50 years on, Volvo Trucks revs towards the future of transportation in Malaysia

Competition is fierce in the commercial vehicles space but Volvo Trucks is expected to stick to its business DNA and stay ahead among the packs

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI & www.volvotrucks.my

Peden says Volvo Trucks is looking forward to further conversions on the Euro 5 and Euro 6 diesel standards to allow the company to introduce an advanced range of trucks in Malaysia

FOR the older generation, the mere mention of Volvo might just conjure up a strong image of a resilient vehicle that is made to last.

The name Volvo would also be likely pegged to safety and durability, and a certain prestige to those who are more inclined towards continental brand.

As such, the reputation has served Volvo Malaysia Sdn Bhd, better known as Volvo Trucks Malaysia, pretty well.

Volvo Trucks was established in Malaysia some 50 years ago and it has definitely played an enabling role in Malaysia’s rapid industries and infrastructure developments. The Swedish-made trucks have served coal mines, ports, oil refineries, expressways and even the Malaysian Armed Forces.

The Gothenburg, Sweden-based commercial vehicles manufacturer’s journey began in 1969 when Volvo Trucks was established under Federal Auto Industrial Sdn Bhd.

The history of the Volvo brand itself in Malaysia began in 1966 with the formation of Swedish Motor Assemblies Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between AB Volvo and Federal Auto Co Sdn Bhd.

The partnership led to the opening of the Swedish Motor Assemblies plant in Batu Tiga, Shah Alam on Feb 17, 1968 — which was widely credited as the country’s first automobile assembly plant.

Volvo Trucks has evolved by leaps and bounds throughout the last 50 years with the introduction of various new models and consistent after-sale services. According to its MD Mitch Peden, the journey is about to get more exciting in the next decade.

“The next 10 years would be exciting. It is interesting to see how different countries around the world and how Malaysia start to think about new technologies into the future of the economy.

“It will be challenging, but at the same time too compelling not to have a good go about it,” Peden told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview.

Competition is fierce in the commercial vehicles space but Volvo Trucks is expected to stick to its business DNA and stay ahead among the packs.

Electric, Autonomous Trucks

The Volvo FH16 models. Volvo Trucks has evolved by leaps and bounds throughout the last 50 years with the introduction of various new models and consistent after-sale services

The way transportation works in the future is expected to be a lot different than it is today.

The autonomous trucks race is also heating up as electric commercial vehicles have, slowly but surely, gained momentum.

Volvo Trucks as a group has upped its game in the electric autonomous trucks territory with Vera — an all-electric self-driving haulier.

First revealed in September 2018, the cabin-less Vera was assigned to its first job of transporting goods from a logistics centre to a port terminal in Gothenburg, under a collaboration between Volvo Trucks and ferry and logistics company DFDS A/S.

“Electric trucks are quiet. We’d probably start to see a focus on delivery at night, for instance. Night delivery would also mean less congestion on the roads during the day.

“This kind of new thinking would change how society views transportation,” Peden said. Peden said he sees the possibility of bringing Vera on to Malaysian roads in the future, provided that the right infrastructure and legal framework are in place.

He said 5G networks would form a key part of the autonomous ecosystem.

However, current issues in the local industry remain the points of interest that the company would further discuss and deliberate.

Euro 6 Fuel

Torque Assist, a new function of Volvo Trucks’ upgraded D13 diesel engines, improves fuel efficiency by automatically adapting the truck’s torque and acceleration to the road topography, the load and speed changes

Peden said Volvo Trucks is looking forward to further conversions on the Euro 5 and Euro 6 diesel standards to allow the company to introduce an advanced range of trucks in Malaysia.

“All the innovation dollars are going towards the latest trucks in the market which is in Euro 6. That does leave Malaysia a little bit behind with regard to the most efficient, safest trucks that we could provide,” he said.

Since 1992, the European emission standards have been imposed on new vehicles in the European countries and European Economic Area member states to improve air quality with the added bonus of being cost-effective.

Starting with Euro 1 in 1992, the Europe-wide fuel standard entered Euro 6 in September 2014, the year when Malaysia was still testing the water on Euro 5.

The Euro 5-graded fuel was first introduced in Malaysia in November 2014 by Boustead Petroleum Marketing Sdn Bhd with the launch of Infiniti Euro5 Diesel.

These days, more players have introduced Euro 5, but it is still not available in all petrol stations nationwide.

The Euro 5 fuel remains to be in the B7 formulation (a blend of 7% palm methyl ester and 93% petroleum diesel), despite the country having rolled out its B10 mandate for the transportation sector in February this year.

Singapore switched to the Euro 6 standards for petrol and diesel vehicles in September 2017 and January 2018 respectively.

Volvo Trucks launched its new Euro 6 truck range in the republic nation in November 2017, ahead of the January 2018 deadline that was set for diesel vehicles.

The day for Malaysia to adopt Euro 6 remains to be seen.

“We play by the rules that are given; it is certainly interesting for us to bring the best trucks into the market,” Peden added.

As it is, Volvo Trucks has introduced new truck software functions and upgraded engines to help logistics companies and their drivers save fuel, even when cruise control is not activated to help reduce operational costs.

The upgraded D13 diesel engines for Euro 3, Euro 4, Euro 5 and energy-efficient vehicles markets, together with the new software updates, can enable fuel savings of up to 3%.

Second-hand Trucks Conundrum

The ubiquity of second-hand trucks has been one of the banes for commercial vehicles carmakers.

Certain quarters in the industry claimed that Malaysia is suffering from a huge number of imported used trucks, particularly from the Japanese brands.

Peden said Volvo Trucks does not have real visibility on the scale of the situation, but its internal research based on conversations between dealers a few years ago indicated that for every new heavy truck delivered in Malaysia, there are two used trucks sold.

“It is the safety issues that worry me. If there is a safety recall, we got no ability to contact these customers and tell them the trucks that they own, which have drivers that they employed, might not be safe.

“It is a potential shortcoming in the process,” Peden said.

After all, safety has been the DNA of the Volvo brand since forever.

Sixty years ago, Volvo introduced the three-point seatbelt we are familiar with today. Volvo Trucks then introduced the three-point seatbelt in the locally assembled units in the 70s.

The company also became the first truck brand in Malaysia to introduce airbag in the 80s.

“We do not set ourselves to be a market leader. We set out to serve our customers at the very best and we get the results we deserve at the end of the year,” Peden added.

In 2018, Volvo Trucks registered a record sale of 450 units, where more than half were contributed by the Volvo FM model.

This year, Peden said, the market leader in the prime mover segment is expected to hold the volume, if not more, on the back of a soft market in the commercial vehicles segment.

He said the company focuses on customer services, after investing RM75 million in the last five years of partnership in the retail dealership.

Volvo Trucks now has 13 dealers nationwide, 10 are self-owned while the remaining three are run by private companies.

Volvo Trucks celebrates its golden jubilee this year in Malaysia. It might still be a long road ahead, but suffice to say, it will keep on trucking.