Volvo FH: The prodigy of new-age trucking celebrates 25 years
The dramatic evolution of Volvo FH – the brand’s flagship truck series – astonishes me. I wonder what its story is like.
This September marked 25 years of service for Volvo’s FH heavy truck. First revealed in 1993 in Europe, the ‘FH’ (stands for ‘F’orward control ‘H’igh entry) is perhaps the most successful truck series ever produced worldwide with about one million trucks sold. The millionth produced unit – a Crimson Pearl Volvo FH 25 Year Special Edition rolled out to celebrate silver jubilee – was handed over to a customer at IAA Hannover last month.
Now that when I look back its journey, the FH’s cult status and appeal goes far beyond its sales feat. It is self-evident that the FH has simply gobbled the heavy trucking industry across the globe, by dictating new standards and pushing further the boundaries of technological progress till date. It has also helped the Swedish brand to command leadership among the ‘magnificent seven’ truck brands of Europe.
The story began when Volvo Trucks was working on a suitable successor to for its ‘F’ series – another iconic model that was in production for 15 years. Its charm was so strong at that time that one Volvo official noted during the FH’s launch that the new truck “would probably not be around as long as the F Series”. Here we are 25 years later, the FH is in its fourth generation and continues to be iterated on into future!
The first FH was indeed quite a sensation in itself, the truck was around 30 percent lighter than the F-series and claimed 20 percent improved drag reduction owing to its refined aerodynamics. The cab was truly a revolutionary, with its driver-focused ergonomics and first ever SRS airbag in a heavy duty truck (added in 1995), and was even subjected to toughest cab impact tests of that time. Along with the D16 (470 or 520 bhp with new patented Volvo Engine Brake) came the D12A 12.1-litre electronically controlled OHC engine making 420 bhp, touted as the “world engine” able to meet the latest output and efficiency requirements.
The second generation FH came was launched in 2001, with refreshed exterior and interior styling, including an office/dinette set-up in range-topping Globetrotter XL cab, apt for the 21st century. But the actual headliner this time was the I-Shift gearbox, a path breaking successor to Volvo’s Geartronic automated manual transmission. Four years later, a new 12.8-litre diesel was introduced, but interestingly, Volvo had to drop the engine capacity from model names, so as to keep off its customers from the superstitious nightmare of owing an ‘FH 13’!
In 2008, the FH Generation III gave a hippy makeover to the cab with a curved dashboard ‘cockpit’ and reclining sleeper bunk for ‘nights out’, and the engine became Euro 5. But it was the Gen IV that transformed the truck radically, not just aesthetically inside and out, but also between the chassis rails. This was perhaps the time I was curiously around, awe-inspiring a newly launched truck, gazing at its first photographs that surfaced online in 2012. “Look at the bright LED DRLs” I remember screaming in surprise, the time when DRLs were not even available all Audis and BMWs in India!
Internally known as Project 2540, the new FH erased the conventional boundaries of truck design, while also equipping the hauler with state-of-the-art techs including I-Shift dual clutch with crawler gears, Volvo Dynamic Steering, Tandem Axle Lift, and independent front suspension to name a few. In fact, the Dynamic Steering has phenomenally improved the traffic safety and working environment for drivers, thanks to the addition of Stability Assist and Lane Keeping Assist to the system. It is this innovation and safety perspective that is ingrained in the development of every FH makes the truck series an icon of contemporary trucking.
The latest FH developed is the 420 or 460 bhp FH LNG, powered by a gas engine utilizing diesel cycle technology, offering up to 25 percent lower fuel consumption than conventional diesels. It wouldn’t be an odd surprise if a battery-electric FH joins the stable in sometime, considering Volvo Truck’s strident progress in developing e-trucks.
So, it is clear that the FH16-750 – Europe’s most powerful truck right now – may not remain as my favorite FH forever. The horizons of trucking are being pushed further and farther than we would even like to imagine. Maybe that’s how ‘Globetrotters’ see the world – moving forward forever.
*An edited version of this story first appeared in MOTORINDIA October 2018 edition, as part of the author’s column “So to Speak with Dhiyanesh Ravichandran”.