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The need to reduce consumption and emissions has not halted the race to make increasingly powerful trucks. But it’s not just a matter of passion: sometimes it pays to buy a super-powerful vehicle, even in Italy. Here’s why

Fabio Quinto

WITH THE EVOLUTION of heavy vehicles we are currently seeing three different trends: on the one side, there’s Euro 6, with manufacturers engaged in presenting new solutions and new models that we should begin to see on our roads this year. On the other side, there are fuel efficient vehicles, the Euro 5 trucks with special systems that reduce consumption to levels that seemed possible only with the Euro 6 - until now. Examples are the Iveco Eco Stralis, the Renault Premium Optifuel and the Man TGX Efficient Line. But there is also a third trend: the super-powerful. A solution that seems to do battle with the increasingly pressing need, of Italian road hauliers in particular, to contain costs and diesel consumption,  .
An example? The 750 HP Volvo FH-16,  the most powerful truck on the road, which is only slightly ahead of the other “goliaths” like the Scania R730 (730 HP), the 700 HP FH-16 and the Man TGX 18.680 (680 HP). But being powerful is not just a question of manufacturer prestige or the impassioned choice of road hauliers. Sometimes it pays. Well aware of this are the Scandinavians, who want high levels of performance for pulling vehicles up to 25 metres in length  (the maximum permitted by the Italian Highway Code is 16.5 metres for semi-trailers and 18.75 for articulated trucks), with a total gross combination weight of 60 tons (compared to 44 tons in Italy and 40 in many other European countries). But many Italians are also well aware of this because extra power can be useful for maintaining high speeds on the steepest of our Alpine and Apennine passes. In any case, we are talking about speeds that are always below the 80 km/h permitted on motorways and the 90 km/h enforced by the limiters mounted on all heavy vehicles, and about consumption that is not much higher than that of “normal” vehicles. For example, let’s take “his majesty” the Volvo 750 HP FH16. Its D16 EEV engine (6 in-line cylinders, 16 litre displacement) reaches maximum torque of 3550 Nm already at 1050 rpm. On a mixed up-down-flat route, consumption is around 3.7 km/litre against about 4-4.5 km/litre for a fuel efficient Euro 5. But it is considerably faster and always around the 80 km/h threshold, if not more, while maintaining the tolerance margins envisaged by the Highway Code. With its wealth of up and down roads and lack of infrastructures, it is logical that in Italy the super-powerful are extremely tempting to say the least! This is demonstrated by an official video distributed by Volvo Trucks in 2010: one of the first customers to buy a 700 HP FH16 (at the time the most powerful truck on the road) was neither a Swedish Johansson nor a Norwegian Hansen, but a Filippo Vassallo, who transports temperature-controlled goods from Sicily to the rest of Italy.
In Italy, super-powerful trucks have always been successful and the horse-power challenge among manufacturers has left its mark on the history of our road transport. At the end of the Seventies, for example, the Scania 141, with its monstrous – at the time – 375 HP, was a sensation.  In 1979 came the Bedford (General Motors group) TM4400 with its 440 HP, thanks to a V8 made by Detroit Diesel in the USA. In 1983 Scania took back the crown with its 420 HP 142, but was soon joined by Iveco’s Turbostar 190.42. The Germans arrived in 1986-87:  Mercedes 1944 was a 435 HP, a record that was swiftly broken by the 460 HP of the Man 19.462. In 1988 the Swedes returned with the 470 HP Scania 143. But this new record did not last long because Mercedes responded with the 480 HP SK series. The same power as the legendary Iveco 190.48, the Italian V8 that has always been the most popular and is still on Italy’s roads after almost 25 years of honourable service. Once again the record was soon vanquished. In 1989 it was broken by Volvo and its 485 HP F16. But then something surprising happened. Renault launched the AE, a vehicle with a revolutionary design and predecessor of the Magnum that is still in the list of Renault Trucks. Apart from the design, the French also wanted to make a big bang with power by shattering the psychological barrier of the 500 HP and offering a 503 HP version. Swedes, Germans, Italians, French, Americans: the super-powerful challenge is the stuff of countries with engines in their blood. At the start of the Nineties, however, it was Renault that again established new records. After being joined by Man, Scania and Mercedes, in 1992 the French launched a 530 HP AE. Joined once more by Mercedes and Scania in 1995-96, the French  dug in their heels and came up with the 560 HP AE. But it was to be the swansong of a historical model. In fact the French  – like the Italians and Americans – abandoned the super-powerful race and from then on the road was left open for the Germans and Swedes.  In 1996 came the Man F200 with 600 HP. It held the record for seven years until the launch, in 2003, of the 611 HP Volvo FH16. In 2005 Scania responded with the 620 HP R Series; but the Swedish derby continued with the 660 HP Volvo FH in 2006. The Germans weren’t able to get a foot in the door until 2007 and the 680 HP Man TGX.  In 2009 the record was broken by the 700 HP Volvo FH16 700. Scania attempted to respond in 2010 with the new R Series that had a maximum of 730 HP.  But the record was short-lived. In 2011 the Volvo FH16 arrived with its monstrous 750 HP.  Expensive diesel,  Euro 6 and attention to consumption and emissions don’t seem to have stopped the race: what’s the betting that the 800 Horse Power threshold is not so very far away!

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