At a spectacular launch event in Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo has revealed its new and much anticipated FH range.
Completely new and containing a swathe of advanced developments, the latest Volvo flagship follows in the footsteps of the original FH which was first launched in Europe in 1993. Since then, the FH has formed the backbone of Volvo’s truck business with more than 650,000 units sold, accounting for 60 percent of all Volvo trucks delivered around the globe.
DIESEL editor-in-chief Steve Brooks was one of only two Australian journalists invited to the launch event which saw more than 1000 people – including over 300 international journalists – ushered into a suitably ‘frocked up’ sporting stadium for the first public appearance of the new truck.
Until its unveiling in Sweden, the fully redesigned FH was a closely guarded secret despite a long test program which included several trucks undergoing real world testing in Australian conditions.
The first of the new models are expected to be delivered to European operators in the first quarter of next year with an Australian launch expected to follow later in the year.
The importance of this truck to Volvo’s future was firmly emphasised by Volvo Truck Corporation president Claes Nilsson: “The new FH represents the start of a fresh chapter … an immensely important product in which we have invested heavily.”
The new model has been under development for more than six years, with an intensely detailed design program analysing and evaluating every element before settling on the new truck’s final form.
According to Ricard Fritz, senior vice-president for Volvo Trucks Global Brand and the former head of product planning, “There’s more technological achievement in this range than anything before it.”
The new truck is a powerfully aggressive design with the vast, yawning mesh grille representing a major departure from the largely conservative styling of its forebears.
Furthermore, the cavernous frontal area coupled with a floor that’s nine centimetres (almost four inches) higher than the current FH provides a vast flow of air to a cooling system designed to cope with outputs up to 750 hp and a crunching 3550 Nm (2618 lb ft) of torque; outputs expected to be available in Australia when the new FH debuts here within the next year.
Also on the grille design, the darker version signifies an FH powered by Volvo’s 13 litre engine while the lighter derivative highlights an FH16 model.
Arguably the most exciting single achievement in the new FH is the development of an individual (independent) front suspension system partnered by rack and pinion steering. For the immediate future though, the new suspension and steering system will be only available as an option on left-hand-drive trucks.
Yet according to Volvo, IFS and rack and pinion steering are simply the optional icing on the cake of a development program that looked long and hard at all aspects of ride, handling and road manners.
Optimisation of geometry, improved front and rear suspension design, a new chassis, enhanced cab anti-roll properties and well-balanced damping for cab and chassis alike: These are the factors behind the 50 percent improvement in roll stability compared with the previous FH series according to Stefan Axelsson, manager of handling and ride at Volvo Trucks.
“We’ve worked hard to develop a truck that puts the driver firmly in focus,” said Claes Nilsson. It’s claimed 3000 drivers including some from the Australian test program provided vital input and feedback during the truck’s long development phase.
According to Volvo, ‘From the improved driver’s seat (which now offers a huge 240 mm of adjustment travel), the driver has a better view of the road, not least owing to the increase in the cab’s usable window area and the innovative rear-view mirror design. Stalks and controls are arranged in priority so that the most important ones are closest to the driver.’
And while safety has always been a powerful priority within Volvo, the new truck is said to be the safest Volvo ever made. ‘An all-new cab structure makes the new Volvo FH an even safer truck,’ the company states. ‘Never before has a Volvo truck passed the comprehensive collision tests as well as the new FH cab.’
Critically, the cab is said to have undergone literally thousands of simulated collision tests and as many as 100 real crash tests including severe rollovers and head-on impacts.
Additionally, with the new cab’s use of a fully bonded windscreen and research showing that half of all truck accidents end with the vehicle rolling over, a large roof skylight measuring 50 x 70 cm doubles as an escape hatch and is now an integral feature of the new cab.
Meantime, the cab has also grown dimensionally with Volvo explaining, ‘More upright A-pillars (and windscreen) have given the cab an additional one cubic metre of interior space. This means an extra 300 litres of storage capacity.’
Three sleeper cab models are offered in European FH and FH16 models: A standard low-roof version with up to 171 cm of interior height, a raised roof Globetrotter with internal height up to 203 cm, and the high-roof Globetrotter XL cab with up to 222 cm. All cabs are designed around an external width of 2495 mm and bumper to back-of-cab depth of 2225 mm.
There is, however, no sign of the popular Australian-designed Globetrotter XXL cab. It’s understood to have been deleted from the new FH due to the greater space inherent in the new cab.
It’s also understood that Australia’s critical involvement in Volvo’s global test programs is set to continue at full steam in preparation for the new model’s launch here next year.