Volvo FM Tractor Units

Volvo's FM all-rounder and a lighter alternative when specified with I-Shift, ally wheels and 11-liter motor.

Volvo's FM range of trucks was introduced in 1998 as an alternative to the FH - a truck with the cab set high up on the chassis. It was aimed at the distribution, construction, on/off highway sectors which generally require lower entry cabs, particularly on multi-drop distribution work. Some drivers are happy to have full-height long-distance cabs on distribution work (we've featured operators whose drivers have actually asked their bosses for tall-cab trucks, such as Renault Magnus, Mercedes-Benz Actros, Iveco Stralis, MAN TGAs, Scania R-series, DAF XFs and Volvo FHs, despite the fact they are in and out of the cab numerous times a day). Initially, FMs were badged with the engine designation.

So, for example, engines were 7-, 10- and 12-litre, so FMs were badged FM7, FM10 and FM12 respectively (this was later dropped, the trucks showing just the "FM" model badge). Cabs were day, sleeper and Globetrotter. The FM has evolved since it initially came onto the scene. Rather than the basic cabs first seen with this model, they now cater for more discerning drivers and operators. The driver shortage may have been responsible to some extent for the increase in luxury seen even at the more basic end of the truck market. It certainly opened up the job market and increased driver power. Operators wishing to hang onto good, experienced drivers needed to offer some incentive in some instances to keep them from being poached by rival companies. Among those incentives, which in some cases included employee share schemes, pensions and better wage agreements, were better specced vehicles, often with more luxurious cabs than would normally be on offer.

The manufacturers picked up on this and upped the ante, producing interiors with higher quality upholstery materials, adding driver aids, such as servo assistance on basic manual transmissions. Look inside many tipper truck cabs and you'll notice even here there are higher levels of comfort and luxury. They still have easy-clean interior surfaces, but the appearance and build quality are far better than they may have been in earlier trucks.Volvo FM Globetrotter

Productivity demands

The extra luxury has in recent years become more of a necessity. Drivers on long-haul or tramping work, particularly those working within the UK, need a decent workplace and overnight accommodation, as the amount - and availability - of decent truck stops have decreased. High running costs and productivity demands mean more drivers are parking up in lay-bys and other areas away from proper facilities. So they need to carry more gear to be self-sufficient and this means bigger cabs with more living/storage area are a must.

Volvo's Globetrotter cab has been synonymous with long-haul operators since it was introduced in 1979. The concept was for a cab with enough space and sleeping accommodation to cater for a two-man crew. Solo drivers with a Globetrotter cab benefited from the extra space and storage area they had, and could stow enough gear for ultra long-haul runs. Cab variants since the initial model have been the XL Globetrotter, with extra height, the XXL Globetrotter, which offers the extra height of the XL cab and an extra 245 mm depth, and the LXL Globetrotter, a low-set cab with all the benefits of the Globetrotter concept, but sitting on a low-ride chassis it offers lower overall height, bags of space and comfort and easy entry/exit for drivers.

The I-Shift transmission has also evolved. The Swedish truck manufacturer has addressed early criticisms, including low-speed and manoeuvring control.

Early 7-, 10- and 12-litre engines have been replaced with ultra clean Euro 5 and EEV (extra environmentally-friendly vehicle) versions in the latest trucks. The D11C is available in 330 bhp, 370 bhp, 410 bhp and 450 bhp, while a D13C motor comes in 380 bhp, 420 bhp, 460 bhp and 500 bhp.

Volvo has also produced a version of FM squarely aimed at the bulk goods operator who needs maximum payload from his trucks, such as tippers, tankers or blowers. Powered by the lighter (than the 13-litre, and more powerful than the nine-litre) D11C motor mated to a 12-speed I-Shift gearbox and with ally wheels, you can shave off well over 200 kg of weight.

Of course, Volvo has, like most of the other Big Seven truck manufacturers, adopted the modular build policy, which sees components and design shared across different series from the same stable (others, such as Isuzu, have also adopted this policy). Sitting behind the wheel of an FM, there is little difference between this and the FH. Dash is angled ergonomically to set the Controls and switches within easy reach (same as FH), the seating, door tops and handles, steering wheel, screen, windows and storage all mimic FH, and the quality is the same. Perhaps the biggest difference between the FH with the Globetrotter cab and the FM with the LXL Globetrotter cab is the sizeable engine hump in the latter - the trade-off with the low positioning of the cab. But the driver still gets more than adequate amounts of everything in terms of interior space, storage and the rest.

On the road

Sweden is a big country with a relatively small population when compared with the UK. Consequently the roads are freer and traffic generally flows more smoothly. Truck drivers can get around the country with far more ease than those in the UK. The Swedes are all for efficiency (that's why they have 60-tonners opera ring there), and have an ongoing development of their road system to ensure the safe and efficient movement of vehicles around the country. So long stretches of A-road have alternate three lane sections - separated by barriers - that allow care (and faster-moving trucks) to overtake slower traffic. Drivers unable to overtake before their section of dual carriageway ends and a dual carriageway for the oncoming traffic starts don't get frustrated, as they know another section will open up for them soon.

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We recently drove three trucks (but two versions of the FM), two Euro 5 EEV 410 models and an FM-450. All were fitted with 12-speed I-Shift automated transmissions. One of the 410s we tried on a route around Volvo Trucks' UK base at Warwick, the other, on the roads of Sweden. The 450 version (also driven in Sweden) was a 6x2 tractor with tag axle and shared the same XLX cab as the UK-spec 410, while the other 410 had the 'standard' Globetrotter cab.

The UK 410 bhp Volvo was coupled to a standard tri-axle reefer trailer, as was its Sweden spec counterpart, while the 450 version in Sweden was pulling a tri-axle tanker. There is little discernable difference between the trucks from the outside, and that's also true from the inside as well. But that's due to the modular build practice.

Drivers of these vehicles are treated to the high levels of comfort you'd expect from a premier truck manufacturer.

Interior fit and finish is of the highest quality, seating and driving position are superb, the dash and instrumentation layout is near perfect and the I-Shift lever is welcomed, in a world where we are moving away from these in favour of dash- and steering column-mounted switchgear.

Clearly the 450 would be better suited to the UICs 44-tonne weight limit, particularly for operators running at or near the maximum weight for most of the time, while the two 4x2s at 410 bhp are well-suited to running at the European 40 tonnes gvw limit. Brakes and handling in all the trucks was faultless. You feel confident with the service brakes, supplemented by the renowned Volvo Engine Brake (VEB).

Interestingly, we've said numerous times about the blind spots caused by the mirror blocks on Volvos. The Swedish truck manufacturer has eased this to a certain extern by separating the top and bottom mirrors, leaving a gap that allows a limited amount of visibility for the driver to see through. That is the case on these trucks.

But we've noticed more operators, particularly those whose trucks spend some of their time negotiating narrow roads and country lanes are spending out on mirror protector shields that cover the mirror block completely. So some drivers are living with the problem of major blind spots anyway, despite what the manufacturers are trying to do to reduce them. Incidentally, some drivers have switched the positioning of the mirrors (put the lower one in the upper position and vice versa) and found that helps open up the blind spot area.

Progress on the Swedish roads was far better than in the UK for the reasons given above. But UK drivers behind the wheel of a Globetrotter-cabbed FM would still have plenty to smile about!


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