A train in Spain? Volvo has a convoy

Volvo road train

Volvo’s road train initiative would provide for safer, more efficient travel.

Volvo’s road train initiative, which is dubbed SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), is a collaborative effort between Ricardo UK, Volvo Technology and Volvo Cars, along with a bevy of tech-savvy concerns whose multiple syllables exceed our space constraints. The project aims to improve road comfort for drivers; relieved of typical duties, such as steering, braking and accelerating, they can work on their laptops, read a book or – given that the recent test took place in Spain – contemplate that country’s evolving fiscal crisis. Of course most drivers in the U.S. already multi-task while driving; the SARTRE initiative simply allows drivers to do it safely.

As Volvo describes it, for the “first time ever” a road train comprising Volvo’s XC60, V60 and S60, plus one truck and a lead vehicle, successfully operated on a public roadway among other road users. And for those few of you not completely clear as to what a ‘road train’ is, grab a pencil; it consists of a lead vehicle operated by a professional, followed by a number of vehicles which are electronically connected to the lead vehicle and mimic its operation. In short, you have but one operator while the others in the train can talk or text their brains out. And if headed from Dallas to El Paso by car, why not take the train?

Initiated in 2009, the SARTRE project’s vehicles have covered some 10,000 kilometers. And while sitting in a car which is within six meters of the previous vehicle (and relying solely on technology to keep yours from ‘mating’ with theirs) can be more than a little frightening, testing suggests occupants adapt rather quickly.

With this recent success the initiative moves on to an analysis of fuel consumption, which should show an improvement of some twenty percent. Notably, the road train concept – in which the following cars mimic the lead vehicle’s every action and reaction – requires no changes to infrastructure, a huge benefit when applied to existing highways and byways.

Volvo, a subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Geely Holdings, has long been a leader in automotive safety studies and technologies. The success of the SARTRE initiative follows Volvo’s recent advances in pedestrian avoidance and successful development of a pedestrian airbag.

With these technologies, along with notable improvements in Volvo’s sales performance, the question begs to be asked: Do the execs at Ford wish they had Volvo back?