Fuel savings, longer tire life, reduced chassis weight and maintenance, all wrapped around improved vehicle safety are the broad-brush benefits Volvo Trucks it can offer motor carriers with its new adaptive loading system.
And the OEM took journalists on ride and drive through two western states that included sit-down visits with customers who began testing the adaptive loading package two years ago to offer proof of those claims.
“Our focus is on gaining greater efficiency, because small carriers like us have no economies of scale,” explained Joel Morrow, VP of procurement for Ploger Transportation, Bellevue, OH; a fleet that operates 30 trucks.
Morrow himself – who logs 150,000 miles per year hauling mostly high-end furniture for boutique dealers in 53-foot dry van trailers – began driving a Volvo VNM model tractor back in July 2013 equipped with the adaptive loading system and has to date put 470,000 miles on it.
Morrow said the adaptive loading package not only helped improve fuel economy but boosted productivity by 20%, as he and several other Ploger drivers operating trucks equipped with the system found they could hook and unhook from trailers faster, didn’t get stuck in snow due to traction improvements from the system, and saved fuel on top of it – attaining between 10.1 and 10.3 mpg at times when traveling at a steady 60 mph.
Chris Stadler, Volvo’s product market manager for regional haul, noted that the OEM’s adaptive loading package – officially introduced back in March at the annual Mid America Trucking Show – combines a 6x2 liftable forward axle designed in partnership with Link Manufacturing with the OEM’s electronically controlled suspension (ECS) technology to distribute load weight without the internal gearing of a drive axle, lowering weight and reducing internal friction.
Based on pre-programmed weight thresholds, the system automatically lifts the axle in empty or light-load situations to create a 4x2 configuration, which reduces rolling resistance from tires, thus generating fuel savings. It also weighs more than 300 pounds less than a traditional 6x4 as it eliminates the extra set of gearing drives.
“The driver doesn’t have to do anything – the suspension adjusts itself,” he said. “And in bad weather situations, such as snow or heavy rain, the driver can activate the system below 50 mph to help improve traction. It especially prevents vehicle ‘snaking’ when driving in light-loaded conditions.”
Robert and Gene Brice, owners of Idaho Milk Transport, put a Volvo VNL tractor equipped with adaptive loading into service with one of their most experienced drivers, J.W. Ray, back in May 2013 and after 270,000 miles of service are regularly averaging from the high 8s to between 9.64 and 9.65 mpg.
Overall, Volvo’s Stadler said adaptive loading could boost fuel economy by between 3% and 5% on average while reducing tire wear by 20%.
“We’re always seeking greater returns for our company and we’re willing to try anything as long as we’re not completely on the hook if something goes wrong,” IMT’s Robert Brice explained. “The fuel savings and potential increase in tire life due to more consistent tire life are what got us interested in this.”
Shane Law, one of the founders of Alpine Logistics, told reporters during the event that he actually retrofitted one of his Volvo VNL tractors with a liftable 6x2 axle to attain similar fuel savings. Yet he found Volvo’s factory-produced adaptive loading package on his newest VNL 63 tractor boosted fuel economy a further 0.5 to 1 mpg compared to his “home-grown” 6x2 system.
Volvo’s Stadler said that Volvo plans to begin full production of its adaptive loading 6x2 package starting in January 2016, noting that the OEM has built 200 “pre-production” trucks equipped with the system since August 2014 – not including the beta test units being operated by IMT, Alpine, Ploger and others.
Right now, the adaptive loading package can only be order in combination with certain specs, he said, including: Volvo’s I-Shift automated mechanical transmission (AMT); either a 405 hp D11 or 425 hp D13 engine; 12,500 to 14,000 lb. front axle; and 20,000 lb. liftable axle.
The system can also be integrated with several other Volvo packages as well, Stadler noted, such as its XE Economy, XE Adaptive Gearing, and Eco-Torque fuel saving specs.
Pricing, however, is still not being revealed at this time, though Stadler said the adaptive loading 6x2 package will cost “a little more” for certain compared to traditional 6x4 configurations Volvo offers.