Volvo’s flagship FH marks a big change, and is designed to exert a giant pull.
The FH product-line has been the flagship of Volvo Trucks for a long, long time. Powered by engines as big as 16-litres, it is the FH that qualifies for the name of Globetrotter among the various other commercial vehicles by Volvo. With the ‘H’ in the model name denoting high deck, the driver of the FH truck sits roughly at a height of one-and-a-half storey. If he or she would stand besides the truck, the door handle would be still above. So, when the opportunity to drive the behemoth presented itself, it was not to be taken lightly. Especially when the new FH presents itself as advanced, driver-friendly and conducive to business. Climb up and settle down behind the wheel. The view ahead is panoramic. The new design has upright and slimmer A-pillars. This ensures a better view of the surroundings. The elephant ear-like rear view mirrors are also slimmer than that of the earlier FH. Rather than just the mirror glass, it is the complete unit of the new FH that moves. In a way, they reflect the thoughts of the Volvo Trucks design director Rikard Orell, that it is the design that ties everything together. According to Orell, the slimmer rear view mirrors ensure better visibility.
Orell and Asok George, responsible for the exterior design of the truck, ensured that the familiarity of the FH truck was not lost. Neither did the new FH lose the Volvo flavour. Thus, the A-pillars may offer more room inside, they are also a part of a stance that is more dynamic and presents a sense of speed even when standing still. The new FH, according to Orell, is a ‘race car of a truck.’ The pillars also reduce wind resistance. Drawing upon five criteria – safety, driver appeal, uptime, fuel efficiency and productivity, the new FH, according to Siddharth Kirtane, Head-Marketing, Volvo Trucks (India), is the first truck in India to be equipped with 24-inch diameter wheels (and 12R24 tyres). “These reduce tractive effort on the tyres and increase road grip,” he said. Volvo worked with Michelin to develop the 24-inch diameter tyres. Michelin is indigenising them.
Aimed at operators like J H Parabia, JCC and others that are a part of the Hydraulic Trailer Operators Association (HTOA) and specialise in transporting Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) with the use of special (multi-axle modular) trailers manufactured by companies like Goldhofer, Tritec and Cometto, the new FH’ premium look makes a lasting impression. Displaying fit and finish levels that are comparable to luxury cars, the new heavy haulage truck (puller), has a 200-tonne GCW (Coupled to suitable hydraulic axle trailers and subject to special approval from MoRTH) over the earlier model’s 150-tonne GCW. The FH 520 puller thus comes with a strengthened chassis, and a front axle that is rated at 10-tonne over the earlier model’s 9-tonne front axle. The rear tandem axle (with reinforced bogie suspension) is rated at 33-tonne over the earlier FH’s 32-tonne rating. New to the enhanced cooling system is the transmission intercooler.
Under run protection comes with an ability to absorb 60 per cent energy. More than that of the earlier FH. Equipped with N4 hub reduction mechanism (four planetary gears) over the three planetary gear mechanism of the earlier generation FH, the new truck evolved from five million hours of engineering and design. A part of a highly sensitive business area where cargo damage can delay projects worth thousands of crores and lead to costly repercussions, the new FH was subjected to 5,00,000 hours of testing and simulation. If the tall exhaust pipe stands out, it was done to ensure that it is not subjected to damage while traveling over unforgiving terrain.
The first three ratios of the 14-speed manual transmission are tall. A piano switch on the gear shifter enables the selection of higher or lower ratio in each of the seven gears including the crawler gear. A toggle switch on the gear shifter facilitates travel into the ‘upper’ (4th, 5th and 6th) gear range and back. Exhaust (engine) brake lever with three positions is stalk mounted on the steering column besides the wiper stalk. In ‘E’, it automatically engages every time the brake is applied. Cruise control switches are on the steering wheel. There are also switches for Bluetooth telephone pairing! Seat belts are in red. Out on the old Bangalore-Madras Highway, it was clear that the first three ratios (not counting the crawler) are designed to provide raw tractive force. Imagine hauling 200-tonne ODC over a variety of surfaces, even across river beds. Quite often, bridges are unable to support such high loads. The higher set of gears is a mix of traction and speed. A green band on the tacho (1050-1600 rpm) marks the area where most fuel efficiency could be derived.
The day-time running lights, a part of the vertical head lamp cluster of the new FH, draw the attention of other road users. Cars and SUVs going past look tiny in comparison. The FH 520 puller stands out. The 13-litre Volvo D13A520 six-cylinder engine, an example of brute power. Producing 2500 Nm of torque in the range of 1050 and 1450 rpm, the engine ironically does not come across as raw or edgy. The level of noise which filters into the cabin is negligible, almost akin to a car, making it easy to converse. The truck felt refined and easy to pilot throughout the drive. For the kind of speeds that this monster can attain, the power steering offers good feedback. Making for an comfortable driving experience, the FH reflected on Orell’s comment that it is the design that ties everything together. Executing the tough task of transporting ODC of companies like ONGC and BHEL, Kirtane opined that the Indian ODC operators are quite scientific in their work.
Reconnaissance is done. The route is ascertained after a detailed survey. Prior permissions are obtained. Attributing the lack of clearly defined rules or practices where operators couple two or three lower capacity pullers to transport an ODC, Kirtane expressed that 1,200 to 1,300 pullers would have been sold untill now in India. He added, “The market peaked in 2010 at 250 numbers. 100 units more than the average numbers sold.” He added,“Last year was bad, and we sold 20 units. This year, in the first quarter, we have already sold 10 units.” According to Kirtane, the 280 hp puller market is an estimated 300 to 400 units. The higher hp market is in the region of 200 to 300 numbers.
In a market that is smaller and tougher than the lower hp pullers, Volvo is working on the introduction of their Dynafleet telematic solutions platform. If the company’s strong presence in the deep mining areas has helped it to engineer a strong aftermarket (service support) network, the Dynafleet platform is expected to enable Volvo Trucks India to help its clients to achieve higher productivity gains. Dynafleet is currently being applied on a pilot basis to iron out any teething issues that may arise. It is driven by the premise that even a small increase in fuel efficiency can lead to large savings. Untill the Dynafleet finds its way to the FH 520, it may be safe to say that this behemoth is advanced, driver friendly and makes a strong business case for itself.