Volvo Trucks and Renova test autonomous refuse truck

170331-AB Volvo Förarlös sopbil. Best. av Anna Arbius Bild: Cicci Jonson, Bilduppdraget

Refuse trucks operate in cities and towns. Their operating cycle is typically urban, and with almost a stop at every household to collect refuse. The stop-go operating cycle of a refuse trucks leads to an amount of fuel wastage as well as increases the amount of exhaust gases the truck emits. That is not the only issue with refuse trucks. These trucks also pose a challenge to the driver with their duty cycle. The stop-go operation often results in driver fatigue, and especially in an urban environment. Making a perfect candidate for alternate fuel technologies, like buses, refuse trucks have also been a subject of research for some time now. The effect of their operating cycle on the driver is also prompting companies that build, and operate refuse trucks, to look at making it better and efficient. It does not come as a surprise therefore, that a Swedish waste management company, Renova, and Volvo Trucks, are currently testing an autonomous refuse truck with particular attention to safety. The two are researching on how automated vehicles can contribute to safer, more efficient refuse handling and create a better working environment for drivers. The automated systems being tested are in principle the same as those fitted to the autonomous Volvo truck operating in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden since autumn 2016.

According to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic & Product Safety Director, Volvo Trucks, that the automated refuse truck is driven manually in a new area for the first time with an on-board system constantly monitoring and mapping the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. “The next time the truck enters the same area, it knows exactly which route to follow and at which bins it has to stop,” he expressed. Stating the reason behind why his company embarked on this exercise, Almqvist mentioned, “Driving a heavy commercial vehicle in an urban residential area with narrow streets and vulnerable road users imposes major demands on safety, even when the vehicle’s speed doesn’t exceed a normal walking pace. The refuse truck we are now testing continuously monitors its surroundings and immediately stops if an obstacle suddenly appears on the road. The automate system, at the same time, creates better prerequisites for the driver to keep a watchful eye on everything that happens near the truck.” At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way the job is done today by operating the relevant controls. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes and thus always has full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel.

An odd bit is the truck reversing. It is unheard of that a refuse truck reverses as it goes about picking up refuse at every door step almost. There’s a reason why this refuse truck reverse from one bin to the other, said Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager, Renova. He stated, “By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints.” Reversing is otherwise a fairly risky manoeuvre as the driver may find it difficult to see who or what is moving behind the vehicle, even if it is fitted with a camera. In certain areas it is not allowed to reverse a heavy commercial vehicle for safety reasons, in others it is a requirement that a co-driver must stand behind the truck to ensure that the road is clear before the vehicle reverses. In this case, the truck – Volvo FM, is designed to eliminate these issues. Sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, no matter the direction in which the vehicle is moving.

If a car or any other obstacle is blocking the street, the refuse truck will automatically drive around it provided there is enough space. The automated systems, according to Almqvist, optimise gear changes, steering and speed, fuel consumption, and reduces emissions. Said Almqvist, “The technical scope already exists. However, a lot of research, testing and development remains before self-driving refuse trucks can become a reality.” The current project will continue until the end of 2017. It will be followed by an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety, and how well this type of a vehicle is accepted by drivers, other road users and local residents. “Vehicles with varying degrees of automation will probably be introduced earlier in other applications, where transport assignments take place within strictly confined areas such as mines and cargo terminals,” signed off Almqvist.

170331-AB Volvo Förarlös sopbil. Best. av Anna Arbius Bild: Cicci Jonson, Bilduppdraget

170331-AB Volvo
Förarlös sopbil.
Best. av Anna Arbius
Bild: Cicci Jonson, Bilduppdraget

Safety at Volvo Trucks

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Intelligent and innovative safety technologies developed by Volvo Trucks promise zero accidents.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Safety is endemic to the Swedish society. It lays much emphasis on accident prevention. If this will help to explain why safety is synonymous with Volvo, which has a long history of establishing safety milestones, at its Experience Centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently provided an insight into the safety technologies it has developed. With high commitment to safety, the Swedish truck giant is working on a plethora of technologies that could lead to connected vehicles, and eventually to truly autonomous machines. Present in 68 countries, including India, Volvo Trucks is pro-actively expanding the envelope of automotive safety. With an eye on rising vehicular population, and the resulting challenges, the company is focusing on smart safety technologies like emergency braking and collision warning.

The root of both these technologies lies in accidents where the following vehicle rear-ends the vehicle ahead. The results of which are often disastrous. Underlining the phenomenon of better infrastructure leading to more vehicles and higher traffic speeds, Helene Mellquist, Senior Vice President, Volvo Trucks International, expressed that rear-end collisions account for one-fifth of the overall accidents that involve trucks. “Since November 2015, it is mandatory to equip every two and three-axle trucks with an automatic emergency braking system across the European Union,” she said. According to the EU legislation, the braking system should be effective in slowing down a truck by 10 kmph. The target for next year is 20 kmph. Of the opinion that the amount of jerk that will emanate from such an excercise will cause the driver pain. To avoid this, Volvo Trucks, according to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Products Safety Director, has developed a system that alerts the driver well in advance. If the driver does not pay heed to the warning, the emergency brakes are applied. Mentioned Almqvist, “If you are driving at 80 kmph when the emergency braking system is deployed, there is a need to cut down the speed by more than 20 kmph to avoid a nasty collision because the vehicle ahead has come to a standstill.”

Offering a first-hand feel of the technology on a Volvo FH16 750 carrying a load of over 40-tonnes, the engineers of the company explained how the system works. Noticing another vehicle in front, the truck shed speed from 80 kmph to a standstill in less than 40 m. The braking speed recorded was up to seven-meter per second square. The system, with standard ABS deployed on both the tractor and the trailer, is laced with a camera and radar technology to monitor the vehicular movement ahead of the truck. It is engineered to brave adverse weather conditions. Sensing the risk of a collision, the system gives out a sharp audio warning, closely followed by an escalating lighting combination. If the driver fails to respond, emergency braking is activated. At other times, when the system notices a lack of steering movement, it engages the parking brake in five seconds to avoid a roll over. To warn the following traffic, brakes lights begin to flash.

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Self-driving refuse truck

The self-driving refuse truck Volvo engineers have developed in association with Renova aims for safer, and efficient refuse handling. It provides an insight into how the refuse trucks of tomorrow will be like; how safe they will be. Meant to create a better working environment for drivers, the truck is driven manually the first time it visits a locality. The on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The next time the truck visits the locality, it knows exactly which route to follow, and at which bins to stop. At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it exactly the way it is done with a conventional refuse truck. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes. He thus has a full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel always.

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By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move. And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints. Carrying the same genetic pattern of autonomous Volvo trucks operating in Kristineberg mine in northern Sweden, the autonomous refuse truck, according to Almqvist, comes to an immediate halt if the sensors monitoring the surrounding area notice another object in close vicinity. The commercial application of such a refuse truck is still some time away. There’s more research to be done, and especially in the wake of the regulation that does not allow trucks to be reversed for reasons of safety. Issues like these, and others need to be addressed. A detailed story on the autonomous refuse truck is featured ahead in the issue.

Platooning

A convoy of three Volvo FH trucks, as part of an exercise to forward the cause of vehicle automation, under the supervision of the Dutch government, travelled from the Volvo headquarters at Gothenburg to Rotterdam in March 2017. As part of the European Union truck platooning challenge, the three Volvo trucks were driven through five countries while communicating wirelessly with each other through cameras and radars. The communication between the trucks was carried out through G5, a special frequency dealing with encrypted data traffic. The frequency enabled either truck to match the speed of the other trucks, which is essential to a platoon. With a one-second gap between the two trucks, the rate of acceleration and deceleration matched. A glimpse of how the system works was had with the camera fitted on the lead truck sending the footage to the two other trucks in the platoon. While the other drivers continued to steer the vehicle, acceleration and braking was automated. Traveling at 80 kmph, the trucks in the platoon maintained a 22 m gap between each other. The seemingly small gap reduced wind drag. Developing autonomous steering as an effort to reach the goal of a truly self-driving truck, Volvo is aware of the associated risks; the need for the drivers to be ready, and to accept it commercially.

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Visibility and driver awareness

Volvo Trucks is working closely with the Swedish Government to impart training to drivers through the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), Lindholmen. VTI, in 2011, inaugurated its Sim IV simulator, which produces a large stroke liner motion in both lateral and longitudinal directions. A system consists of three LCD screens for rear view mirrors and nine projector modules for 180 degree forward field view. It is designed such that it studies the driver reactions and imparts training on maneouvring the truck in different situations. The number of accidents involving trucks has fallen as per the Volvo Trucks Safety Report for 2017. The report has mentioned that there are still a considerable number of drivers who do not wear a seat belt. Highlighting the need to focus on pedestrian safety, and that of the cyclists and motorcycles, the report has emphasized on active safety measures like increased seat belt usage, driver awareness as well as direct and indirect visibility from the cab, driver coaching services that provide direct feedback to the driver, and Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB) system.

The current AEB system as per the legislature, is designed to mitigate or avoid rear-end accidents. It will have to, in the future, include scenarios involving pedestrians and cyclists (VRUs). This would call for detection systems that identify VRUs in close proximity to a truck. Also, Cooperative Intelligent Traffic Systems (C-ITS) that enable communication between vehicles and infrastructure. Opined Peter Wells, Head, Volvo Trucks Accident Research, “Often there are these minor factors that foster a safe environment. They also lead to product improvement.” Volvo engineers have set up cameras that complement the rear view mirrors. The combination of cameras and mirrors is aimed at eliminating the limitations posed by a human eye. “There are blind spots around the truck for a driver. Different traffic situations call for them to be dealt accordingly. It is a joint responsibility of the society to see and be seen to elevate road safety,” averred Almqvist. He concluded, that it is important to educate the young and the adults.

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Singrauli hosts Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge

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Volvo Trucks hosted the eighth edition of Volvo Fuelwatch Challenge at Singrauli.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

The eighth edition of Volvo Trucks India ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ was held at Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. Home to five thermal power generation plants with an estimated power generation capacity of 13295 mega-watt, Singrauli, saw 29 top contenders – winners of regional rounds, from 29 different Volvo Trucks customers, pilot the new BSIV Volvo FMX 460 8×4 mining tipper on a 3.4 km track in the Dudhichua coal mine. The Dudhichua mine is one of the largest mines among the 10 mines that Northern Coalfields Limited (NCL) operates in the Singrauli region. With rich coal deposits spread over an area of 2,200 sq. km, Singrauli has 15 Volvo Trucks customers, including its biggest customer BGR Mining & Infra. Together they operate 850 FMX trucks. Given the need of the operations, Singrauli has no 8×4 Volvo FMX trucks. All the trucks that operate there are 10×4 FMX 520 and FMX 480. A total of 273 trucks out of the BGR’s fleet of over 500 trucks operate at Singrauli. The mines of Singrauli have 85 FMX 480 trucks, and 30 FMX 520 10×4 trucks. Replacing the mighty dump trucks, the 850 Volvo mining trucks at Singrauli have come to earn the respect of their drivers. They are ably supported by the Volvo service structure.

Choosing to hold the challenge at the Dudhichua coal mine to simulate the exact conditions under which its mining trucks ply, Volvo Trucks got a 3.4 km track, leading up to a discarded dumping site, built. With tight corners and loose surfaces thrown in for good measure, the track, 1.7 km one-way, saw each of the 29 drivers drive with load and without load.

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Aimed at enhancing driver efficiency and skills, which would in-turn help to elevate the energy efficiency of Volvo trucks that they drive, the eighth ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ paid particular attention to how a Volvo mining truck driver planned his drive; employed his skills, and drove safely. In the desolate landscape of a coal mine, one error can lead to costly accidents and damage.

Held over three days, the ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ saw the 29 drivers try all the tricks under the sun to ensure that their’s was the most frugal drive. The most tricky part of the challenge was perhaps the turn at the half-way mark, which required the driver to make a three-point turning maneouvre. Also challenging proved to be the loose soil surface. It called for the right use of traction. The weather was not the most pleasant during the three days of the challenge. B Dinakar, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Volvo Trucks, expressed that the event is not a competition. It is a culture.

Volvo’s telematics platform, Dynafleet, was pressed into service to record the performance of each and every driver. With the new 8×4 Volvo FMX 460 BSIV (with I-Shift automated manual transmission) as the basis, Appana Babu of BGR Mining and Infra managed to be the most frugal and disciplined. Rajkaran Kushwaha of Baghel Infrastructures (Singrauli) came second, and Bablu Ghatwal of Coal Mines Associated Traders came third. Said Dinakar, that none of the 29 drivers that participated in this edition of the Fuel watch Challenge has ever participated in this event. He drew attention to a rule that restricts entry for three years to those who have participated. Expressed Dinakar, “Since its inaugural event in 2010, more than 20,000 participants have become ambassadors of the Fuelwatch community. They share their skills and knowledge to promote a more fuel-efficient industry.” Stating that it takes more than driving for the drivers to go further, Dinakar said that they are working towards a model where the ‘Fuelwatch Challenge’ turns out drivers that become trainers for other drivers in the fleet.

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To represent India in the finals held at Sweden, Babu expressed that it is not just about driving, but is also about understanding the terrain, the vehicle, and to move in harmony. Lauding the efforts put in by the drivers, and their ability to think quickly, Dinakar mentioned, “This also helps us to relook at the technology we offer, and improve upon it.” This edition of Fuelwatch saw an increased participation from over 400 drivers of 29 customers. “The fuel-efficiency margins clocked by the winners have achieved new targets for possible savings in a real-world context, which is testimony of the fact that driver training is pivotal to ensure increased fuel efficiency,” expressed Dinakar. Claiming to spearhead the Fuelwatch mission in the industry, Dinakar explained that they have trained over 55,000 truck drivers nationwide. Stressing upon drivers achieving up to 30 per cent better fuel efficiency over average drivers with regular driver engagement through driver training programs, Dinakar concluded that Indian truck drivers are proving to be top contenders. They are making their mark in the global Fuelwatch Challenge, he averred. If Babu wins the finals at Sweden, his efforts will bring fame to his friends, family and the energy generating region of Singrauli. It will also inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

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Driving the Volvo FMX 460 8×4 tipper

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In terms of appearance, Volvo FMX 460 does not look any different from the Volvo FMX 440 8×4 mining tipper. BSIV emission compliant, the FMX 460 flaunts a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) exhaust after-treatment system. Most SCR components are away from the naked eye except the AdBlue reservoir between the left front and second wheel. An AdBlue pump is integrated into the plastic tank of 32 to 90-litre capacities. Claimed to require topping up every three days considering the continuous operation of the tipper, the FMX 460 features a day cab with comfortable and ergonomic driver area. Powering the truck is a 460 hp, D13K, 12.8-litre, six-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine mounted on a robust and reinforced ladder chassis. Producing a peak torque of 2300 Nm at 900-1400 rpm, the engine has an I-Shift automated manual transmission coupled to it. Power is routed to the road through two live rear hub reduction axles.

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Behind the wheel of the tipper, a sense of sitting higher up is had. Behind the large four-spoke steering wheel is a large rectangular instrument panel. Slide the shifter into neutral, and turn the key. The straight six-cylinder motor comes to life and settles down to an idle. Slide the shifter to ‘A’, release the electronic parking brake on what looks like a thoroughly modern and well put-together dashboard, and step on the accelerator. There is no clutch. The truck starts moving. A noticeable improvement in refinement and noise is evident at once. The BSIV compliant machine is driver friendly and comfortable. In a desolate mining environment, the air-conditioned cockpit is a pleasant place to be in.

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With good visibility ahead, through the large single windscreen, the FMX 460 does not call for much effort to pilot. The overburden at the rear feels a matter of course. The FMX 460 moves away without hiccup. With small increments in speed, the 12-speed splitter and range gearbox with automated gearchanging system begins swapping cogs promptly. With the rev needle hovering on the ‘green’ band of the tacho, the FMX 460 amazes with its ability. A considerable improvement in refinement over the BSIII FMX 440 is evident at once. Having earned a strong reputation for its ability to go deep down into a mine, the FMX 460 further elevates the abilities the FMX mining tipper range is known for.

The Dudhichua coal mine where I had an opportunity to drive the FMX 460 is full of FMX 520 and the FMX 480 10×4 trucks. They operate in severe conditions. Exhibiting strong traction, the FMX 460, in severe operating conditions, impresses with its ability to keep noise and dust out. No wonder, one of the 29 drivers participating in the Fuelwatch Challenge expressed that they were longing to get behind the wheel of their trucks to escape the warm, humid and dusty environment of the mine! On the move, the engine brake of the truck makes for good control. The brakes exert a strong bite when called upon to retard the truck. Acknowledging the advantages had by maintaining good mining tracks, BGR has deployed a good number of water spraying tankers and motor graders. If the diff locks help to negotiate narrow winding tracks with loose soil, the inter-axle locks help to carry out the task at hand without interruption. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Is that what the FMX 460 is trying to convey? I think, it is.

Volvo CV plant to make Volvo cars

In what is looked upon as an interesting development, Volvo Cars and the Volvo Group are said to have entered into an arrangement to assemble Volvo cars in India at Volvo Group’s CV plant at Hosakote, Bangalore. The arrangement will enable the Swedish luxury car maker to avail of lower duties. The first car, the XC90 SUV, is expected to roll out of the Hosakote plant at the end of this year. Volvo cars are currently imported as CBUs, and attract high duty of approximately 120 per cent. This puts them at a cost disadvantage when compared to their competitors, which have invested in a plant locally. Volvo Group’s plant at Bangalore assembles the FM and FMX range of Volvo trucks. The new generation heavy-duty Eicher Pro 8000 series trucks are also made at this plant. The bus plant, separated by a wall, produces inter-city, city buses under the Volvo brand for local consumption and exports. The Group also makes UD city buses for local consumption.

Volvo bus supply to BMTC

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Volvo Buses India has announced the supply of 100 Volvo 8400 city buses with the 330 hp, 8-litre common-rail turbo-diesel engine manufactured at the VE Powertrain facility, Pithampur. UBS II compliant, the buses are fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission, and an integrated retarder and optimised rear axle ratio. This is the first instance when the locally made 8-litre engine has been deployed in a Volvo city-bus according to sources close to Volvo. Optimised to ply on congested routes with frequent start-stops, the 8400 city bus, claim Volvo sources, provides quick acceleration, and supports rapid transit time. Promising optimal power-to-weight ratio, which translates in instant acceleration, air-conditioning performance and gradeability, the 8400 city bus is designed to do 17-hour duty shifts. Easy to drive, and comfortable to travel in, the 8400 city bus is air-conditioned. It is rollover protected, has powerful disc brakes on all wheels, roll stabilisers and a bus oriented suspension. The doors are equipped with sensitive edge to prevent passenger injury during accidental door closure. Said Martin Lundstedt, President and CEO, Volvo Group, “Volvo Buses has been at the forefront of introducing new technologies in India. Our partnership with BMTC has been integral to this journey. We delivered the first city bus in 2006, and are proud that BMTC has over 700 Volvo buses in its fleet. The order for next generation city buses is the start of the next phase of our shared drive to promote sustainable mobility.” With entry height of just 350 mm, the 8400 city bus is passenger friendly, for those with impaired mobility. It also features a kneeling feature. The clear door width at front and rear is 1200 mm.

Himachal Road Transport has 100 Volvo buses

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Himachal Road Transport Corporation’s AC bus fleet has come to have 100 Volvo buses. The corporation’s fleet size has swelled from 1,600 buses to 3,100 buses in the past years according to the state transport minister G S Bali. Flagging off the Palampur-Chandigarh and Palampur-Delhi Volvo bus services recently, Bali said that Himachal Pradesh would soon become the first state in the country to ply electric buses on the Manali-Rohtang route. These buses would later be introduced in other parts of the state to reduce air pollution, he said. Various steps taken by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation, its revenue has increased by Rs 8 crore. The corporation has been laying emphasis on improving its buses services and equipping the bus stands with better facilities. Bali announced that the Palampur-Chandigarh Volvo bus service will start from Palampur in the morning and reach Himachal Bhawan in Chandigarh such that it will facilitate the return of people coming to Palampur the same day

Volvo’s hybrid drive

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Volvo Buses India is offering the 8400 low-floor hybrid city bus to help cities fight the menace of pollution.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

It is drizzling for the last one hour. Any chance of it stopping looks slim. The Vardah cyclone that devastated Chennai is showing its after effect at Bangalore. The drive to Hosakote on the outskirts of Bangalore is uneventful with tiny droplets colliding against the car windows. As the wipers work to keep the unseasonal rain from obscuring the vision of the driver, an impression is had that urbanisation is fast overtaking any attempts by the local inhabitants to carry out farming. The lure of big money from the sale of fertile parcels of land is too precious to be ignored. Described as the IT capital of India, Bangalore is perhaps the best example of how urbanisation is spreading its tentacles in every direction, bringing with it the need for efficient modes of transport. One of the modern, if not the most efficient means of transport at Bangalore are the Volvo buses. They are found the moment one steps out of the Kempegowda International Airport. The plant that manufactures these buses is where I am going. I will be spending time with the new hybrid city bus the Swedish bus major has launched. Two 12 m hybrid low-floor city buses have already been supplied to the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport against an order of five. The third bus will soon leave Hosakote for Navi Mumbai. It is currently undergoing trials and validation. Reflecting upon Volvo’s experience in producing hybrid and electrical buses (the first hybrid bus Volvo produce is claimed to be the 2008 B5LH low-floor city bus), the low-floor hybrid city bus that I will spend time with, is a diesel-electric. It adds to the count of 6000 hybrid and electric buses Volvo has produced till date. A parallel hybrid, the bus, in terms of appearance, looks no different than the diesel powered 8400 12 m long, low-floor city bus. The Volvo 8400 diesel bus is found in over 30 cities in India.

Smart proposition

Smart the 8400 low-floor diesel city bus looks. The 8400 hybrid bus mirrors the 8400 diesel bus in appearance. The body structure is 100 per cent local, and flaunts good fit and finish levels. The use of materials, paint, and build standards hint at world-class construction. They also hint at the need the company felt in investing in a captive body building plant at Hosakote in 2008.

Based on the Volvo B5RLE platform, the 8400 hybrid city bus adds to the premise, which VRV Sriprasad, Managing Director, Volvo Buses India, describes as instrumental in persuading people to leave their vehicles behind and take to public transport. The 8400 hybrid bus seats 32 people apart from the driver. Its low-floor height makes it easier to enter and exit. There are two pneumatically operated doors on the left side of the vehicle for the purpose. With 2×2 seating arrangement, the hybrid bus, says Sriprasad, has much of its content coming from Sweden as far as the chassis is concerned. “Since the 8400 qualifies as a strong hybrid, the customer,” adds Sriprasad, “is entitled to a subsidy of Rs.61 lakhs for the bus that costs Rs.2.3 crore.”

Building on the experience of deploying hybrid buses in Australia and Singapore, Volvo in India, launched the 8400 hybrid city bus after the central government formally announced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles (FAME) scheme in April 2015. The 8400 hybrid bus, it is clear, is not, about numbers. It is about providing a sustainable solution to cities battling with the issue of pollution. Claim Volvo sources, that the 8400 hybrid bus requires no supporting infrastructure. The parallel hybrid nature of the bus, they add, makes for a smart proposition. In the case of an electrical failure, the bus can still run, albeit on the diesel engine.

Smart tech

At the core of the 8400 hybrid bus is a 215 hp 5-litre Volvo D5 four-cylinder diesel engine (installed longitudinally at the rear), and a 160 hp electric motor. The engine and the motor produce a peak torque of 800 Nm each. The electric motor serves both, as a propulsion motor and as a generator. When the brakes are applied, their retardation effect is harnessed to recharge the batteries. This energy would have been wasted otherwise in the form of heat. Repeated braking, which is typical of a city-bus operation as it stops and starts, proves to be of operational benefit thus. Due to its considerable torque, the compact electric motor offers good performance at low speeds. It is at low speeds, and when the bus moves away from stand still, that the diesel engine is most taxed. It is then that it pollutes the most. Supplementing the diesel engine’s superior properties at higher speeds by producing maximum torque right from the start, the electric motor provides excellent starting characteristics and driveability. Electric power is also used when the vehicle is standing still. When the bus stops to pick up commuters or at the traffic light, the diesel engine switches off automatically. The bus, as a result, does not produce exhaust gases, and makes for a silent operation.

The motor of the 8400 hybrid bus is actually an integrated starter alternator motor (permanent magnet motor that also works as a generator and diesel engine starter motor) that runs on alternating current. The clutch and the 12-speed automatic transmission are an integral part of the driveline. The electric (electronic) unit is said to feature an energy converter for direct or alternating current and the batteries. The brain of the hybrid system is an electronic control module, which regulates the engagement and disengagement of electric and diesel power as per the need. The module also influences gear changes and battery recharging. On the 8400 hybrid bus, the power steering pump, air compressor and cooling fan are powered by separate electric motors. Each electric motor operates only when it needs to. This saves energy.

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Behind the wheel

Like the diesel powered 8400 city bus, the driving position of the 8400 hybrid bus is low, and with a good view of what lies ahead. The driver cockpit is simple and functional. It is ergonomically well sorted, and has the instrument console at the centre. The console is made up of a large speedometer and tachometer dials. To the right are the air brake pressure dials. The other dials include the turbo boost pressure gauge, temperature gauge, fuel gauge and an engine oil pressure gauge. A portion of the console is occupied by an LCD readout. To the right, and adjoining the console is the parking brake switch. To the left is the AC control. Below is what could be described as a ‘pad’. It contains the transmission buttons. There are three of them. One is the ‘Drive’ button. The other two are the ‘Neutral’ and ‘Reverse’ buttons. Next to the transmission buttons is a round exterior light switch. A round blue lamp at the end of the pad indicates that this bus is hybrid by nature. It has ‘HYB’ written on it.

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Turn the key, and the diesel engine wakes up to a distant growl. The management system gets down to conducting various checks. Once it is done, the diesel engine shuts down. Silence prevails. The only noise is the whine of a motor. It is indicative of an utility running. With the parking brake disengaged, all that is needed is to press the accelerator. The bus moves away, with the only indication, the rising speedo needle. It is exactly at 24 kmph that the diesel engine cuts in (the next time it cut in at 20 kmph). The tell tale indicators are a distant whine of the engine and the rising tacho needle. The motor propels the bus, and highly capably. It does so at a time when the diesel engine could be most relied upon in a diesel bus.

Speeds in the region of 50 kmph are easily achieved. The bus exhibiting good stability and a pliant ride in the process. While the air suspension is made up of sturdy air bellows, the steering provides good feedback. The auto transmission shifts cogs smoothly. No jerks are noticed as the 12-speed auto-box does its duty. The suspended driver’s seat and a fully adjustable steering position make for a comfortable driving position. The large mirrors offer a good view of what is around, and at the rear. Noise levels inside the cabin, even with the diesel engine running are low. When it is time to slow down and stop, the brakes provide a strong bite. The feel is linear and progressive. The electronically controlled disc brakes of the bus are ABS equipped. The moment the bus halts, the diesel engine goes to sleep. The muted whine of the utility motor is audible once again.

Smart, comfortable and eco-friendly

Smart the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus is. It is modern and comfortable. It is efficient and environment friendly. Volvo sources claim that the 8400 hybrid bus offers fuel savings of up to 30 per cent higher than a diesel bus. Speeds of up to 24 kmph are attained without the diesel engine waking up. The top speed of the bus, limited to 80 kmph, presents the 8400 hybrid low-floor city bus with a good opportunity to deliver an efficient and comfortable ride. Claim Volvo sources, that the advantage a parallel hybrid bus offers over a series hybrid bus is the use of battery pack. The battery pack is not subjected to heavy use, and lasts long, they add. They also draw attention to the bus’ ability to run on diesel in case the electric (electronic) section develops a fault. It has been five months that the two hybrid buses at Navi Mumbai have been operating. The learnings will take some time coming. The buses will have to clock many more kilometers. With lower exhaust emissions during travel and zero emission when stationary, the 8400 hybrid bus makes an interesting reflection of how technology in buses is progressing.

It is afternoon by the time I depart from Hosakote. The rains have stopped. The weather has turned pleasant. The sun is out. It feels fresh. Quite unlike Mumbai where smog is often mistaken for fog, and where the room for a bus like this is only growing.

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