Volvo Group Australia has released its FH 500 I-Save which features a 13 litre turbo-compound engine producing a mountain munching 2,800Nm of peak torque. PowerTorque jumps at the offer to take a prototype version hitched to a B-double grossing 58 tonnes for a pedal up and down the infamous Toowoomba Range.
It is indeed fascinating to reflect on the dramatic changes over the last half century in the Average Joe’s perceptions of what kind of vehicle is required to handle a certain task. As technology has relentlessly marched forward, what was once deemed entirely unsuitable has now become the norm.
Over this period the transport industry has seen a steady increase in gross combination masses (GCM), spearheaded by the likes of B-doubles and increasingly longer truck and dog combinations. Performance-Based Standards (PBS) has also played an escalating role in encouraging the uptake of heavier, safer and more productive outfits.
This has had the effect of requiring more torque to be produced to effectively manage the extra weight, particularly during hill climbs, which has sustained the 15- and 16-litre engines at the top of the performance tree, particularly in the line-haul and heavy haulage categories.
Yet while the big-bore 15 and 16 litre sixes and V8s have been the backbone of heavy-duty prime movers for the past three decades or more, the 13 litre brigade has been gradually creeping up in the power and torque departments to the extent that most are now suitable for full-weight B-double roles.
However, a critical factor that has driven the enduring popularity of big-bore engines is longevity. While a smaller capacity engine may be quite capable of doing the job, if it fails to endure for its projected lifespan then any cost benefits in fuel savings that have been gained along the way are blown right out the window.
This is the challenge facing manufacturers like Volvo that are seeking to convince operators that their 13 litre engines can cut the mustard in roles where the big bore engines have traditionally ruled. While these manufacturers do exhaustive testing of their products to ensure they are fit for purpose before sale, ultimately it is the real-world time and toil that these machines must endure to prove their durability and be accepted by the broader truck operating community.
Fortunately, there is usually a small percentage of early adopter types who are willing to give it a crack in the interests of verifying the manufacturers’ claims and finding out for themselves whether or not the product is fit for purpose, therefore potentially paving the way for more broader uptake down the track.
As with all new developments, this can take a while, but it’s plausible that by 2030 several brands of 13 litre engine, such as the one in this test, could be powering a goodly number of prime movers hauling full-weight 26m B-doubles plying Australia’s regional and inter-capital routes.