Designed for Drivers

Earlier this year Volvo Trucks launched the new VNR series for regional haul and VNL series for the long-haul market.

Design and development took three years, but the research started much earlier when Volvo representatives interviewed drivers to find out what they wanted in their cabs and sleepers.

That feedback became the inspiration for the driving and living environments in these new trucks. As the work progressed from sketches to clay models to full-scale prototypes, Volvo continued to call on drivers to evaluate the physical spaces, functionality and placement of components.

Along with more comfort and convenience for drivers, Volvo Trucks was ready to make a bold statement with the new series — the brand’s first new products in more than 20 years. The result is an aerodynamic design that conveys Volvo quality, strength and performance.

What challenges did Volvo team members face as they balanced technical requirements with application-specific needs and brand specifications? How do they feel about the final products? Here’s a look behind the scenes.

When Volvo Trucks designers started working on the new VNR and VNL series, they found inspiration from sports they enjoy. In Formula One racing, for example, every contour on the car is carefully designed for speed and precision. Mountain biking requires power and agility. With rock climbing, your safety depends on knowing the next handhold.

From the outset, the design team was passionate about creating a distinctive new style of heavy-duty trucks for the North American market. “We wanted something that would be bold and unique and stand out from the crowd, while also representing the Volvo brand,” says Chief Designer Brian Balicki. “At the same time, the design needed to represent strength and efficiency, like an athlete at peak performance.”

The team achieved that vision with dramatic changes to the front-end design. A distinctive new grille represents the face of the truck. New, automotive-quality LED headlamps in a unique design let you know it’s a Volvo truck, day or night. The exterior surfaces sweep from the hood to the door to the sleeper in one consistent design. “Everything you see on the front of the truck has a sense of movement — even when it’s standing still,” Balicki says.

The design also features a smaller, sloping hood that provides industry-leading visibility for drivers. For months, Balicki and the designer team worked diligently to shave volume from the hood, millimeter by millimeter — essentially shrink-wrapping it over the powertrain and other components.

Both the VNR and the VNL also take aerodynamics to a new level. New chassis and roof fairings improve air flow up and around the cab. The mirror design reduces turbulence by attaching air more quickly to the tractor. Windows are flush with the exterior, reducing aerodynamic drag.

“Our new look represents premium quality and aerodynamic performance with Volvo brand distinction,” says Fred Whitt, director, Volvo brand product line. “I call it uptime with attitude.”

My biggest challenge on this project was keeping my mouth shut for three years. We knew we had something special here, and when I talked with customers before the launch, I wanted to say, ‘We’re gonna knock your socks off.’

Fred Whitt

Volvo brand product line

Home Away from Home

Years before Volvo Trucks produced the first sketches for the new VNR and VNL series, more than 2,000 truck drivers had their say. What would they change about their cab environment? Could they rest comfortably in the sleeper? Did they have enough room to store what they needed for a long trip?

Volvo designers, engineers and product planners visited truck stops around the U.S. to get answers. With the drivers’ permission, they looked inside the cabs to get a better idea of life on the road. “Most were happy to invite us in,” says Jason Spence, product marketing manager. “We took tons of photos to see what they had stored in their trucks.”

Whitt went on many of these fact-finding trips, and he used the feedback as the foundation for the VNR and VNL series prerequisites. “Other people may make the final purchasing decision, but we wanted to prioritize the driver’s experience on the road.”

One of the project team’s earliest decisions was to offer an all-new 70-inch sleeper. “It’s what many drivers consider the optimal size,” Whitt says. “Larger sleepers don’t work for some applications, and smaller ones can feel cramped.”

In reimagining the trucks’ interiors, comfort and convenience were paramount. And to make sure these new working and living spaces met drivers’ expectations, the project team once again asked for their feedback.

“We brought drivers into the design studio and asked them to sit in a mock cab made entirely of foam,” Spence says. “It looked like a real truck, and they gave us feedback on the seats, the dash, the switches, cup holders, steering, visibility — everything you would experience from the driver’s seat.”

That early test led to a complete redesign of the dash storage compartment for items such as keys and a wallet. The final design, a shallow tray built into the top of the dash, met with the drivers’ approval.

“People think we can just go digital with vehicle design, and it sounds very efficient. But nothing beats the experience of sitting in an actual driver’s seat,” Balicki says.

Cup holders presented another challenge for the team, and Volvo’s designers were determined to get it right. Once they had a prototype design, they purchased drinks in every available size at a local convenience store to make sure they would all fit. Volvo’s solution is a modular rail that lets the driver position the cup holders where they’re most convenient. “It’s a massive hit so far,” Balicki says.

The project team was also determined to help drivers get a better night’s sleep. With the new VNR and VNL series, Volvo is the first OEM to offer light-blocking, aircraft-style window shades. Added insulation cuts down on the amount of noise that filters through.

The new sleepers also include a reclining bunk — an industry first.

Spence says this careful attention to detail sets Volvo apart from the competition. “Our objective is to be the most desired truck brand, and one way we get there is to make our trucks the most comfortable in the industry. If you have a choice as to what you drive, we want it to be a Volvo.”

Volvo’s new VNR and VNL series borrow from the brand’s European FH models for two popular enhancements: the tilt steering wheel and the reclining bunk.

Engineers and designers worked together to shave off fractions of inches on components like the sleeper handle and toe hook opening. These small adjustments added up, reducing aerodynamic drag by 2 percent and increasing fuel efficiency 1 percent.

“For Volvo as a brand, these new trucks show that we listen to our customers and respond. We’ve taken their input and tried to address each area in a methodical and strategic way,” Brian Balicki says.

While the VNL is Volvo’s flagship product in North America, the VNR represents a renewed commitment to regional haul. “We didn’t just copy and paste when designing the VNR,” Fred Whitt says. “We designed it to accommodate the different operating cycles and applications for regional haul.”

“Our redesigned grille is almost like an architectural piece with different levels of visual interest,” Brian Balicki says.

The new VNR and VNL series will reinforce Volvo’s reputation as a technology leader and a driver-focused OEM. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of these trucks on the highway.

Jason Spence

product marketing manager

Truck Features

Driver Environment

  • Ergonomic seats with more adjustments to fit a wide range of body sizes
  • Position Perfect™ steering column with infinite adjustment options to reduce driver fatigue
  • Passenger side Reefer Seat™ with refrigerated compartment underneath
  • Often-used controls moved to steering wheel for added safety and convenience
  • Open tray on top of dash for storing personal items
  • Modular rail for cup holders that can be moved based on the driver’s preference

Living Environment

  • All-new 70-inch sleeper available in Volvo VNL 760 and 740 models
  • Reclining bunk for more comfortable rest periods
  • Premium mattress with memory foam topper
  • Airline-style window shades to block out more light
  • Telescopic ladder for easier bunk access
  • Largest refrigerator available in a 70-inch sleeper

Globetrotter Trim Levels

  • Option for VNL 760 and VNL 860 sleeper models — first time offered in North America
  • Includes full aerodynamic package and polished wheels
  • Driver amenities such as high-end seating, refrigerator, power inverter and parking cooler package available

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