Building a Big Rig
by Steven Chupnick
If it has a motor, sooner or later we get around to trying it out on MotorWeek. From the very tall to the very small, in thirty years, we've driven them all. While some are dream machines, others just pique our curiosity. Still, when it comes to "what would it be like to drive that?" our over-the-edge guy Steven Chupnick has rigged the biggest catch of them all.
We've all seen big rigs driving on the road. But most of us don't know how these mammoth machines are put together. With quality, safety, and environmental care.
HOPE COAKE: It's hard to believe it starts out as two frames and end up like that.
And that final class 8 truck is still 100% built in the U.S. At Volvo's new river valley plant in Dublin, Virginia.
This 1.6-million square foot facility houses every step of the assembly process from the framing to driving off the line for the dyno test.
MARCUS THOMPSON: We take great pride in we're the only OEM left in North America that produces all of its trucks here in the United States of America.
There are 71 dedicated robots in the plant, but the heart and soul of the floor are the people.
MARCUS THOMPSON: There's a spirit inside this plant that's exemplified by the men and women that you see building trucks on this line. There's a quality and a safety designed to every product. We know a critical portion of that is the process being built on line in station with each truck.
Volvo gives their employees the opportunity to implement their own ideas by building special kaizen carts for any improvement to the workday. There is obvious pride in what they do.
HOPE COAKE: And I wanted everything I was going to be using on a truck on that cart so I didn't have to go back and forth. So it lessens the steps and let me get my job done a lot quicker.
Hope has been with Volvo since 1998, building the trucks as well as driving them.
HOPE COAKE: I mean it just makes you feel like you know really good because you actually accomplished this and it's a big thing to me, you know, it's my livelihood. The better we do, the better our livelihood is and the longer the plant will be here and the more business you get. . .just taking pride in it.
The overall size of these vehicles is impressive enough, especially when you consider what's inside.
The clean, efficient D13 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine, made in Hagerstown, Maryland, is the most popular Volvo truck power plant.
And it's the job of 7 men and women to carefully lower the 3200-plus pound motor onto the chassis, which actually starts upside down so the workers can easily install the wiring and the axle. It's then flipped right side up for the engine and the rest of the build process.
But the real fun is when you're out on the road â€“ and yes, I had the chance to get behind the wheel of one, thanks to Volvo's new I-shift technology.
The automated 2-pedal manual transmission is one of the most advanced systems in these tractors.
WADE LONG: Unlike an automatic transmission in your car, it does have a clutch that is all shifted through servos and electronics.
The I-Shift is one of the luxuries afforded for the drivers. The living quarters aren't half-bad either. When we're on the road, we find a hotel at night. For truckers, it's accommodations of a different kind.
A dining area converted into upper and lower beds is one of the amenities in the rear of the truck.
But it's not just building big rig trucks at Volvo. The folks at the new river valley plant designed this one-off heavy-duty class 8 pick-up. The VHD is powered by a 500-horsepower Volvo D13 engine and features the I-shift transmission.
It was a blast driving that VHD and big rig. However, I'll let the guys and gals with a CDL take the wheel of those, my minivan is big enough for me.