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Volvo’s FH Lite tractor is designed to squeeze more payload than ever for cost-conscious operators.

Volvo has a pretty strong reputation in the UK’s construction sector, not least because it’s been supplying it decent trucks since the ’60s. But if you’re running a tipper on sand and aggregates, there’s more than one way to go about it.

Bulk movements of sand, gravel and aggregates generally get paid by the amount delivered. Typically, you weigh in, tip, and weigh out. The difference is what you’re paid for. In a business world full of smoke, mirrors and snake oil salesmen, it has an endearing simplicity about it.

As a manufacturer of tipper chassis, with three or four axles, Volvo’s credentials are solid. Mostly in museums and collections now, is the F86 it imported into the UK from 1967. Starting life as a 32-tonne tractor, it soon developed into a six- and eight-wheeler. Assembly at its Irvine factory on Scotland’s West coast from 1975 put the manufacturer on the map in a big way, even winning it SMMT registration as a British truck manufacturer – and then it really got into its stride with the F7 multi-wheelers.

Although the plant closed in 1999, good repute was established, and when tractors with tipping trailers started to appear in the market, pushing the gross from 32 tonnes on four axles to 44 tonnes on six, heads turned Volvo’s way.

The hike in productivity and revenue-earning potential didn’t go unnoticed. Brand loyalty is a powerful force in a fundamentally conservative business (thin margins don’t encourage risk-taking), so the natural choice for many was the Volvo FH. But is the standard FH, with the XL Globetrotter cab, the right tool for this job? Volvo saw its FH being increasingly used on tipping applications and decided some useful mods could be employed. 

Solid engineering

As a regular general haulage tractor for plying the motorways, the Volvo FH with the XL Globetrotter cab is well above average. No matter how much standards have improved, we still find it a bit of a stretch to refer to it as a ‘bread-and-butter’ offering. However, on tipping operations, do you really need the high-roof version of the FH cab? That’s where Volvo engineers started in the quest to take weight out of the truck and bring tipper men those weighbridge bonuses.

We took out an FH 500 ‘Lite’ for a drive from Volvo’s Warwick HQ. As a test drive, it delivered just what you’d expect, with the only noticeable difference being the lower height cab. We really didn’t feel restricted by that, and although as a six-footer we couldn’t stand up straight, the times we think you’d want to on this sort of work will be few.

That’s not only a weight saving, by the way; the lower roof cab will be more aerodynamic and help fuel economy too.

Our truck is from Volvo’s press demo fleet, but it’s been available as a special order from week 37 last year. Now it’s entered the mainstream and it’s a standard offering that’s moving through the dealers at a growing pace. Drivers still broadly regard the transmission as industry-leading, and they can still choose from 420, 460, 500 and 520 bhp.

Behind the scenes

So much for the lighter cab – where else have weight savings been made? When cutting tare weight, it is easy to let the concept run away with you, but Volvo does seem to have kept a sensible approach here. For example, it still bases the truck on the D13K engine, when the 11-litre unit would have saved extra weight.

Martin Tomlinson, Volvo’s press test guru in the UK, explains: “At 44-tonne operation, we felt the 13-litre engine’s torque was needed, so that’s a short cut we didn’t want to take.”

The FH500 6×2 (pusher axle) with the D13K500 Euro 6 (Step C) engine, with 2500 Nm available, was a lovely drive at top weight. The 12-speed I-Shift is still there too, so we had to look elsewhere for the weight loss.

The front springs are monoleaf, as opposed to twin leaves on the standard FH. Alloy air tanks, an alloy susie arch, and other smaller parts all help. The rear bogie has been completely reworked. A lightweight pusher axle with 19.5 inch wheels sits in front of a lightweight drive axle that is a hollow tube and not a solid design.The RSS1144A is a solo axle with hypoid single reduction, designed for an engine torque of up to 2800 Nm.

The usual application for this axle installation is a 4×2 tractor, but it is also works well for this 6×2 light weight pusher tractor. In a single reduction rear axle, rotational speed is reduced in one single step in the final drive, which makes great demands on the components. This axle is a hypoid design, which means the pinion’s centre-line is offset in relation to the centre of the crown wheel. It’s a trick that makes it possible for more teeth to mesh simultaneously, giving a stronger, quieter and more reliable axle.

Wheelbase has been cut by only 100 mm, and a variety of bracket work around the bogie is also lightweight. The cumulative savings are substantial, but Volvo is flexible – and one customer who liked the idea, but still wanted the XL cab, got just that. He’s running 30 of them, and felt he’d take all the weight savings in the chassis, but stick with the bigger cab.    

Verdict

A standard haulage FH 6×2 tractor, complete with Globetrotter cab, will tip the scales at around 8684 kg. You’ll need to add an allowance for a tipping wet kit, but that’s not a bad figure. The FH ‘Lite’ comes in at 7867 kg – and that’s a massive 817 kg of extra payload that you’ll be paid for on every trip, every day. Take a typical day of yours and see how it adds up.

Chassis price is said to be ‘cost neutral’, and among tipper operators with an eye to payload, it should command a good residual value too, with a ready market for good used examples. Volvo seems to be continuing the tradition established at Irvine all those years ago by being flexible on design for specific customer operations.

We liked the truck – the axle layout and monoleaf spring set-up handles perfectly well. We can see it turning a good profit for operators in this sector.

More information: https://www.volvotrucks.co.uk