At a news conference held during the weekend Miami stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race, Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) revealed much about its strategy—dubbed “Blue Power” -- to further green its powertrain offerings.

The most immediate development is the rollout of a new 13-liter liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine that will debut here in 2014. The OEM also announced the expansion of its telematics services for diagnosing and speeding vehicle repairs on new tractors.

Volvo pointed out that, even with the arrival of its LNG powerplant it will offer Cummins and Cummins Westport compressed natural gas (CNG) engines as well in the years ahead.

What’s more, the OEM disclosed that it is continuing—as it has been doing for at least several years — to look into producing heavy-duty engines for the North American market that are fueled by dimethyl ether (DME).

According to Volvo, DME “mirrors the exceptional performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel while significantly reducing GHG emissions. It is an excellent compression ignition fuel, which, like diesel, requires no separate ignition mechanism. Unlike LNG, it does not require cryogenic temperatures; it is handled like propane, with tank pressures of 75 psi (vs. 3,000 psi for CNG), and it is non-toxic.”

DME requires no diesel particulate filter, added the OEM, and it “packages densely enough” to make it suitable for long-range hauling and for vocational truck fitted with equipment on the frame.

Yet company executives stressed that DME represented not a silver bullet, but rather one other promising option for going green. 

Indeed, Olof Persson, president of Sweden’s AB Volvo told journalists that the OEM’s alt-fuels strategy is “not to put all our eggs in one basket… It’s a matter of getting the most efficient solution in place according to the application.” And he added that, in any arena, “catching up is a risky thing—and we have as our mission to be the world leader” in the reduction of transportation-produced GHG.

Perrson reported that in Europe, Volvo Group has conducted “hundreds of thousands of miles” of customer field-testing of ten trucks powered by DME engines and the results indicate that DME “holds much promise as a heavy-truck fuel. We now have three [alternative fuel] routes open with CNG, LNG and DME,” he added.

Denny Slagle, Volvo Group executive vice president, remarked that “we are advocates for all three of these. technologies.”

Slagle also noted that Volvo LNG engine due here in 2014 will also be offered by Mack, VTNA’s sister OEM.  

Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Trucks North America Sales & Marketing, explained that the LNG engine will deploy advanced high pressure diesel ignition technology – using trace amounts of diesel to ignite the natural gas – to provide a 30% fuel-efficiency improvement compared with spark-ignition engines, “making it a viable alternative for demanding long-haul applications.”

He also said the 13-liter LNG engine will cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 20% compared with current diesel products.

Huibers noted that to meet current CNG demand, Volvo offers its VNM daycab powered by a factory-installed Cummins ISL G engine. He added that the OEM is currently running CNG-fueled VNL demonstrator trucks.

“The larger, more robust VNL model features a 12-liter Cummins Westport ISX12 G gas engine,” related Huibers. “Factory production of the natural gas-powered VNL daycab will begin in conjunction with commercial availability of the 12-liter gas engine in early 2013.” He noted that both CNG engines boast maintenance-free aftertreatment, requiring only a three-way catalyst to meet EPA 2010 emissions standards.

“Despite the near-term infrastructure questions regarding widespread adoption of natural gas as a heavy-duty truck fuel, it’s clear this segment will grow over the next several years,” said Huibers.

 “We’re already delivering factory-built CNG-powered trucks, and as the long-haul fueling infrastructure develops, the advanced technology in our new LNG engine will provide increased range and improved fuel efficiency in a seamlessly integrated Volvo powertrain,” he added.

Persson, speaking at the concurrent WWF (World Widelife Fund) Corporate Climate Summit, stated that beyond pursuing alternative fuels for their efficiency potential, climate change itself is a “continuous priority for Volvo Group. We take this very seriously. Volvo Group’s vision is to become the world leader in sustainable transportation solutions.”

He said this vision would be accomplished via three strategies: “By creating value for customers in selected segments; driving quality, safety and environmental care; and by pioneering products and services for the transport and infrastructure industries.”

According to Perrson making future transportation systems environmentally sustainable will require greater energy efficiency, the wider use of renewable fuels and the introduction of more efficient transportation solutions.

Zeroing in on alt fuels, he pointed out that the electrification of buses—be that via hybrid drives, plug-in hybrid designs or fully electric vehicles--  is “one way” and that as for fuels, “gas/diesel and DME solutions are very promising.”

He also remarked that “when it comes to fuel efficiency, reducing GHG is a win-win situation” and that government incentives to convert to alt fuels “can help gate the ball rolling.”

Perrson related that the contribution to global GHG emissions by all transportation modes amounts to 13%, with trucks alone contributing 4%. “We all depend on the transport of people and goods,” he added, “so we all need to minimize transportation’s impact on GHG emissions.”

He closed his remarks by calling for the gathering up of more “travel companions” to battle climate change, noting especially the need for government policymakers, fuel and energy suppliers, infrastructure owners and operators, transport customers and operators, and academia to become more engaged on this issue.

VTNA also announced the launch of its telematics-based Remote Diagnostics aftermarket service, which will come standard on all Volvo-powered VN model highway trucks.

“Remote Diagnostics maximizes vehicle uptime by reaching far beyond proactive diagnostics to deliver total connectivity among the vehicle, Volvo and the decision-makers responsible for maintenance,” said Stephen Roy, VTNA senior vice president, aftermarket and soft products.

“As part of our integrated business solution, Volvo Trucks Support Services, and bundled under Connected Vehicle services,” he continued, “Remote Diagnostics leverages Volvo’s support network and service management tools to rapidly address service issues before they occur.”

Roy noted that Remote Diagnostics also provides “service case communication and documentation” among Volvo Action Service, dealers and customers through ASIST, Volvo’s web-based service management tool, which comes free of charge for two years with the purchase of all new Volvo trucks.

Click here to view a Volvo-produced video about its Remote Diagnostics offering.