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April 21, 2017 10:00 AM, EDT
Volvo Designers Sweat Details for New VNR
Long, Koeck by Jonathan S. Reiskin/TT
MONTREAL — When Volvo Group made cars, the vehicles were parodied as boring but safe. The car division has been gone since 1999, and truck designer Brian Balicki was determined that the new VNR regional-haul tractor would not be boring.

His bosses gave Balicki more than a year to work on VNR’s design because even they knew the Volvo VNM should be retired.

Wade Long, director of product marketing for Volvo Trucks North America, said diplomatically, “The VNM is outdated and not aesthetically pleasing.”

Magnus Koeck, VTNA vice president of marketing and brand management, was more blunt.

“The VNM is really, really old,” he said of the tractor introduced in 1996.

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Koeck said some of his regional-haul customers bought VNL day cabs made for longhaul, just to get away from VNM.

So Balicki, VTNA’s chief designer, began to think.

“Form ever follows function,” Balicki said at the VNR rollout here on April 20, borrowing an observation from Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, one of the first builders of skyscrapers.

“We wanted something bold, edgy, innovative, modern and human. We looked to motor sports and the way lines move through it. We wanted an iconic design,” Balicki said.

He worked to make the cab, especially the sleeper berth, “not like a cave but more like a living room.”

The form comes, in part, from Volvo’s SuperTruck work, the U.S. Department of Energy program to increase fuel efficiency. Koeck said the sculpting of the tractor increases aerodynamic efficiency.

Balicki said he strove for ease of operation within the cab.

“Everything is within arm’s reach,” he said, including a steering wheel with up to 19 buttons that control the radio, Bluetooth communications, the engine brake and pop-up menus for the driver information display.

Jonathan S. Reiskin/Transport Topics

The wheel also has a three-way adjustment for driver comfort: general tilt of the column, head tilt for the wheel and telescoping.

The high-strength steel cab includes an adjustable seat belt for the top point, so the belt doesn’t dig into flesh.

There’s a puddle light in the bottom of the door that goes on when it’s open, allowing the driver to see if he or she is about to step into a puddle when it’s dark.

Long said there are more USB ports and power outlets so drivers can keep their electronics charged.

There are seven seat options and three fabric options, and the seats are heated in the winter and vented in the summer.

VTNA President Göran Nyberg went so far as to describe the new VNR as “cool.”