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Jens Karlsson steers Volvo trucks through epic splits, musical mayhem and more

By on January 1, 2016
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Driving Jean-Claude Van Damme may be the hardest thing that Swedish truck driver Jens Karlsson has ever done.

Karlsson was one of two drivers sitting behind the wheel during the iconic Volvo commercial, “The Epic Split,” which featured the world-renowned actor and martial arts expert. In the much-talked-about ad he is seen performing a split while standing on two Volvo FM trucks traveling in reverse at 15 mph. The commercial was shot in one take on a closed-off airstrip located just south of Madrid, Spain.

This ad probably got the most attention of anything he’s done, but Karlsson has driven Volvo trucks in film and photo productions on several occasions throughout the years.

“I’ve built up a relationship with them and we get along really well,” he says. “We’ve enjoyed working with each other.” So when he got a call last year for their next project, Karlsson was ready to go. He agreed to be the lead driver for Reality Road, a video series documenting the creation of a music video for Swedish-American recording artist Mapei.

During the nine days of production for “Million Ways to Live,” Mapei, Karlsson, and director Liza Minou Morberg visited six European countries — Sweden, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy — covering a distance of over 2,500 miles. The series, like the Epic Split ad, was created to showcase the precision and stability of Volvo Trucks’ dynamic steering system.

Mapei unites two different worlds — trucking and show business — as she performs with drag show artists on a truck ferry to Poland, and dances alongside a truck balanced on two wheels outside Berlin, Germany.

Humble beginnings

A truck driver for 28 years, Karlsson has completed numerous long-range transports all over Europe for cars under development for Volvo and SAAB. He has firsthand knowledge of how behind-the-scenes work is anything but glamorous. An enormous amount of work and money goes into creating a new model, and no company wants to tip its hand while the vehicle is still in development.

“As a driver you can’t open the doors on the trailer or let anyone see the cars — sometimes not even the police. Everything is secret,” he says.

When he’s not working for Volvo, Karlsson drives between Sweden and Spain for JTW Transport, and transports liquid chemicals for Br Nilssons Tanktransport. Every country he’s visited has a certain charm, he says, citing Spain as a particular favorite.

Some travels have been particularly memorable. After beginning his career in the late ’80s driving local transports, Karlsson applied and was accepted to serve as a truck driver carrying excavators and bulldozers for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

Driving heavy loads over poor roads was technically challenging and Karlsson often faced security threats. The emotions and experiences of this time in his life have stayed with him throughout his career.

“You see what you wouldn’t normally need to see,” he says. “Staying in a damaged country that, for me, had a new culture and religion — it was memorable. At the other end of the scale, one of my dreams since childhood is to drive in the U.S.”

Knowing the unique risks and hazards of trucking, Karlsson has tried to advocate for his fellow drivers and advance their causes. He hopes that his unlikely gig with Volvo brings attention to the trucking industry and the hard-working people in its ranks.

“I’ve always had a tight schedule and there’s hard competition in trucking. If we don’t deliver on time, it will be a problem,” he says. “Name anything that you use on a daily basis and it’s brought to you by a truck. I try to get people to understand how important transport is and to see what we drivers do all along to serve everyday needs.”

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