Kenworth v Volvo: Checking out the FH16

By: Matt Wood

Matt Wood stops by Volvo’s Queensland factory to see how the construction of his customised FH16 Globetrotter is going.

Kenworth v Volvo: Checking out the FH16
Volvo's flagship truck will be decked out with state-of-the-art technology for its duel with the Kenworth K200.


With a pall hanging over manufacturing in Australia and uncertainty tainting our economic outlook, it’s refreshing to talk about building things here in a positive sense.

We recently headed to Volvo’s Wacol facility near Brisbane to watch our ‘culture clash’ FH16 Globetrotter take shape on the assembly line.

Hot on the heels of our custom spec K200 rolling off the Kenworth line in Bayswater, the Volvo FH16 represents an almost polar opposite to the KW in terms of engineering philosophy.

Once it has a few kilometres under its belt, our project FH16 will go head to head with Australia’s biggest selling heavy duty truck the Kenworth K200 in February in a week long linehaul shoot out.

Both trucks will be towing identical B-double sets at 60 tonnes gross.

We want to know which will be the most comfortable to live in and drive, as well as monitoring fuel efficiency and performance.

Will the keep- it-simple approach of Kenworth come out on top? Or will the state-of-the-art new FH show the way of the future?

To emphasise the differing approaches of both manufacturers, we’ve also loaded the big Volvo flagship up with cutting edge tech features.

These include I-See, a GPS terrain mapping system that can store route data and optimise the driveline accordingly, and I-Roll, a freewheeling function that lets the truck coast in undulating country and save fuel.

Volvo dynamic steering (VDS) is also included to give an electronically-assisted power steering system that takes the effort out of spinning the wheel as well as reducing shock through the wheel on rough surfaces.

There’s also the usual suite of safety features, including adaptive cruise, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning and lane change support. In short there’s not really much excuse for crashing it.

Underneath the skin our Aussie-built Swede gets Volvo’s D16G engine with 600hp underfoot and 2065lb/ft of torque.

And of course changing the gears is an I-shift 12-speed automated transmission.

Both the ‘Woody Wagon’ K200 and the FH16 are cranking out equivalent horsepower, but the FH has a marginal torque advantage with peak torque from 1000 to 1500rpm.  

Volvo’s Wacol factory has a history stretching back to 1972 and today it employs nearly 500 people. Since 2002 both Volvo and Mack trucks have been assembled at the site with the build rate currently standing at 14 trucks per day.

Truck assembly follows the familiar pattern of chassis rails, chassis paint, suspension, plumbing and driveline before the cab comes onto the line and the two parts are married up.

Some components such as cabs are brought in from overseas, most of which come out of Volvo’s Thailand manufacturing centre.

That said, Aussie Volvos still maintain 35 per cent local content.

This wasn’t my first visit to the Wacol factory, but it was my first since the local launch of the new FH.

The arrival of the new truck on Aussie shores meant that the assembly line required a revamp and the roof of the factory had to be raised to allow for the added height of the new cab.

On stepping out onto the shop floor the difference is obvious. The factory is much lighter and brighter and has lost the dark industrial feel of the past.

My FH chassis and driveline sat awaiting its crowning glory when I arrived on the scene.

For all of their technological differences, the bare bones of both of the trucks in this project are remarkably similar when exposed to the light of day.

The old school vertical exhaust stack on our FH was a concession to tradition where most are going for the ground level set up.

Like an expectant father I watched as the Globetrotter cab was manoeuvred into place above the chassis and gently lowered into position.

In the space of minutes what had looked like bolted together components now had a face and an identity.

In stark contrast to our Kenworth, the FH is plain white with just a few shiny highlights courtesy of being the flagship model.

Both trucks not only differentiate themselves in the flesh, but also potentially point to differing customer expectations, which, from our perspective, makes the whole exercise that little bit more interesting.

Much like the Bayswater factory down south, the Wacol plant has a remarkably positive vibe.

There seemed a dearth of long faces out on the factory floor. I got a similar sense of pride from the Volvo workforce that I’d taken away from the Kenworth factory in Victoria.

Higher up the tree there’s been a big change in how Volvo Trucks views the world.

The entire globe is now one big sales area for Volvo rather than being carved up into different sales regions.

Volvo Australia vice president of sales Mitch Peden was on hand to talk about the plant in its role in the bigger picture.

"We do undertake a lot of testing here," he says.

But Peden was also keen to emphasise Volvo’s ability to tailor trucks to local conditions.

"We see a level of about 85 per cent of customisation for the Volvo product locally. But on the Mack side of things that goes up to 95 per cent," he says.

"We are writing specifics around individual trucks."

The FH16 is now off to have its accessories fitted before clocking up some kilometres between now and February.

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