When I-Shift became the first-ever, automated transmission system for heavy duty trucks in 2001, it was met with widespread scepticism within the industry. It was believed by some that the automated gearbox would offer a less reliable alternative to its manual counterpart.
Volvo Trucks remained firm in its belief in a transmission system designed for automatic gear-changing and this persistence paid off: customer testing and experiences soon revealed I-Shift’s many invaluable benefits, not least its ability to lower fuel consumption, improve safety and relieve driver fatigue.
It was a bold move, but it worked. A major game changer soon became a major success.
“It was a bold move, but it worked. A major game changer soon became a major success,” says Pär Bergstrand, heavy duty transmission manager at Volvo Trucks.
Today, all Volvo FH and FM trucks are fitted with I-Shift as standard and, by the end of 2020, Volvo Trucks had sold more than one million I-Shifts around the world. There is little doubt that it continues to set the global standard for heavy duty automated transmissions.
Since its launch, I-Shift has been further developed and improved to meet the demands of an increasingly wide range of transport applications. When Volvo Trucks unveiled its I-Shift with Dual Clutch in 2014, it was another world-first – a heavy duty dual clutch that offered instant and seamless delivery with no loss in power during gear changes. Effectively, it enabled the truck to maintain a steadier and higher average speed.
“I-Shift took a big step forward when we developed the Dual Clutch. Driving in environments that require many gear changes suddenly became much more comfortable and efficient, and overall driveability was greatly improved,” says Niklas Öberg, feature leader driveline at Volvo Trucks.
The innovative advances did not stop there. In addition to continual software enhancements came another significant step in the I-Shift journey. This time it was in response to customer feedback, addressing heavy duty assignments that require extra torque and startability.
I-Shift with Crawler Gears was introduced in 2016 and allows a truck transporting a load of up to 325 tonnes to start from standstill on a level road (it has even managed 750 tonnes as part of a record-breaking challenge featuring Swedish strongman Magnus Samuelsson).
The gear ratio enables the truck to truly crawl – at speeds as low as 0.5 km an hour – which is hugely beneficial when performing precision manoeuvres, for example on construction sites or when hauling timber. The extra start gears also require less revs, which lowers fuel consumption and environmental impact, as well as reducing wear and tear on the driveline.
Most recently, the launch of Volvo Trucks’ new heavy duty range in 2020 saw the introduction of another unique improvement: I-Shift’s new Change Direction function (available in AVO-ENH), which enables the truck to change direction without the driver using the brake pedal.
Niklas Öberg explains: “By selecting reverse and then accelerating, the truck will automatically stop itself and change direction. It means you can shift gear on the fly, and it even works at full throttle as you can use the accelerator to choose how fast you stop.”
The new function is particularly well-suited to construction and mining operations where it’s more productive to perform repetitive manoeuvres back and forth at relatively high speed.
“The idea actually came from Volvo Construction Equipment and their customers love it. It’s a smooth, robust function and I-Shift is the only truck transmission to feature it,” says Pär Bergstrand.
This exchange of knowledge and customer feedback across the Volvo Group is invaluable, particularly when developing new ideas to improve existing technology, such as I-Shift.
It is clear that the passion and perseverance of the people behind I-Shift have driven it forward to become the success story that it is today. But Pär Bergstrand is also keen to highlight that when it comes to fuel efficiency, I-See – in conjunction with I-Shift – plays an important role.
By analysing cloud-based map data on the topography of the road ahead, it is I-See that can tell I-Shift what to do to save fuel.
“By analysing cloud-based map data on the topography of the road ahead, it is I-See that can tell I-Shift what to do to save fuel,” he says.
I-See is in fact a unique combination of both I-Shift and predictive cruise control. Put simply, I-See tells I-Shift when it’s the optimum time to change gear while travelling up or downhill in order to save energy and, in turn, fuel.
Recent software upgrades also now allow I-See to gather data when the cruise control is disengaged, and the driver is in control. Moreover, in the new heavy duty trucks launched in 2020, I-See engagement has been lowered to a minimum speed of 40 km/h to further improve the usage of cruise control and maximise long-haul fuel efficiency.
Undoubtedly, the main benefit is that I-Shift can use I-See’s knowledge to save on fuel, and it works best when cruise control is engaged. The combination of both technologies also helps the truck to maintain a consistent average speed.
“It’s all about driving the truck in the best way possible to maximise the performance of the engine. A combination of a constant average speed, low fuel consumption and driver comfort, and you’ve found the sweet spot,” says Niklas Öberg.
The drive to save fuel and reduce environmental impact has also seen the development of the Volvo FH with I-Save, Volvo Trucks’ most fuel-efficient long-haul truck to date. Key to I-Save’s success is the D13TC engine with Turbo Compound technology, which re-uses heat and energy to provide a powerful, yet extremely fuel-efficient engine. Both I-Shift and I-See are an integral part of the I-Save package, and the trio of technologies work together to maximise fuel savings.
So what is the secret of I-Shift’s success 20 years on from its launch? When posed the question, Niklas Öberg says he believes it is a combination of factors.
I-Shift’s success lies in its ability to work in perfect harmony with I-See and the entire powertrain.
“I-Shift’s success lies in its ability to work in perfect harmony with I-See and the entire powertrain. Over the years it has also been continuously improved to meet customer demand, not only for high performance and efficiency, but also for optimum driveability.”
Pär Bergstrand adds: “Because it has been developed in-house, I-Shift is fully synchronised with the rest of the truck. This is what sets it apart and makes it so versatile. It’s the result of 20 years of hard work, invaluable customer field testing and feedback, and Volvo Trucks’ access to technological advances across the entire Volvo Group.”
Looking ahead, it’s inevitable that I-Shift will be adapted for Volvo Trucks’ electric battery vehicles and will continue to be improved for its diesel trucks. As an automated technology, it will also have the ability to contribute to fully autonomous transport solutions, such as the commercial operation at Brønnøy Kalk AS in Norway. As well as the many reasons for its success, it’s I-Shift’s versatility and the innovative team behind it that will ensure it continues to progress to meet the future challenges of the transport industry.
Human – great driveability
Business – versatile and efficient
Technical – some innovative highlights
I-Shift functions are optimised with specially adapted software packages that make it even more practical and economical for a range of transport conditions. Four main packages are available:
Long Haul (DRM-BE & AVO-BAS)
Standard package supplied with the truck. Includes basic functions for all-round driving.
Distribution & Construction (DRM-BE & AVO-ENH)
Package that offers better startability and manoeuvrability, and the new Change Direction function to increase productivity when performing repetitive manoeuvres.
Heavy Duty Transport (DRM-BE & AVO-HD)
Optimises I-Shift for high gross combination weights (85+ ton GCW). The heavy duty mode can be activated and deactivated by the driver. Beneficial for trucks hauling multiple trailers.
Fleet Specification (DRM-E)
A simplified package fine-tuned for fleet operators.
All four packages can be combined with I-See for further fuel optimisation. Additional software is available for the I-Shift as well as the dashboard gear selector to further tailor the truck to customer’s requirements.
Crawler gears is a hardware option for the basic I-Shift. One or two forward crawler gears, and more reverse gears can be added (Multi Speed Reverse). All software packages can be combined with crawler gears.
For further information, please contact your local dealer.