Just when you thought “going green” had become a pretty boring topic, Volvo’s “Mean Green” hybrid truck comes along and makes the issue interesting again. Last year, Swedish truck racing legend Boije Ovebrink piloted “Mean Green” into the speed record books as the world’s fastest hybrid truck. The highly-customized Volvo VN, powered by a diesel-electric hybrid power plant, hit a top speed of 167 mph (270 km/h) and set the first-ever speed records for a hybrid truck. 10-4 Magazine’s European Correspondent Fabien Calvet was lucky enough to test drive the innovative truck at the Le Mans racetrack in France – and lived to tell us about it!
The “Mean Green” project started back in 2009. Truck racing ace Boije Ovebrink, along with Volvo Engineer Olof Johansson and a team of others, started building the truck from two half frames that had been earmarked for the scrap yard and an American VN cab from a crash-tested chassis. Weight reduction was their first priority. In addition to several obvious weight-saving measures, the front axle was hollowed out by experts at the Volvo engine factory and every unnecessary wire was removed from the wiring harness. The driver, Boije Ovebrink, was even ordered to lose some weight! Designer Jonas Sandstrom at Volvo put in many hours on his computer with his CAD program to come up with the optimal shape of the truck. But the real beauty behind this beast is the powertrain.
The truck is powered by a modified Volvo D16 diesel engine equipped with twin turbos and water-cooled intercoolers from Volvo Penta. This massive powerplant delivers 1,900 horsepower. A modified version of Volvo’s automated I-Shift gearbox was installed so that the transmission could interact with the component that makes “Mean Green” a true hybrid – its electric motor. The electric motor from Koll-Morgen adds 200 additional horses, making the total 2,100 hp! Both of the engines were mounted behind the cab for optimal weight distribution. The electric motor offers lightning-quick response off the line for the first few seconds, and then the diesel engine kicks in and delivers the knock-out punch of explosive power and speed.
On June 28, 2011, driver Boije Ovebrink set three new world records in “Mean Green” at Hultsfred Airport in Sweden. The first was the standing 500 meters, which was recorded at 115.3 km/h (71.6 mph); the second, the standing 1000 meters, measured an average speed of 152.2 km/h (94.5 mph); and the third was the flying kilometer, with an average speed of 218.7 km/h (135.8 mph) being recorded. These numbers were all precisely collected and calculated using strict standards from the FIA, an international motorsports organization that oversees and controls how these records are attained. The truck’s top speed came in at 270 km/h (167 mph). These records were later certified by the FIA at their annual World Council meeting in December.
To prove just how fast this hybrid truck really is, Boije competed in a drag race against a Ferrari 360 Spider in August of 2011 – and won! The Ferrari took the early holeshot, but once that big diesel engine wound up and got going, the Volvo was able to catch the Ferrari right at the finish line. Had it been a slightly longer race, “Mean Green” would have run away from the supercar and took the decisive win. You can find videos of this drag race on YouTube if you don’t believe it. In the videos, you get to hear how incredible this rig actually sounds as it goes whistling down the track.
Not long after Boije Ovebrink set the speed records, Fabien Calvet, a truck reporter, journalist, tester, and photographer for various European publications, founder of TRO (Truck Racing Organization) and our new European Correspondent, was given the opportunity to take “Mean Green” out for a little test drive at the famous Le Mans racetrack in France. When he slid into the driver’s seat, he immediately felt like he was sitting in a racing truck. After Boije showed Fabien how everything worked, it was time to go have some fun.
With two gearbox options, automatic or sequential, Fabien first chose the “Full Auto” mode so that he could focus on his driving. Driving a truck at over 100 mph can be pretty dangerous, and Fabien did not want to make a costly mistake in this one-of-a-kind rig. Right from the start, Fabien could feel the power. As soon as he punched the gas, his speed picked up to 120 mph, but with a corner fast approaching, he had to get off the throttle to navigate the turn. Having been the European truck racing champion ten years ago, Fabien knows a thing or two about truck racing, but this hybrid rig felt nothing like the trucks he had ran back then. Once Fabien got comfortable behind the wheel of this green ground rocket, he switched over to the sequential mode so he could do the gear-shifting himself. Normally, a racing truck can get up to about 100 mph at Le Mans, but Fabien was able to get “Mean Green” up to 140 mph on the course!
After catching his breath, Fabien was instructed by Boije to switch the truck to the fully electric mode and run the course again. After running a few laps with the diesel engine, the truck’s massive batteries were charged up and ready to take over. Of course, the truck is not as fast in full electric mode, but it is still amazingly agile and smooth – and almost completely silent. Fabien said that he could write for hours about his experience in “Mean Green” at Le Mans, but one word best sums it all up – incredible! Fabien was honored to be the only person besides Boije Ovebrink to drive this unique, ground-breaking hybrid truck.
“Mean Green” proves that efficient trucks can still be powerful and fun to drive. And although you won’t see this rig out on the road hauling freight, many of the innovations put into this truck will surely make their way into Volvo’s regular working trucks in the near future. Look for “Mean Green” at the truck shows and other events this year as it makes a tour across the United States.
We would like to thank Fabien Calvet, Boije Ovebrink and Volvo for not only their help with this article, but for also allowing us to be the first to present this unique truck to our readers here in America. We would also like to thank Richard Kienberger for the great pictures taken out at Le Mans racetrack in France. Our congratulations go out to Volvo and Boije Ovebrink for successfully setting these new records – you have set the bar very high for all of the other manufacturers, and not only written a new page in hybrid speed record history, but started a whole new chapter.