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Full coverage of Volvo Trucks' new MENA range

Volvo Trucks' senior management discuss the new FH, FM, and FMX

COMMENT, PMV, FH, FM, FMX, Volvo

As Volvo Trucks launches its new range for the MENA region at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, PMV takes to the track to put the Swedish manufacturer’s latest offerings through their paces

Volvo Trucks has launched its new range of vehicles for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The unveiling took place against the glittering backdrop of the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

In an event billed by Volvo as the biggest truck launch ever to be held in the MENA region, the Swedish manufacturer simultaneously introduced three completely overhauled models: the Volvo FH, the Volvo FM, and the Volvo FMX.

Each model has been designed to cater to a specific segment of the market. The Volvo FH, for example, is a long-distance hauler built with economy in mind. The Volvo FM might be seen as the workhorse of the range, offering fleet operators a safe pair of hands for a wide array of jobs. The Volvo FMX, meanwhile, is a close relation to the FM, but with the emphasis placed firmly on robustness.

Following the unveiling, PMV was given the opportunity to put the new range through its paces, both around the Yas Marina Formula 1 track and on a specially designed off-road course. Members of Volvo Trucks’ senior management team were also on hand to explain what customers in the Middle East can expect from this new generation of vehicles.

Test drive
PMV editor James Morgan gets some hands-on experience with Volvo Trucks’ new range for the MENA region

There would have been little point in hosting a truck launch at the Yas Marina Circuit if the event hadn’t included any hands-on elements. Fortunately for PMV, Volvo had secured plenty of track time for us to get acquainted with its new vehicles.

What’s more, the driving wasn’t limited to the F1 track itself. To showcase the rough-and-ready capabilities of the FMX, Volvo designed and constructed a bespoke off-road course just across the road.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to get behind the wheel, I donned my favourite trucker hat and took the new range for a spin.

For my opening lap around the Yas Marina Circuit, I decided to hop into a Volvo FH. The first thing that strikes you when you climb aboard is just how much space has been made available for the driver.

The redesigned seats feature slimmer back rests to allow for greater adjustability, extra storage compartments have been integrated for personal effects, and a rather roomy bunk sits neatly towards the rear of the cab. Of course, I hadn’t travelled to Yas Island to catch up on my beauty sleep, so I buckled up and hit the track.

The Euro 3 D13A440 engine was quick off the mark. From the moment I pushed down on the accelerator, I could feel the truck’s 440hp kicking in. Whilst the vehicle makes a satisfying grunt in its lower gears, it’s surprising how smoothly Volvo’s I-Shift gearbox moves through its transitions to get you moving.

Within seconds, I was on top of the first corner, and my instructor was strongly advising me to brake. I duly followed his guidance and began steering the FH into the bend. Although this particular truck hadn’t been fitted with Volvo’s Dynamic Steering system, little effort was required to turn the wheel.

The FH’s brisk engine and light steering are testament to the improvements that Volvo has made to the MENA range as a whole. In fact, it wasn’t until half way through the first lap that I learned my truck was fully laden. It turns out that the Volvo crew had added ballast to all of the trucks to demonstrate just how capable the latest models are when carrying weight.

Next, I opted for the Volvo FH 400 with Dynamic Steering. This truck’s Euro 3 D13A400 engine might be the baby of the FH range, but it’s no slouch. With its 400hp and maximum torque of 2,000Nm, the vehicle soon gained momentum, and fortunately for my second instructor, I was prepared for the circuit’s sneaky first corner.

As my passenger pointed out, a silky smooth Formula 1 track isn’t exactly the most difficult of challenges for Volvo’s Dynamic Steering system. Even so, it was easy to forget that I was driving a truck. Luckily for me, you don’t need muscles like Jean-Claude Van Damme to drive one of the new Volvos.

For my final lap, I jumped into the cab of a Volvo FM 480. With 2,400Nm of torque and 480hp, the Euro 3 D13A480 engine was noticeably the most powerful of the bunch. Whereas the FH excels at long-haul motorway driving and the FMX has been honed to deal with unforgiving terrains, the FM could be described as Volvo’s all-rounder.

With only essential controls and a basic interior, this particular version was a stripped-down offering for the MENA region. Even so, the cab was spacious and comfortable, and the drive technology much the same as that included in its higher-spec counterparts.

This back-to-basics FM was the perfect way to round off my time on the Yas Marina Circuit. It provided me with an idea of the core driving experience that Volvo has worked to deliver to the MENA region. Even without all of the bells and whistles, this truck was sprightly, easy to handle, and comfortable to drive. Volvo has done a good job catering both to drivers and fleet operators with its new range.

Of course, the Middle East is not necessarily renowned for smooth tarmac and forgiving terrains Indeed, in a region where development is one of the key drivers behind growth, the construction industry is the mainstay for many haulage firms.

Whilst the FMX would have no doubt performed well on the tarmac, to take it around a race track would have been – in some ways – to do it a disservice. This is Volvo’s tough guy; a truck that has been built to go ‘anywhere’.

As such, the launch organisers decided to provide the FMX with an environment to befit its hardiness. Volvo Trucks constructed its own off-road track right on the doorstep of the Yas Marina Circuit.

Two distinct courses comprised this desert playground. The first was a relatively linear and open circuit designed to demonstrate the FMX’s ability to cope with typical off-road conditions. The second, meanwhile, had been created to push the FMX to its limits. A tighter and altogether more hazardous affair, the latter circuit ran within the boundaries of the former, and offered inclines and mounds aplenty.

I started out with the less challenging of the two, and the truck was able to navigate the
course without breaking a sweat. Feeling confident, I decided to take on the ‘extreme’ circuit.

I’m not ashamed to admit that it was disconcerting to look out of the cab windscreen and see nothing but open sky, but in the words of my instructor, I trusted the truck. It was even more nerve-wracking to drive down the opposite side – staring at what seemed like a sheer drop – but the FMX’s heavy-duty chassis was equipped for the challenge.

As with the FH and FM, the Volvo FMX did more than enough to compensate for the mistakes of its driver. By the end of the day, Volvo Trucks’ new MENA range had me fooled into thinking that I could drive for a living. I felt that I had missed my vocation in life; in my mind, I was a natural. On reflection, I think that this says more about what Volvo has managed to achieve with its new range than it does about my driving skills – or lack thereof.

Engine range
Volvo Trucks’ new range for the MENA region is available in a variety of Euro 3 engine configurations.

FH
Engine: D13A (400/440/480/520)
Maximum power (depending on spec): 400hp-520hp
Maximum torque (depending on spec): 2,000Nm-2,500Nm

FH16
Engine: D16C (550/610)
Maximum power (depending on spec): 550hp-610hp
Maximum torque (depending on spec): 2,500Nm-2,800Nm

FM and FMX
Engine: D11A (330/370/430)
Maximum power (depending on spec): 330hp-430hp
Maximum torque (depending on spec): 1,650Nm-1,970Nm

Engine: D13A (400/440/480)
Maximum power (depending on spec): 400hp-480hp
Maximum torque (depending on spec): 2,000Nm-2,400Nm

The next generation
Peter Karlsten and Lars Erik Forsbergh tell PMV why drivers and fleet operators will probably have to wait the best part of two decades before they witness another Volvo Trucks launch of this magnitude

In addition to a completely new range of vehicles, Volvo Trucks also brought a selection of its senior management to the Yas Island launch. This, they explained, is a once-in-a-generation event for the manufacturer. The Swedish truckmaker will not conduct an equivalent reboot for approximately two decades.

“We launched the predecessor to the new Volvo FH more than 20 years ago in 1993,” explained Peter Karlsten, Volvo Group’s executive vice president for sales and marketing in the EMEA region. “We expect that this new range will also have a 20-year lifespan.”

The typical development timeframes for truck ranges are quite different from those of passenger vehicles. Whilst Volvo will continue to keep pace with new legislation, its latest line-up is here for the long haul.

“This is a completely new range of vehicles,” said Karlsten. “They have new chassis, new electrical architectures, and new cabs. What’s more, we have decided to launch all three trucks simultaneously in the MENA region.”

The development and launch of the new range has involved a significant investment, both in terms of time and money, according to Lars Erik Forsbergh, president of Volvo Trucks’ Middle East operations.

“The FH is the backbone of the entire Volvo Trucks business,” he said. “We have spent a tremendous amount of money on the development of this truck, not to mention bringing it to market and launching it in a way that delivers maximum impact. Also, it is common to upgrade and then launch just one model at a time. We have overhauled and introduced three models simultaneously. This has never been done before.”

The day before the media launch, Volvo invited customers of its KSA partner Zahid Tractors to test drive the new range. The reception, according to Karlsten, was positive.

“Everybody was extremely excited about the new vehicles,” he told PMV. “They were also pleased to be able to get behind the wheel. Not all fleet operators have their own truck driving licences, but as this is a closed environment, everybody was able to try out the new trucks around the track.”

The positive customer reception might have come as a relief to Karlsten and Forsbergh, but it did not come as a surprise. A high degree of user consultation took place during the design process of Volvo’s new range.

“We conducted a lot of interviews before initiating this project,” said Karlsten. “I think we had some 3,000 customers giving us feedback. This helped us to identify areas for improvement.

There were a couple of things that were frequently mentioned. One was the interior space of the cab. Drivers have to live in this compartment for four to five days at a time, so storage is very important. We have increased the interior volume and storage area of the new FH cab, for example, by around 300L.

“A second point that was often made concerned the handling of the truck,” he continued. “For this reason, the Volvo team designed a completely new front end and suspension system that has dramatically improved the drivability of the new vehicles.”

Improvements to the range, however, have not been solely driven by customer feedback. As Forsbergh explained, Volvo’s new regional line-up has been designed to cope with driving conditions commonly encountered by drivers operating within the Middle East’s construction sector.

“Take the FMX,” he said. “We performed on-site tests in both Saudi Arabia and Oman for a period of around six months. We have proven that this truck is well suited to the Middle East construction industry. People are building in every corner of the region, and they need vehicles like the FMX that can access those hard-to-reach locations.

“Flexibility was also a consideration when designing the new range,” continued Forsbergh.

“The Middle East is not like Europe where the trucks are more or less tailor-made for specific jobs. Here, operators tend to transport a bit of everything. Many start out with a standard truck and modify their vehicle accordingly. The haulage business in this region is not as segmented as it is in other markets, so we had to develop models that were extremely flexible.”

To coincide with the launch of the new range, Volvo has released an array of online clips designed to showcase the improvements that have been made. The most successful of these videos has been the ‘Epic Split’ feature, in which Hollywood star Jean-Claude Van Damme takes an unconventional ride between two reversing Volvo FM trucks.

The clip has been viewed more than 69m times on YouTube since its release. But what does Volvo intend to do once the hype surrounding the launch of its new range has died down?

“Now that we have had the central launch here at the Yas Marina circuit, we will introduce the new vehicles locally within each market,” explained Forsbergh. “This will be the next step; the process will begin in April. In the longer term, we will continue to build our service network.”

This sentiment was echoed by Karlsten, who explained that he and his colleagues are forever looking for fresh issues to address.

“There are always new challenges,” he concluded. “We will continue to develop our new range of trucks, and we will keep pace with the latest legislation. There is still plenty of work to be done.”

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