How Volvo Trucks’ new track grew from a company and union working together (Roanoke Business)

Lots of little boys — and grown up men and women for that mattter — would jump at the chance to drive a monster truck.

At Volvo Truck’s sprawling manufacturing plant in Pulaski County, prospective customers can do just that, thanks to a customer experience track. The dogbone-shaped, 1.1-mile paved loop that wraps around stormwater ponds and a gnarly off-road path is the result of a collaboration between workers and management that’s given the company a new potent sales tool.

During a recent visit to the track by Roanoke Business, Volvo’s Inspiration Manager Marcus Thompson picked up a reporter in a custom-built, fully-loaded truck that was emblazoned with an American flag. He brought the cab to a stop just outside the track.

“Now, this is the point where I look to the executive sitting where you’re at and ask whether they’ve driven a big rig before. Some haven’t,” Thompson says.  “Have you driven a big rig before?”

“No,” I responded.

“Well, now’s your chance,” Thompson replies.

And with that, we switched places, and I spent the next hour driving the cab around the paved track. I also drove a fully loaded truck with trailer, then a dump truck weighed down with 30,000 pounds of gravel — all accompanied by Bruce Mochrie, an Australian-accented gentleman who trains Volvo Trucks’ North American sales team.

He walks people through each vehicle’s features, from the super-slow cruise control that allows truck drivers to creep in highway backups, to the dump truck’s ability to slowly glide down a 27 percent incline even though I’m not pressing the brake.

Afterward, Thompson walks me through the 1.6 million-square-foot factory, showcasing how the trucks are built, chatting up workers and backslapping along the way.

Everything, from the advanced robotics on the factory floor to the sheer fun of driving a big truck, feels geared to appeal to the visitor’s inner two-year-old. At the end of the tour, Thompson sometimes even gives out miniature tractor-trailer toys.

This is the experience potential buyers receive when they visit Volvo’s Dublin plant, the German’s company’s biggest manufacturing facility and its only one in North America. The day I visited, Thompson gave similar tours to customers from Texas, Oregon and New England.

The factory walk has been part of the spiel for years at the 296-acre plant. But the customer experience track, which allows buyers without commercial driver’s licenses to experience a truck’s features in a setting that approximates real-life conditions, was built over the last two years.

Read more about the track and how it was developed through a collaboration between Volvo Trucks and United Auto Workers Local 2069 at Roanoke Business.