Photo and Video By Tudor Van Hampton for ENR
Volvo showcased a prototype hybrid wheel loader at CONEXPO in 2008.

After a presentation to journalists on improving fuel efficiency in wheel loaders, Gunnar Stein, Volvo Construction Equipment's global director of driveline systems, offered a sobering assessment of progress in the company's hybrid-wheel-loader program, saying, "All technology comes with a cost tag, and the hybrids are not there yet."

Stein was speaking to trade press at the Volvo Innovation Forum at the company's customer center in Eskilstuna, Sweden, on Aug. 27. His position represents a shift for Volvo, which wowed crowds at CONEXPO 2008 with the L220F, a prototype electric-hybrid wheel loader. That machine turned heads, but Stein says Volvo has moved on. "We have investigated that concept quite in depth. … The L220F suffered from not giving a return on investment, from a customer perspective."

The next big development for Volvo's wheel loaders is use of continuous-variable transmission technology. This stepless transmission operates without a torque convertor, and Volvo estimates this will improve fuel efficiency by a hybrid-like 25%. Already used in the agricultural-equipment sector, Volvo sees CVT as the next logical step in improving fuel efficiency without a huge rise in price.

Reluctance to bring a hybrid wheel loader to construction is not limited to Volvo. So far, only John Deere Construction & Forestry has brought a hybrid wheel loader into production (ENR 7/8 p. 24). The primary issue is cost, and Volvo is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Some factors we at Volvo cannot influence, like fuel price. We are positioning ourselves so that we are quick to market if the equation changes," says Stein.