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First Look: The All-New Volvo VNL

In my journey as an automotive writer, I never thought I’d see the day I’d venture over to commercial vehicles. Yet, such a thing did happen not too long ago, when I took a trip to the Volvo Trucks North America plant in Dublin, Virginia to write about (and drive) the Volvo VNR Electric for Popular Science.

While I was there, I was also briefly introduced to Volvo Trucks’ newest long-hauler parked in the customer center, the second-generation Volvo VNL. It was then I learned the new truck would get its big debut in June, and that I was invited to come out to experience all this truck would offer. Not to mention getting the opportunity to drive the new VNL on the same three-mile test track where I drove a VNR Electric box truck around for a few laps.

So, without further ado, it’s time to head out on The Highway back to Dublin to tell you about this next-generation Class 8 truck, the flagship of the North American Volvo Trucks line.

Out of the White (GMC), Into the Blue (Ridge)

Volvo Trucks first entered the North American market via its acquisition of White Trucks in 1981. By 1986, the company began selling trucks under its own branding, such as the FE line. In that same year, General Motors formed a joint venture with AB Volvo, leading to the formation of the Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corporation. All White trucks built and sold by Volvo Trucks were rebranded as WhiteGMC, a name that would continue until the WhiteGMC trucks were replaced by the VN-series (later known as the VNL) in 1996.

The first truck designed outside of those inherited by White or GM for the newly renamed Volvo Trucks North America, the VNL was designed and built exclusively with the North American market in mind. Updates in 2003 and 2018 improved upon its aerodynamic design.

For the second-generation Volvo VNL, introduced earlier in 2024, it’s a near clean-slate, with 90% of the Class 8 truck being completely new. The result can be best seen from above when compared to the first-gen truck: the second-gen is more narrow up front, has a shorter nose than the boxier first-gen, dispenses the sun visor and brings the aero elements further out back. All of this allows the new VNL to cut through the air, which, in turn, allows truckers to visit the diesel pumps fewer times, saving them and their bosses more money in the long run.

Blue Blocks for (Cleaner) Blue Ridges

Tucked within the cab of the new Volvo VNL is the redesigned Volvo D13 direct-injection diesel turbo-six, which sends 500 horsepower to the rear axle(s) via the I-Shift automatic transmission. This combination, when placed underneath the new aerodynamic bodies of the VNL, is able to achieve up to 8.8 mpg going down the highway without needing to use all of its horsepower to get up to highway speeds. And since the spring of 2024, all diesel Volvo trucks — like the new VNL when deliveries begin later in 2024 — have left the Volvo Trucks New River Valley Plant in Dublin with anywhere from 20 gallons to full tanks of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), a renewable diesel fuel that goes through a hydro treatment process before it’s pumped into the massive fuel tanks of every diesel truck Volvo makes.

This is part of Volvo Trucks’ goal of reducing CO2 emissions to zero via decarbonization in the decades to come. The result of sending trucks like the the all-new VNL out the door with HVO is a replacement of 1.125 million gallons of petrol-diesel per year, reducing Volvo Trucks’ CO2 emissions to anywhere between 75% to 85% in regards to its North American operations.

But that’s not all Volvo Trucks has in mind for the new VNL. More on this later, though.

A Home Away From Home

When most think of the trucking life, the thought of big sleeper cabs generally comes to mind. It’s where most truckers will spend a good part of their careers as they move freight across the country. For the new Volvo VNL, the mid-roof and high-roof cabs offer plenty to drivers needing a home away from home. The lower section can be had with a standard flat mattress bed, as well as a reclining mattress for those needing more space that would otherwise be taken up by a few pillows. Then, there’s the murphy-style bed in the VNL 840 and 860, which folds away when not in use to accommodate the dinette and bring additional space during work hours. The high-roof cabs also have an upper bunk accessed via a telescopic ladder for the few who work with a co-driver on those long, non-stop hauls.

The office is more comfortable, too, in the new Volvo VNL. Air-ride seats with multiple adjustments minimize fatigue — and thus, boosting productivity over the open road — enhanced by Volvo Trucks’ Position Perfect Steering with three-way movement and customizable steering wheel positioning. There’s new tech for drivers to experience, as well, from an all-new 12-inch digital gauge display replacing the older VNL’s analog units, to the Camera Monitoring System (CMS), a pair of digital monitors linked to cameras mounted above the doors to serve as additional mirrors for the driver to use when moving their VNL around traffic or the distribution hub. The only other truck I know that has this — thanks to my experience in driving a virtual example in “American Truck Simulator” — is the new-generation Kenworth T680, and I can say that it’s very useful when rolling through the virtual highways of the United States of SCS Software.

Protecting the Driver, Protecting Everyone

The CMS is but one part of Volvo Trucks’ overall safety and driving tech for the all-new VNL. After all, it is the truck driver who shoulders the greatest burden on the road when it comes to safe driving. When pulling into the distribution center to pick-up a delivery, the VNL comes equipped with backup cameras and a multi-camera system with up to seven views plus infrared for the nighttime to help the driver easily back his big rig up to the trailer.

Once on the road, the driver has a suite of systems found in many passenger vehicles, including adaptive cruise control with stop/start — perfect for convoys — pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane-keeping, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, and lane-centering.

Yet, there will be times when things do go sideways. The all-new Volvo VNL goes above and beyond in this regard with a cab tough enough to pass the Swedish Cab Impact Test, one that has 33% more Ultra High Strength steel than the previous VNL for improved durability. The flared frame rail up front allows the engine to drop further beneath the cab in the event of a frontal impact, while side impact air bags, rollover protection, and the industry-first auto-911 service all go to ensure the driver has the best chance of coming home with minimal harm.

It’s a Mix-And-Match World

Whether fleet owners and owner-operators choose a day cab or a full high-roof sleeper, they’ll have plenty to work with as far the all-new Volvo VNL goes. There are four trim levels for the second-generation Class 8 truck: the base Core trim, Edge, Edge Black, and the top-tier Ultimate trim. Inside and out, each trim level has coordinated pieces made to create the right vibe for a given truck, from the strictly utilitarian Core trim that you might find in a day cab coming from the local Pepsi bottling plant, to the wood-trimmed and chromed-out first-class dream of the Ultimate trim on that one owner-operator’s rig parked at the Love’s along the interstate.

However, each trim level’s exterior can be paired with at least one other trim level’s interior. For example, a fleet operator can keep their trucks basic on the outside with the Core exterior trim bits, but fully kit-out the interior by opting for the Ultimate trim’s interior goodies. Amenity packages like cab bunk curtains, TV prep kits, tech packages with wireless charging and rain-sensing wipers, and more all contribute into making each fleet (or individual units) of Volvo VNLs as unique as the companies and owners themselves.

Taking a Ride in the Future of Trucking

I learned quite a few things during my second visit to the Volvo Trucks New River Valley Plant in Dublin, Virginia while getting to know more about the all-new Volvo VNL. For instance, a given cargo determines the cab choice. Day cabs are obviously for local and regional deliveries of most goods, but mid-roof trucks are paired with tanker and grain trailers due to the aerodynamic requirements such trailers ask for.

I also experienced the new VNL from the passenger seat, as I was too tired to safely drive the truck on the three-mile test track next to the customer center at the plant. I noticed that the shorter nose and more rear-slanted wraparound windshield was almost like the experience older truckers once had behind the wheel of cabover rigs like the Kenworth K100-E or the Ford LTL 9000, with tons of visibility not found in most conventional trucks today. There was also no torque flex of the chassis and body when my driver pulled forward onto the test track with a loaded trailer attached, owing to both the strength of the chassis and the better load distribution from the powertrain. Not to mention it was a comfortable ride all around. One day, I’ll have to come back to actually drive the VNL with a trailer attached.

We’ve Only Just Begun

The second-generation Volvo VNL is already in production as of this post, with the first deliveries set for later in 2024. But that’s only the start of the story for Volvo Trucks’ flagship Class 8 truck. As noted in the closing ceremonies at the plant, the VNL will serve as the platform for the company’s mission of building the right truck for the right tasks, including options for anything from hydrogen to battery-electric power.

Which led to this bombshell:

Meet the Volvo VNL Electric in its prototype form. All that is known is that the VNR Electric will be made until this truck hits the assembly line in 2025.

I can’t wait to learn more — and, this time, actually drive — this next step in trucking. Until then, I look forward to experiencing more of the all-new VNL, whether in the Virtual Plaza or, perhaps down the road, behind the wheel for real. This is one truck I look forward to seeing on the road soon.

Photos: Volvo Trucks, Cameron Aubernon/Aubernon Highway

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