Volvo's SuperTruck 2 stands as a testament to innovation and engineering excellence.

Volvo’s SuperTruck 2: A Leap in Efficiency

In the world of heavy-duty Class 8 long-haul tractor-trailer trucks, Volvo’s SuperTruck 2 stands as a testament to innovation and engineering excellence. This groundbreaking vehicle results from a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is designed to push the envelope of freight efficiency. Despite not being a zero-emission platform, SuperTruck 2 represents a significant step forward in the industry’s quest for greater fuel efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

Meeting and Exceeding Expectations

The challenge for Volvo’s SuperTruck 2 was ambitious: achieve a 100% freight efficiency improvement over the 2009 baseline. This goal was relatively easy, mainly as the truck navigated supply chain disruptions caused by a global pandemic. However, Volvo Trucks met the DOE’s objective and exceeded expectations with a remarkable 134% increase in freight efficiency.

Aerodynamics Take Center Stage

One of the key takeaways from the SuperTruck 2 project was the critical role of aerodynamics in achieving higher performance and fuel efficiency. Instead of focusing solely on the driveline, the engineers at Volvo Trucks recognized that to make significant gains, they needed to address aerodynamic drag. This led to a complete redesign of the truck’s exterior, with a cab that was perfectly wedge-shaped from front to back, a custom-made wraparound windshield, a downsized cooling package, and a fully aerodynamic trailer equipped with gap fairings, skirts, and a boat tail. In addition, traditional hood and cab-mounted mirrors were replaced with a streamlined camera monitoring system, reducing drag by more than 4%.

These aerodynamic enhancements resulted in a 50% lower drag compared to Volvo Trucks’ 2009 baseline, representing a substantial 20% improvement in aerodynamic drag over the previous SuperTruck 1 model. This shift in focus from the driveline to aerodynamics demonstrated the potential for significant gains through innovative design.

Weight Reduction Strategies

Another critical aspect of SuperTruck 2’s success was weight reduction. Engineers employed various strategies to achieve a significantly reduced curb weight of 27,000 pounds for the combined truck and trailer. This included choosing a 4×2 configuration, less common in the U.S. but frequently used in Europe for the same payload. The truck’s shorter cab design, lightweight aluminum chassis, and optimized drive axle system contributed to the weight reduction. Additionally, working with project partner trailer manufacturer Wabash National created a custom, lightweight aerodynamic trailer to complement the truck’s design seamlessly.

Collaboration and Innovation

Volvo Trucks’ collaboration with Michelin also played a crucial role in SuperTruck 2’s success. They developed an experimental, new, lighter rubber compound with lower rolling resistance and employed smaller 19.5-inch tires on both the truck and its custom trailer. This innovation not only reduced weight but also contributed to improved fuel efficiency.

Real-World Testing

One of the distinguishing features of SuperTruck 2’s development was its extensive real-world testing. The project team deliberately chose to test the truck in diverse conditions, including roads with traffic and elevation changes, with a gross combined vehicle weight (GCVW) of 65,000 pounds. This approach ensured that the data gathered reflected real-world scenarios, emphasizing the truck’s practicality and performance under challenging conditions.

Looking Ahead

Peter Voorhoeve, President of Volvo Trucks North America, emphasized that the learnings from SuperTruck 2 are already being incorporated into future truck models. The truck’s aerodynamic design and weight reduction strategies are expected to make their way into mass-production models in the near future.

Additionally, SuperTruck 2 features a 48-volt micro-hybrid system that acts as a generator with an integrated starter. This system provides power for driver comfort features, including an all-electric HVAC system, reducing the need for idling during rest breaks and enhancing driver amenities.

Volvo’s SuperTruck 2 represents a significant milestone in the heavy-duty trucking industry’s quest for greater freight efficiency. Through a focus on aerodynamics, weight reduction, and real-world testing, Volvo Trucks has demonstrated the potential for technological innovations to develop commercially. As the industry looks to the future, SuperTruck 2 is a shining example of what is possible regarding performance, fuel efficiency, and environmental responsibility.

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