It might surprise a few people in the Midlands to know that that most Swedish of brands, Volvo, has enjoyed an intimate and very strong connection with the region for over thirty years. That connection is via Volvo Trucks, who, as part of Volvo Group UK, has its Headquarters in Warwick.
The Volvo Headquarters at Warwick, which opened in the mid-eighties, were further expanded in 2002 when Sir Digby Jones, the then Director-General of the CBI, officially opened a £6m three-storey extension to cater for IT and training facilities. The Midlands connection also extends to the distribution and maintenance network for Volvo trucks, buses and coaches, with one of Volvo Trucks largest dealer groups, Hartshorne Motor Services Ltd, part of the Crossroads Group, who have four major dealerships and workshops located in the region. From its long held position as one of the top suppliers to the UK road transport industry, it made sense for Volvo Trucks to locate its Head Office at the heart of the country, with its excellent road, rail and air links to the rest of the UK and beyond.
Via its Warwick Head Office, Volvo Trucks, which will celebrate fifty years of trading in the UK next year, is an important direct employer in the Midlands. In addition, the company indirectly employs many more people via its dealerships and strategic network of UK based suppliers. Throughout its eighty-eight year history - the firm was originally founded in Gothenburg in 1928 - Volvo Trucks has remained true to its three core values. These principles are key to its success and recognition throughout the world. They are: Quality, Safety and Care for the Environment. Not only are these core values sacrosanct, to the point of being embedded in its DNA, their positive influence is rooted in the very psyche of the company, its products and its services. What is more, Volvo Trucks’ customers will tell you that they are foremost among the reasons that Volvo is such a trusted brand today.
As a company headquartered in the Midlands and with a significant investment by its privately owned dealer network here, the rebirth and ongoing regeneration of The City of Birmingham and its environs is of major interest to Volvo Trucks in the UK and to its sister company Volvo Construction Equipment, who have a long-established Customer Support facility in Minworth, Sutton Coldfield. In fact, Volvo is one of the few companies which can manufacture and supply not just trucks, but also the latest, low emission, high quality earthmoving machines to both private and publicly owned contractors looking for best value in a turn-key approach to the construction of infrastructure projects – from roads to pedestrian and cycle friendly zones or new architectural / cultural landmarks and retail centres such as have marked the regeneration of the centre of The City of Birmingham.
Helping road transport operators, construction companies and local authorities create and maintain a safe, clean, pollution-free urban environment is very much on the radar for Volvo Trucks and Volvo Construction Equipment. Together, Volvo Trucks and Volvo Construction Equipment are proud to be co-sponsors of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Urbanisation Forum, which takes place in Birmingham in October. Volvo’s worldview is that, as a manufacturer and provider of transport solutions, the company not only responds to the needs of its customers for cost effective, efficient transport of goods, but also to changes in society, by pro-actively developing products and services that will reduce emissions and enhance road safety for all users.
Chamber Members will of course recognise the vital part that commercial vehicles play in keeping the supply chain moving. Indeed, the fleets of trucks delivering thousands of tonnes of raw materials to manufacturers and finished goods to distribution centres throughout the Midlands are often referred to as ‘rolling warehouses’ by professionals in the logistics industry. Perhaps not so visible, but playing just as vital a part in maintaining the wellbeing of the urban environment are the legions of Volvo trucks employed by local authorities and private companies in waste management and recycling. I’m thinking of trade waste collection in particular. Thanks to the manufacturer’s reputation and focus on caring for the environment and use of the latest, low emission Euro-6 Step-C engines, Volvo trucks continue to be a popular choice for operators of vehicles involved in the removal of waste from urban and suburban areas. With the new FL 4x4 truck, Volvo now have a quality solution for use by utilities maintaining the power transmission lines, gas and water pipes that bring services to businesses and homes in the urban areas of the Midlands. Of course, Volvo Trucks are also a major supplier to the Fire and Rescue Services who serve the communities around the UK.
In Europe, the introduction of Euro-6 technology, has resulted in emissions from Volvo trucks today being 100 times lower than they were just twenty years ago. In that context, the Euro-6 emission standard for trucks presents the most effective contribution so far by road transport, to air quality in urban areas.
For transport operators concerned about air quality, or being required by their customers to measure, justify or reduce the environmental impact of their fleets, a move to Euro- 6 compliant vehicles represents the simplest and most cost effective route to demonstrating a clear reduction in emissions and consequent contribution to improving urban air quality. Good news for everyone living and working in cities like The City of Birmingham. Other ways of further reducing both engine and non-engine emissions (such as noise) in the urban environment continue to be worked on by the Volvo Group. Alternative fuels are part of that strategy. For example, hybrid engine technology can be used to achieve lower noise as well as fuel consumption and emissions in cities. Hybrids result in lower fuel use, as Volvo has found with more than 1,000 hybrid buses now running in Britain’s cities.
However, up until now, the take up of hybrid trucks has been so small, that the continual development needed to keep abreast of all the regulations is not economically viable. Purely on fuel saved, for low annual mileage vehicles such as those working in urban areas, they are not currently economically viable for freight operators either. They can and do achieve many air quality and environmental goals, so this technology could well be part of future trucks making deliveries in urban areas.
Despite the ongoing investment that Volvo Trucks continues to make in research and development, to find an alternative, it is fair to say that, at the moment there is no single, cost effective, environmentally sustainable solution to replace diesel as a fuel for trucks. Gas, bio-fuels, and electric, do not appear to be able to solve the problem on their own. Fortunately diesel engine technology is not limited to diesel oil as a fuel.
Methane-Diesel is already an option from Volvo. This gives in the region of a 10-15% reduction in tailpipe CO2 emissions, with high diesel substitution rates contributing to urban air quality improvement. Several major fleets, such as DHL and Asda are already operating significant numbers of Volvo tractor units powered by Methane- Diesel. Currently liquefied methane gas is available in reasonable quantities from gas fields around the world, and with current government incentives in the UK, it makes the vehicles and fuel financially viable when used as part of a 3-4 year long haul operation.
In 1972, the then Volvo CEO, Per Gyllenhammar stated: “We are part of the problem, but we are also part of the solution.” He was the first CEO of a global multinational and a vehicle manufacturer to make this connection and make this statement openly. Since then, Volvo has become a leader in the construction and infrastructure industry, as well as road freight and public transport, in facilitating the move towards carbon neutrality. Back in 1972, Volvo was the first vehicle manufacturer to be invited to become a member and partner in the World Wildlife Fund global initiative with business to defend the world against the effects of climate change. Such is the importance of our core value of care for the environment, operators and drivers of Volvo vehicles and machines now have at their disposal, a unique and user friendly suite of proactive, telematics based tools such as ‘Caretrack’ from Volvo Construction Equipment and ‘Dynafleet’ from Volvo Trucks, to help reduce the environmental footprint of their businesses. These solutions come under the banner of ‘Uptime Solutions’ and are designed to aid vehicle and machine utilisation, emission reduction and reduce unplanned downtime. Key factors to ensure the efficiency and reduction in emissions from vehicles and machines employed on urban regeneration construction projects such as those in Birmingham and its environs.
In summary, we can report that Volvo Group UK are very much looking forward to playing a growing and central part to facilitate the ongoing regeneration of The City of Birmingham and the further development of the region as a ‘Golden Triangle’ for jobs associated with manufacturing, distribution and logistics.
On 13 October, the SCC is hosting its annual Urbanisation Forum, "The Connected City - Next Stop Birmingham", at Gowling WLG in Birmingham. Click here to find out more about the event.