Street Smarts: 25 years of Volvo’s VN

By Steve Sturgess26 January 2022

A look back as Volvo celebrates 25 years since the launch of the VN. 

The press room at the recent American Trucking Association’s annual Management Conference and Exposition was sponsored by Volvo Trucks. As might be expected there were a number of Volvo takeaways that included a magazine datelined Issue 2, 2021. The cover story was all about the launch of the VN 25 years ago this year.

I was there and remember the excitement of a totally new Volvo that owed nothing to the old White or GMC trucks that had been Volvo’s over-the-road offering between the acquisition of White Motor Corp in 1981 and the absorption of the GM truck business a few years later. This led to a confusing series of corporate names that included Volvo White and WhiteGMC before Volvo Trucks North America was launched.

The Volvo TC (Turbo Compound) engine is now standard across all VNLs.

Those first Volvos used the White corporate cab that was also featured on the Autocar and Western Star. The first move to update this was the launch of the Integral Sleeper in 1983. This was one of the earliest cab and sleeper combinations that eliminated the awkward step-through to a separate sleeper box mounted behind the cab and opened up the interior space considerably. This was further enhanced with the model ITS (Integral Tall Sleeper) introduced in 1985 which integrated additional living space up inside the rooftop fairing.

Volvo’s GM Heavy truck acquisition
At the time of the GM Heavy truck acquisition, Volvo updated the old GMC Brigadier, introducing it as the VolvoGMC WG regional short haul partner to the Integral Sleeper long hauls.

This was a time of great activity that also saw a short-lived low cabover introduced in North America. Volvo’s long-haul model and served the company well as engineers and product planners worked on the next generation of true Volvo trucks.

Volvo took a huge gamble and designed the VN to be the most comfortable home for the professional driver. It had interior storage second to none, a modern dash, super-comfortable seats, a sleek exterior that was aerodynamic and nothing like the first aerodynamic Kenworth T600 that was quickly dubbed over the CB as the Anteater.

I well remember during the hours of service (HOS) furor doing a special set of stories on the change that included a drive off a 1937 Peterbilt model 334, 1955 Autocar and a Volvo VN to contrast the different driving tasks over the period when HOS rules were first introduced in 1937. The Pete – actually a rebadged Fageol – was near impossible to drive and that Autocar was incredibly noisy and hard riding. I remember characterizing the Volvo as “the Starship Enterprise” by comparison. As a side note, we won a Grand Neale for the series, the highest award for any business publication in America.

So, back to the ATA press office where I was flipping through the Volvo magazine, enjoying reminiscences of 25 years ago when I saw my name attached to copy on the spread photo of the original VN and the latest VN Globetrotter!

I don’t know how it got there, But here it is:

Volvo VN design features
“It was sleek and significantly different. Fuel efficiency was less of a concern back then. Traditional, conventional models were very popular. Now fuel economy has become so significant everyone is onboard with the aerodynamic features all pioneered by the VN.”

Steve Sturgess Steve Sturgess is an independent trucking writer and consultant based in Corona, Calif. His blog is at www.stevesturgess.com

Thank you, Volvo, especially for the credit which reads “Steve Sturgess, Industry Journalist and Author of the original VN review.”

Of course, Volvo had a press conference in recognition of the anniversary with a top-of-the-line VNL760 Globetrotter in pride of place at the company’s booth accompanied by its state-of-the-future battery electric VNR regional tractor and one of the early 1996 VNs that set VTNA on its road to success. VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve was extremely bullish on the company’s future with the two groundbreaking models designed for long-haul luxury and regional haul practicality and economy respectively.

Varied VNL Power

The Volvo TC (Turbo Compound) engine which is now standard across all VNLs offers 425 hp and peak torque of 1750 lb. ft., where the electric drive in the VNR is rated 455 hp and 4051 lb. ft. torque.

Significantly, the battery electric vehicle has an operating range of up to 150 miles based on the truck’s configuration. Additionally, it has the ability to recharge to an 80% level of battery energy within 70 minutes.

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