Trucks are essential commercial vehicles and you might expect truck buyers to purchase them based entirely on rational factors such as fuel consumption, payload, service costs, etc. Well, think again. Truck design is more important that you may imagine. So at Volvo's design studio, around 60 people work with product design for different Volvo companies - Volvo Trucks, Volvo Buses, Volvo Construction Equipment and Volvo Penta.
Patrik Palovaara specializes in truck design. His latest creation is Volvo Trucks' new construction truck, the Volvo FMX. "It's true that truck design is largely about rational factors like aerodynamics and ergonomics," he said. "But there's also an emotional dimension. The truck's appearance is linked to both its function and its identity and, by extension, to its brand."
The Volvo FMX is an excellent example of this. Palovaara and his team based the truck's design on its predecessor, the Volvo FM, but accentuated its robust, rugged characteristics by introducing external changes that clearly express certain qualities. New functionality was also added in several key areas, including a completely new central towing device on the front with a stronger fastening point. This resulted in a new front with a powerful lower section that clearly distinguishes the Volvo FMX from its predecessor.
A truck designer's first challenge in a new project is to interpret the client's requirements and preferences as well as the results of user studies. The designer may then draw inspiration from countless sources, such as film, fashion or extreme sports. During this phase, countless sketches are produced. "When making strategic sketches, I often work with three themes," said Palovaara. "An extreme visionary theme, a basic theme and a theme that falls somewhere in between the two."
After the initial sketching, the team chooses a design theme to develop further. Now they start producing CAD models to verify factors such as ergonomics, aerodynamics and functionality for the new truck. "Air resistance is of strategic importance because it is critical to fuel consumption," explained Palovaara. The team includes surface modelers and studio engineers who are responsible for reviewing the process with Volvo Trucks' production technicians and ergonomics, aerodynamics and technical design experts. A team of clay modelers at the design studio build a full-scale model of the new truck that allows everyone involved to follow the changes made with the CAD model. "Many people only fully realize what the new truck will look like when they see the fullscale model," said Palovaara. "The model provides a reference point for everybody, from Volvo's CEO to tool makers and subcontractors. And many people have their say before the shape, color and surface of the design are finalized.
Needless to say, designers who work for a leading truck manufacturer must always remain at the forefront of development. They keep abreast by reading the industrial press and attending trade fairs, but it takes more than this to know how trucks will develop by the year 2020. "Trends in truck design are driven by technical development," explained Palovaara. "New fuels, new materials and logistics solutions influence the commercial vehicles of the future. He should know. In the design studio, concealed behind curtains, are models of future Volvo trucks that few people have seen - yet...