE6/FE7 cab produced in Sweden.
This meant that the new truck was extremely strong and very well adapted not only to medium-duty distribution operations but also to regional distribution, even with a semi-trailer, or as a powerful medium-heavy fire truck, to name just a few areas where the new FE truck became well accepted.
FE - forward control cab economy
The 'FE42' designation stood for 'Forward control cab, Economy, 4x2 axle configuration', but in general the truck was regularly known as the 'FE' for short. After some time, however, a stronger 'FE64' version was presented, mainly for use as a semi-trailer tractor. This featured three axles and tandem drive.
Normally the FE truck was equipped with a day cab, but a special longer sleeper cab was developed specifically for the American FE truck, which offered an extremely spacious interior area for a truck of this particular size.
Mechanically the FE was based on either American components or Swedish Volvo-developed and produced components. The standard equipment was a 7-litre Volvo engine, but a 6,6 litre Caterpillar engine was also an option, at a slightly lower customer price.
The FE became quite popular but as the years went by customers showed a greater preference for Conventional trucks in the particular segments for which the FE was primarily intended. As a result, production of the FE42 and the FE64 was stopped in the mid 1990s.
In the 1980s, Volvo had become a major global manufacturer, especially with the purchase of the truck assets of the American truck manufacturer White Motor Corporation.
Creating the first fully global truck
The product programme of White was very modern (having been introduced between 1975 and 1980) but it was clear that there was a need for new truck ranges in the 1990s, both for Europe and the rest of the world and for North America with its unique tradition of truck design.
It was a natural progression to study in order to create the first fully global truck range, covering the wide range of transport applications of both F trucks and Conventional trucks.
The successor of the F range
In about 1985, the final plans were made for the Volvo trucks of the 1990s. For a variety of reasons it was natural to plan for introduction dates from 1993 to 1999. This was in order to utilize the existing modern truck ranges to the full while at the same time making full use of the design and laboratory facilities.
It was natural to start the design work with a successor to the F10/F12/F16 range, which had been around (in its first model) since 1977. Thanks to several upgrading measures it was still fairly modern, but really in need of a successor to face the late 1990s and the new century.
The radical D12 engine
Parallel to the need for a successor to the F10/F12/F16, it was obvious for Volvo to plan for a completely new generation of engines to succeed the 12-litre engine, which had been in production since 1970 and which was the basic Volvo means of propulsion for most of the heavy-duty Volvo trucks (including the American White/WHITEGMC trucks).
The development of a radical new engine began, an engine which would be famous during the 1990s under the name of 'D12'. For the first time in Europe, a heavy-duty diesel engine featured principles previously found mainly in advanced sports car engines, including overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder.
To make the most efficient use of the fuel while also minimizing emissions and environmental damage, the radical 'unit injectors' took the place of the conventional mechanical/electronic diesel injection pump.
The result of high-class innovations
The resulting FH truck (with either 12 or 16-litre engines) has become a major success. Major design work had taken place to minimize wind resistance, thereby improving performance and minimizing fuel consumption. Good aerodynamics also means higher average speed and more stress on the brakes so a radical engine brake (VEB/'Volvo Engine Brake') was designed and patented by Volvo.
Safety and ergonomics were, as always in a Volvo truck family, maximized, both thanks to laboratory safety tests and to the expertise of the 'Volvo accident commission', which has investigated truck accidents continuously for more than a quarter of a century in order to improve the design of the Volvo trucks of the future.
A wide range of different applications
The FH trucks cover a wide range of applications so the specification width is very wide. Cabs are available in four different models; short day cab, sleeper cab with normal roof, Globetrotter roof with an extra high roof for more comfortable resting in the truck and (since 1995) the Globetrotter XL cab offering enormous space thanks to an extra high roof, despite the fact that this cab is designed completely in accordance with demanding European legislation, thereby permitting maximum platform/semi-trailer length.
The engines cover the range of 340 up to 660 bhp and the trucks can be specified with two, three or four axles, with one, two or even three axles driven.
Among the most successful vehicles ever
The Volvo FH range of trucks was awarded 'Truck of the Year 1994' and is today one of the most successful truck families ever, having sold more than 400,000 units since 1993. The FH range is sold in all parts of the world with the exception of North America, where legislation is unfavourable to F trucks (or 'cab-over engine' trucks, as they are designated in North America). In early 2000, the Volvo FH12 was awarded the 'Truck of the Year 2000' award, the first time a single model has received this coveted award twice.
Despite the optimal design of the FH, a great proportion of its components are used in other Volvo trucks, offering the basis of very efficient design and production. This is advantageous for spare part supply, and very much favoured by customers and Volvo as a major global truck manufacturer.
When the very efficient D12 engine with unit injectors and overhead camshaft was introduced for the FH12 in 1993, many truck owners and drivers, preferring a lower truck for several reasons, started to ask for a 12-litre, ultra-efficient version of the FL7/FL12, incorporating the new engine in the existing truck family.
The best of both worlds
This was, of course, a good idea, not least since the high-built, long-distance FH range and the low FL range fulfil needs in different truck classes, meaning that internal competition between these two truck families is limited.
In 1995 the FL//FL12 was presented and very soon obtained a good reputation, combining the ergonomic advantages of a low level cab with the power (up to 420 bhp) of the most efficient and environment-friendly engine ever developed by a European truck manufacturer.
The most diverse Volvo family
The FL12 was in all respects a heavy-duty truck, and was well received for a great number of different transport tasks, especially when it came to regional distribution and construction-site transport duties. With the FL12, Volvo had created its most diverse truck family ever, equipped with a 7-litre engine (FL7), a 10-litre engine (FL10) or a 12-litre engine (FL12).
Transmission options included manual or automatic transmissions in all classes. Chassis configurations included two, three and four-axle models, driven on one, two or three axles, for single truck use or with a semi-trailer or trailer and on off-road use.
There are two markedly different types of vehicles in the light-duty truck segment (around 7,5 tonne GVW); the small vehicles, which have been upgraded to cope with a larger GVW, and the 'genuine' medium trucks, which have been adapted to the lower GVW through the use of lighter driveline and chassis components. These trucks have preserved driver comfort, space and safety levels together with ample quality reserves for use during many years. They are often used by transport companies specializing in activities other than transport, but needing efficient, safe and reliable transport.
The virtue of utilization
There has been a trend towards small goods vehicles with comparatively high fuel consumption, low payload, limited adaptation to driver environment and space, but with a low purchase price for the customer and which can be utilized for low goods volumes. At a time when the means for maximum utilization of a large payload were not available, this was perhaps a relatively fast and effective means of transport.
But the inefficient use of too many vehicles of this type and the poor utilization of driver, vehicle and natural resources (fuel) are uneconomic and harmful for our environment.
Introducing guidance and positioning systems
With computerized transport guidance systems in combination with Global Positioning Systems there is a tendency to utilize larger vehicles in a better way, which will probably decrease the importance/use of inefficient small petrol- or diesel-driven vehicles in favour of medium-sized, high-quality trucks with good payload capacity.
Finding the right weight class
Volvo has concentrated in later years on vehicles from about 11 tonnes GVW and upward, with good environmental characteristics, relatively large payload and good environmental properties. But at the same time, requests from Volvo customers in need of not only medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks but also smaller trucks had been for a light-duty vehicle in the transport segment around the GVW class of 7.5 tonnes, which is very popular in several countries in Europe.
Customers who asked for a Volvo vehicle in this class shared the opinion that vehicles from manufacturers other than Volvo did not meet Volvo customers´ demands. The desired truck should give the same level of comfort and safety for the driver as the FL6, have a sufficient payload and be more powerful than the FL4 (which was taken out of the product programme in 1989 due to the limited power output from the Volvo engine of only about 3,6 litres).
The lightest Volvo truck In 1996 the FLC (Forward control, Low cab, for City transport) was introduced to offer Volvo qualities in the light-truck category. This consisted in general of the FL6 cab but coupled to a much lighter driveline (including an efficient direct-injected diesel engine with turbo and intercooler and good environmental characteristics, produced by the independent engine manufacturer Perkins) and the lightest possible reliable chassis components.
The FLC was the lightest vehicle in the Volvo range and well accepted by demanding customers who care about overall transport efficiency, driver comfort and long-term economy and environmental care. In 2000, however, it was succeeded by the lightest version of the new FL range.
Few trucks have bridged the gap between medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks as efficiently as the FS7, which was introduced by Volvo in 1987 in response to the request for a very light heavy-duty truck with ample performance as a single truck and very low kerb weight.
For crowded city areas
The creation of the FS7 was fairly uncomplicated, mixing the chassis of the heaviest version of the FL6 with the 7-litre engine from the FL7 and the cab from the FL6 range. The design was also facilitated by the fact that a similar version (FE7) had been introduced five years before on the North American market, and successfully marketed for regional transport and semi-trailer towing in the USA.
The FS7 was mainly intended for distribution in crowded city areas. For this reason a 7-litre Volvo engine ('TD73') was used, which was approved under the new European emission legislation to be enforced about a year later. The rest of the driveline was also produced by Volvo, including the gearbox and the rear axle, making it a 'genuine Volvo heavy duty truck'.
A lot of competition
The FS7 did enjoy a certain popularity, but there was a lot of competition from both the smaller FL6 truck and the slightly larger FL7 truck. For this reason the production of the FS7 truck ceased in 1996, when the FL6 Supercharger with 250 bhp was introduced, offering basically the same performance with lower kerb weight, thereby being even better than the FS7 in one key area; lower kerb weight = larger payload.
Two of the most successful Volvo truck families were the N-trucks, produced 1973-1990, and the NL truck, produced from 1989 to 1996. They became the most successful Normal-control trucks ever produced by Volvo for the global market. Long after F-trucks had become the natural choice for most market (due to length- and axle pressure legislation), the N vehicles were the natural trucks on the Brazilian market.
For this reason, in order to fulfill the demands for modern comfort and ergonomics, the NL trucks (which, in their original versions, had been introduced in 1989) were presented in a new shape, the 'NL10EDC' and the 'NL12 EDC', in 1996. They were almost exclusively marketed in South America.
The most striking feature of the NL10/NL12 was the modernized cab, with more interior space, increased comfort, improved ergonomics and more efficient heater and climate systems. But apart from these obvious changes, the new trucks were changed in many ways, to contribute to a better driver environment, improved transport economy and enhanced environmental characteristics.
The NL10EDC and the NL12EDC were mainly utilized for regional and long distance transport tasks, but was also the natural trucks for construction site operation or special transport demands.
Under the aerodynamic bonnet of the NL10EDC and the NL12 EDC were more efficient versions of Volvo´s 10- and 12-litre engines, now with EDC (Electronic Diesel Control) to ensure low fuel economy, optimal performance, modest exhaust emissions and low noise level. In 1999, the NH12 succeeded the NL10 EDC and the NL12 EDC
It was not until the mid 90s that a truck manufacturer had the courage to try to develop a truck concept which would be suitable for both European and North American transport service, but in 1996 Volvo presented the VN as a parallel transport tool to the already-famous FH (presented in 1993).
The family concept
Since the early 1980s, Volvo had improved the truck programme which it had taken over from White Motor Corporation step by step. This programme had been very advanced and was based on a 'Family concept', but partly lacked some of the advanced features present in the best European long-distance trucks.
On the other hand, these American Volvo White trucks had features which were perhaps superior to European trucks, among which low kerb weight was the most important. Without doubt, experiences from the American market have played a role in the development of even more efficient light heavy-duty Volvo trucks for the rest of the world (outside North America).
Designing a new generation of trucks
In the late 1980s, development work on a new generation of Volvo trucks started. In order to be able to devote massive design resources to the development of American Volvo trucks, superior to previous generations of American trucks, the decision was taken to use major components in several truck models.
These were to include the American Volvo trucks (which would be called 'VN'), European trucks ('FH' and 'FM') and also a full-cab-width conventional truck ('NH').
The benefits of the long bonnet American legislation permits long bonnets in front of the cab, so the new American Volvo cab was given a long bonnet early in the design stage, adding to the beauty of a truck type often favoured by many truck enthusiasts. With a long bonnet housing the engine, the cab floor naturally becomes completely flat, providing extremely roomy conditions for the driver.
The space in the cab of the VN is also made even more impressive by the generous sleeping compartments of the long sleeper cab versions (a day cab is also available), being available in two lengths for the 'VN' from its introduction in 1996.
Beautiful, exclusive and efficient
One year later, in 1997, the original two VN sleeper cabs were once more complemented by the even more impressive sleeper cab for the 'Volvo 770', possibly the most exquisite truck cab ever series-produced. The latter features options such as TV set, microwave oven, wardrobe, double berth, etc.
The VN/770 trucks may be beautiful and exclusive, but above all they are efficient transport tools, incorporating features such as low kerb weight, superior aerodynamics and traditional Volvo qualities such as optimised ergonomics for the driver.
The most demanding of safety tests
When it comes to safety, the VN/770 are second to none. In contrast to trucks from other American manufacturers, they have been tested and approved according to the demanding Swedish Cab Safety test procedure, the most severe in the world. For those customers requiring it, the VN/770 could in their original versions be supplied with an integrated Volvo driveline, incorporating the very efficient and environmentally-friendly 'Volvo D12' engine (basically the same as in the 'Volvo FH12' truck), but a wide variety of American components including engines and transmissions were also available.
The increasing number of Volvo engines in the VN/770 trucks does, however, present proof of the growing trust for Volvo as a complete manufacturer, which is demonstrated by American transport companies and drivers.
For more than a quarter of a century, Volvo trucks have been built with care of the environment in mind. In the design process this has meant that the engine has not only fulfilled legal requirements, but also the ambitions of the Volvo designers when it comes to engine emissions, noise, fuel efficiency, net weight (contributing to the large payload and thereby to overall transport efficiency) and several other factors.
ECT - Environmental Concept Truck
Superior environmental characteristics are vital for the future, if welfare and good health for the population is to be achieved. For this reason, it was decided in the early 1990s that an 'Environmental Concept Truck' ('ECT') should be designed, serving as a test platform for ideas to be incorporated in future series-produced Volvo trucks in various weight classes.
The work took place in a special project organization, which had full freedom to create the most environmentally efficient goods-carrying vehicle ever designed. It was soon decided to concentrate the primary efforts upon a distribution vehicle intended for efficient use in congested city areas.
Specially designed for efficiency
It was also decided that a major part of the design should concentrate not only upon zero emissions and low noise etc., but also upon the need for more efficient use of the vehicle, thereby reducing the number of trucks needed in the future and their transport distance and maximizing the carrying capacity in every part of the transport task.
To achieve a combination of both zero-emissions in sensitive environments and the possibility of driving any distance, a Hybrid propulsion system was chosen. In order to minimize the weight and dimensions of the driveline, and to make it possible to use any fuel, a gas turbine (developed within the Volvo organization) was chosen in combination with an electric motor. The electric engine with its superior torque characteristics made the transmission of power very simple (=efficient) to the drive wheels.
Safety and ergonomics
A major ambition was to facilitate driving in small streets and around narrow corners. For this reason, a solution with steering on all wheels was chosen which contributed to extremely good handling characteristics.
As always in a Volvo vehicle, the driver's area was both ergonomic and safe, with a low level cab (made even lower thanks to the lack of a conventional engine tunnel), wide doors and extremely good vision (both to the front and to the sides and rear, thanks to a TV camera system).
An ever-increasing proportion of today's transport goods are ready-made sensitive products which were well cushioned in the ECT thanks to optimised air suspension, with the ability to lower and raise the vehicle. The volume of raw materials needed to make a vehicle and the energy needed to transform the raw materials is huge. For this reason it was decided to design the vehicle so that nearly all of the components needed to make the ECT could be used again (and again and again) in new trucks.
The road to more efficient vehicles
The ECT was presented in 1995 and created great interest. It is being used within the Volvo organization in the work aimed at creating even more efficient (series-produced) vehicles for the future. In order to study the options for using solutions derived from the ECT, various tests are performed in vehicles other than the ECT.
One such example is a number of hybrid-driven distribution FL6 vehicles, which are used for daily distribution services in Gothenburg, Sweden. Today, hybrid FM trucks are being tested in the same way, to gain practical knowledge and as a test bed for future series-produced trucks.
This test is a practical test of the possibility of creating ecological and economic solutions in the short-term, which can contribute to a better environment in the sensitive big-city areas of the world. Tests are now carried out in secret in laboratories and in selected test vehicles.
It was not until the spring of 1998 that the next step in the total renewal of the heavy-duty Volvo truck programme was presented to Volvo customers. Then, the new 'FM' family of distribution/construction/multi-purpose trucks proved that the renewal of the Volvo truck range had been successfully completed.
More than a successor
The FM vehicles were introduced as successors to their famous low-built predecessors the F86, the F7 and the FL7/FL10/FL12. The FM shared the same characteristics of these trucks such as a low level cab for easy entry and exit together with the same expected reliability and service life (now increased even further thanks to superior design and vast development resources combined, with experience from the production of more than one million Volvo trucks).
But the FM is more than just a successor to its predecessors, thanks to its very close relation to the heavy-duty trucks in the Volvo range, in the first instance the FH trucks.
Maximizing features with sufficient resources
Devotion to ultra-efficiency in the development of the FM trucks had been facilitated by the parallel development of powerful components which are extensively utilized in a wide variety of Volvo trucks, including low-built FM trucks, high-built FH trucks, American Conventional VN trucks and conventional NH trucks.
Utilization of major components for a wide range of vehicles is the only way to guarantee that sufficient resources are available to maximize features such as reliability, service life, economy, safety, ergonomic and environmental characteristics.
Designed for many tasks
The FM is a truck which can perform more transport tasks than any other Volvo truck before it. That is not only because the span of horsepower ratings is very wide (from 250 to 420 bhp in its original executions), but also because the range of cab models had been expanded compared with the cabs available for the previous FL7/FL10/FL12 trucks.
With the new Globetrotter option for the FM, together with the day cab and the 'normal' sleeper cab, there was always a suitable driver workplace available, for long-distance transport operations where two drivers need living space for several days, as a functional workplace for distribution or for construction drivers in normal transport not involving an overnight stay for the driver.
The choice of competent drivers
The wide range of transport applications are also facilitated by the many chassis models available, including two, three and four-axle configurations, manual and automatic gearboxes, etc.
The FM has met wide acceptance, and seems to have become as popular with efficient transport companies and competent drivers as previous low-cab Volvo heavy-duty trucks, such as the F86 and the F7.