Brian Balicki on competitive vehicle comparison analysis in Alaska

The process of designing the new VNL involved real-life testing against the competition. In order to get a true evaluation, Volvo Trucks took a team of designers and engineers from Greensboro, NC, to Fairbanks, Alaska — testing the new VNL inside and out.

 

What was Volvo Trucks’ main goal in completing the competitive vehicle analysis on the new VNL?

We wanted to see how we stacked up against some of our competitors. It was important to know where we exceeded with the new product but also where there was room for improvement, as we were still developing the new VNL. Getting to know all the trucks inside and out was really important to the teams responsible for the output of this analysis. As a designer, we obviously want products to look great, but also make sure they meet or exceed the applications’ required function.

Explain the testing process. What factors were involved?

Preparing for the trip took plenty of organized meetings, so we knew what to expect, which was the unexpected. We wanted to plan out where we were headed and why this testing was so important to the company. Training was also a part of the process, so applying tire chains or CPR would not be an issue. The gentlemen that led our teams did a great job building confidence within us to perform in almost any condition. As you can imagine, traveling to Alaska required specific clothing and gear to withstand the frigid temperatures. And with the size of our team, coordination of our paperwork, permits and daily logs were absolutely critical to be aligned as we were traveling through the United States and Western Canada. When we started our travel back to Greensboro, North Carolina, surveys on the performance of the vehicles were completed. Practically every area of the truck was addressed in one question or another.

In putting the new VNL head-to-head against the competition, which Volvo feature stood out as superior?

The all new LED exterior lighting on the new VNL performed exceptionally well during nighttime driving, especially in the climate conditions we traveled across. For example, in the Yukon Territory when you’re completely surrounded by darkness, it is important to have a crisp view further down the road. The forward light pattern of the headlights does an amazing job — and because of the innovative internal heating feature — customers do not have to worry about snow or ice build-up.

How did the competitive vehicle analysis provide feedback that you will use to improve the new VNL even more?

We were able to evaluate the new VNL in real-life conditions that you would not experience within our Technical Center or even on local roadways. These products go through rigorous events and need to be safe, intuitive and robust. While we improved many areas of the vehicle, the teams soon realized that there is always room for improvement and we want the very best for our customers. Using this feedback, new updates are being developed.

Explain the unique experience of living in a truck for weeks at a time. How will this help you develop future innovations for Volvo Trucks?

The truck becomes your home away from home and the goal for us was to make the experience as safe and comfortable as possible. Being able to evaluate new functions and features of the new VNL for the first time helped us evaluate whether we had reached our design intent. Certain requirements must be met, while other amenities are nice to have within the product. The experience tested our limits in a way to make us see the difference between the driver’s needs and wants. Even after just a week on the road in the truck, those critical items became much clearer and were not always what we first thought. Where can I store my food and clothes? How do I charge my phone or tablet? Why does this light have this specific color? These are all important questions we asked ourselves and like to hear from current and future drivers. It is very important to gather their feedback through clinics and surveys, which will help design and develop future Volvo Trucks.

Testing the new VNL

  • Days driven: 6
  • Miles driven: 4,670 number total miles — approximately 2,335 miles personally
  • States traveled: 11 states, 2 Canadian Provinces
  • Trucks driven: Volvo VNL 760 and 3 competitor trucks.
  • Key learnings: There is always room for improvement. Never underestimate our customer’s daily tasks.

“We obviously want the products to look great, but also make sure they meet or exceed the applications’ required function.”

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