Fuel Talk: Drag-defying combo

Practical but with an aerodynamically-designed fuel efficient driveline– meet the Fuel Super Truck


One of the really cool things about working for a truck manufacturer is that from time to time, they’ll build me a truck.

Okay, so this isn’t the first time that Volvo has built a truck for little old me, but on this occasion the truck in question isn’t your usual FH16, though I’m probably exaggerating just a tad by claiming ownership.

There’s nothing new about using aerodynamics to save fuel. Truck and car manufacturers have been playing with the idea since the 1930s. And in more modern times there’s been no shortage of sleek and slippery fuel-mising concept trucks popping up on the internet and in magazines. Usually around the time of a major truck show like the IAA in Hanover or the Mid-America Trucking Show.

Often these trucks are just static displays with no running gear. Other times they feature a high-tech driveline that gives a glimpse of the future.


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But recently, Volvo Trucks Australia, in a first for an Australian manufacturer, has built a real world aero truck complete with a fuel efficiency optimised driveline.

Unlike some of the futuristic concepts often seen in other markets, this truck was built to be a real-world, fully functioning hauler.

Volvo Trucks Sweden created a fuel concept truck a little while back that drew on both aerodynamic solutions and a hybrid driveline. The gain in fuel efficiency was a whopping 30 percent.

However, here in Oz the brief was different. Our truck had to be as practical as possible. The result is a uniquely Australian combination, a B-double that could be loaded with 34 pallets and driven down an East Coast highway today.

The best bit is that the driveline is an optimised spec made up of components that are for the most part available now. This truck does not run on unicorn sweat and chocolate sprinkles, it’s been designed to run on diesel. However, it’s been specced to run on the least amount of diesel possible, without compromising real-world productivity and performance.

Clearly you can tell by just looking at the picture that there’s more to this truck than just an optimised driveline. There has been an enormous amount of work put into aerodynamics.


Talking turbulence

The thing about making a truck punch through the atmosphere with ease is that aerodynamics is a game of margins. There is no one solution to making a 2500mm wide, 4300mm high, 26-metre-long brick shaped object on wheels sleek.

Every seam, crack, gap and opening has the potential to create vortexes of air. These swirls and eddies flow down the combination as it drives. They don’t dissipate as they pass; rather they join with other vortexes and grow in size. This is drag. The air passing around a truck creates invisible fingers that clutch at the truck from all angles making it burn fuel to overcome the turbulence.

Looking at our Fuel Super Truck you can see the obvious aero. The gap between the lead trailer and the back of the cab has been closed up. The space around the trailer wheels has also been covered. If you look closely you can see the wheel arches around the steer tyres have also been filled in and a smoother set of guards as also been installed over the drive tyres.

Each of these alterations represents an incremental gain in efficiency, smoothing out the passage of air and combating the swirling air thrown out by tyres and rims. This Fuel Super Truck has been built as a total combination from front to back.

With that in mind we’ve also taken into account tyres. The entire combination sits on Michelin low rolling resistance super singles. Even on the drive axles. Current legislation however, restricts us to 15,000kg over the drive axles using these drive tyres.

But the idea behind this truck was to create an East Coast linehaul shuttle truck. There are plenty of B-double combinations plying the Pacific and Hume highways that are chock full of parcels and envelopes and nowhere near maximum weight over the axle groups.

Of course, this truck doesn’t have a wild bar out front to combat animal strikes, and I’m certainly not advocating that anyone on inland freight routes run without one. That said, there is a fuel penalty for having a bar. In this case a third party thermal imaging camera alerts the driver of animals (and people) on the road with both an audible alarm and a display on the FH16’s media unit touchscreen.


Engineering forefront

While I’d like to take credit for this truck, I can’t. The hard work was done by Volvo Trucks Product Management and Volvo Group Trucks Technology (GTT). These guys and girls are at the engineering forefront of VGA product. GTT has a global network based on all continents, in Wacol alone there are 50 GTT engineers working on all sorts of cool stuff that even I’m not allowed to see.

MaxiTrans also chipped in modifying our Freighter B-double set to help it slice through the air.

The team behind the Swedish Fuel Concept Truck also provided support with aerodynamic modelling and the lessons learnt from their own project. That’s the great thing about the GTT network, the knowledge is shared between markets.

We designed and built an optimised combination that represents a 20 percent gain in fuel efficiency over our standard FH16 600. And that’s without resorting to heat exchangers, kinetic energy recovery systems, battery packs or unicorn by-products.

As always, feel free to send any questions you may have to askmatt@volvo.com

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