GREENSBORO, N.C. – Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) is adding several new features to its 2010-compliant highway tractors, among them an engine torque “boost” under specific conditions in order to simultaneously preserve vehicle performance and fuel economy, while another assists drivers with the pre-trip inspection process. (View a photo gallery of the new 2010-compliant VN780)

“Eco-Torque” is a new feature being added to Volvo’s I-Shift automated manual transmission (AMT) that boosts the amount of torque available so the AMT doesn’t have to downshift in hilly driving conditions, thereby helping maintain vehicle speed and fuel economy at the same time.

“What Eco-Torque does is create an engine with a ‘dual personality’ if you will,” Ed Saxman, Volvo’s powertrain product manager, told FleetOwner here during a special test ride of the company’s flagship linehaul tractor, a 2010-compliant VN780. (See video from the test ride)

“Our I-Shift AMT is rated to handle all the power outputs of all our engines, so what it is programmed to do under certain specific conditions is change the engine rating, giving the vehicle more torque in the higher gears,” he said.

For example, the VN780 test truck equipped with a 435 hp D-13 engine producing 1,550 ft-lbs of torque morphs briefly into a 500-plus hp engine generating 1,750 ft-lbs of torque, all without any action required by the driver.

Altogether, Volvo offers up to eight rating “boosts” within its engine family, said Saxman, who pointed out that Mack Trucks Inc. – VTNA’s brother company – also offers similar Eco-Torque functionality with its Econodyne engine line.

Designing the I-Shift to handle the torque outputs of all Volvo’s truck engines – the D-11, D-13, and D-16 – adds a corollary benefit as well, Saxman noted.

“We can ‘turn up’ an engine to the highest power rating for that model for a fleet with just a software change and without changing out injectors or turbochargers,” he said. “That’s a big benefit when it comes time to sell a truck. It takes a fleet spec 435-hp engine and changes it into a 500-plus engine, for instance, which can make it more appealing to second owners.”

Another new feature for the VN780 is “Pre-Inspect Assist,” which is a program designed to help drivers speed up the pre-trip inspection process. Tom Palenchar, VTNA’s marketing product manager, said this function is built into the Driver Information Display within the gauge cluster. It automatically checks the wiring and fuses, all the vehicle and trailer lights, and air leaks in the braking system.

“It doesn’t replace the pre-trip inspection process for the driver; it’s designed to speed it up, though,” Palenchar told FleetOwner. “It’s to help make the pre-trip a less onerous burden on drivers.”

Other new features on the VN780 include a roughly 100-pound lighter fifth wheel from Fontaine – a component being sold exclusively on Volvo tractors for one year – along with an adjustable cab roof fairing for use with dry van and refrigerated trailers.

“It’s designed to help improve the aerodynamics of the entire tractor-trailer as a unit,” said Palenchar, noting that it complements the cab’s side fairing extenders or “trim tabs” Volvo introduced several years ago. “It’s about making the entire vehicle as fuel efficient as possible.”

The new VN780 is being showcased across the U.S. and Canada via Volvo’s “2010 Driving Success Tour” to fleet managers and owner-operators alike, the company noted. The tractor with fully-loaded trailer, along with a bevy of product experts, are visiting Volvo Truck dealerships across North America to educate customers on how to maximize fuel economy, drive productivity and reduce costs.