Fuel for thought

Volvo Driver’s Fuel Chal­lenge sees tech­nol­ogy mea­sure care and skill

Australian Transport News - - Contents -

Volvo Driver’s Fuel Chal­lenge sees tech­nol­ogy mea­sure care and skill of top op­er­a­tors

S kill, craft, pro­fes­sion­al­ism – not words you of­ten see bandied about in truck­ing in this day and age.

Aus­tralia’s econ­omy may ride on whirling rub­ber but driv­ers at the rock face rarely get much in the way of ac­knowl­edge­ment.

How­ever, our stan­dard of liv­ing is wholly de­pen­dent on the blood, sweat and tears of ev­ery­day truck driv­ers – whether they’re haul­ing out­back road trains, pick­ing up milk from the farm dairy or de­liv­er­ing gro­ceries to an in­ner city su­per­mar­ket.

Good news sto­ries in­volv­ing trucks and the peo­ple who drive them are thin on the ground. Volvo Trucks Aus­tralia how­ever has been push­ing to raise the im­age of the men and women who keep Aus­tralia’s wheels turn­ing.

On the face of it, Volvo’s Driver’s Fuel Chal­lenge may seem like a thinly veiled cor­po­rate ex­er­cise in pro­mot­ing both its trucks and Dy­nafleet telem­at­ics.

How­ever, it’s one of the few events in this coun­try that ac­knowl­edges the skill and ded­i­ca­tion of ev­ery­day driv­ers. It also high­lights the pos­i­tive im­pact good driv­ers can have on a com­pany’s bot­tom line.

Vic­to­rian DFC fi­nal­ist Cameron Simp­son is the first to ad­mit that he was more than a lit­tle sur­prised to find out he was the most fuel-ef­fi­cient Volvo driver in the state.

“I don’t muck around,” he con­fesses with a grin. “I try and get it done and get back home in good time.”

Maybe it’s be­cause Simp­son has some skin in the game. He is, af­ter all, driv­ing for the fam­ily busi­ness – Alexandra-based fuel re­tailer Simp­son Fuel.

Nes­tled in the hills north-east of Mel­bourne, Alexandra is a tight-knit com­mu­nity. For many it’s the gateway to the ski fields in the win­ter and to Lake Eil­don in the sum­mer.

Simp­son and his brother Hay­den and sis­ter Sarah are the third gen­er­a­tion to en­ter the

fam­ily busi­ness that was founded by their grand­par­ents, Ian and Mary Simp­son, back in 1953. Their father and mother, Gor­don and Ja­nine, have been at the helm of the busi­ness for many years.

It’s an unas­sum­ing busi­ness from the out­side, a small coun­try servo and a dirt yard out the back. But this be­lies the scope of what the Simp­sons’ busi­ness cov­ers.

From farm­yards and sawmills to ski fields and re­tail fuel out­lets, the fam­ily’s four trucks toil through tight moun­tain roads and rum­ble through forests and farms in scorching sum­mer heat or icy, snow-banked high-coun­try roads.

Af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing Black Satur­day fires in Fe­bru­ary 2009, Simp­son Fuel was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting fuel back into burnt out ar­eas, even set­ting up an un­manned fuel site in the oblit­er­ated town of Marysville. Gor­don Simp­son is also a part of the an­nual Alexandra Truck Show com­mit­tee. There’s a def­i­nite com­mu­nity spirit that runs through the busi­ness.

“We’ve had some cus­tomers for well over 30 years,” Cameron Simp­son says.

The busi­ness runs two rigids for farm and bush de­liv­er­ies as well as a PBS truck and dog and a semi-tanker.

Ac­cord­ing to Volvos’ Dy­nafleet telem­at­ics, Cameron scores 93 out of 100 be­hind the wheel of the FM540 tanker and quad dog.

That’s no mean feat con­sid­er­ing the wind­ing, hilly to­pog­ra­phy of the area. This truck’s main rea­son for be­ing is to haul fuel back to the de­pot from Cal­tex’s Spotswood ter­mi­nal. The route takes in coun­try high­way, multi-lane free­way and metropoli­tan roads.

The lit­tle FM works hard for its money at a PBS weight of 57.5 tonnes gross.

Cameron Simp­son is a me­chanic by trade; he cut his teeth on au­to­mo­tive work be­fore head­ing to the West­ern Aus­tralian Gold­fields to work as a heavy diesel fit­ter.

“I think be­ing a me­chanic by trade helps when it comes to driv­ing,” he says.

“It also high­lights the pos­i­tive im­pact good driv­ers can have on a com­pany’s bot­tom line”

“You un­der­stand how things work – it breeds me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy.”

When not steer­ing trucks for the fam­ily busi­ness, Cameron is also heav­ily in­volved in spec­c­ing the trucks, man­ag­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion and com­pli­ance.

And in what may seem to be at odds with the whole fuel econ­omy ap­proach to driv­ing, Cameron is also a bit of a petrol head who in­dulges in off-road­ing and even hunt­ing.

Stand­ing in the warmth of the back of­fice, Gor­don Simp­son even proudly dis­plays some draw­ings for a PBS A-dou­ble tanker, with a Volvo on the front, of course.

Volvo driver de­vel­op­ment coach Per Hansen is no stranger to help­ing driv­ers to get the best out of their trucks. He has worked ex­ten­sively with fleets both lo­cally and over­seas.

Simp­son has been se­lected to rep­re­sent Vic­to­ria in this year’s Volvo Driver’s Fuel Chal­lenge. The se­lec­tion was made af­ter ex­am­in­ing Dy­nafleet data from all Vic­to­rian fleets that use Volvo’s telem­at­ics sys­tem.

Hansen is on hand to see if it is pos­si­ble to im­prove on Simp­son’s al­ready im­pres­sive fuel econ­omy fig­ures and pos­si­bly even bump up his Dy­nafleet score.

With Hansen on board and Simp­son at the wheel, the gleam­ing FM rolls out of the yard and into the morn­ing gloom bound for Spotswood, a 330km round trip, to pick up an­other load of diesel.

This trip was go­ing to serve as a chance for Hansen to ob­serve how Simp­son han­dles the truck. On their re­turn to the yard that af­ter­noon, it’s clear that the for­mer is im­pressed with the lat­ter’s skill be­hind the wheel of a truck.

“He knows what he’s do­ing!” Hansen says, wear­ing an ex­pres­sion of mock in­dig­na­tion on his face. “He’s mak­ing my job very dif­fi­cult.”

Simp­son looks quite pleased with him­self, though it may have more to do with mak­ing Hansen’s life dif­fi­cult than self-sat­is­fac­tion! You get the feel­ing there’s been more than a lit­tle ban­ter be­tween the two dur­ing the trip.

The pair of them then re­treat to the of­fice

“Be­ing a me­chanic by trade helps when it comes to driv­ing. It breeds me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy”

to crunch Dy­nafleet num­bers on the com­puter, where Hansen may just have a game plan brew­ing.

The fol­low­ing day, both Hansen and Simp­son climb back aboard the PBS com­bi­na­tion for an­other trip. This time Hansen is go­ing to of­fer some tips and tricks.

“I want to see if we can get a lit­tle more fuel out of you,” he says.

Sim­spon looks two parts amused and one part chal­lenged – the gaunt­let has clearly been thrown down. “Okay then, let’s go.”

As the FM idles qui­etly back into the de­pot that af­ter­noon, there’s a look of ap­pre­hen­sion on the faces of both men. At this stage I’m not sure who has the most pro­fes­sional pride on the line, Simp­son or Hansen. The lap­top tells the story.

“A 6 per cent im­prove­ment in fuel con­sump­tion!” Hansen ex­claims.

“And the Dy­nafleet score is up to 94.” Simp­son doesn’t seem the kind of guy to gloat but he’s clearly pleased. It does, how­ever, give him an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in some good-na­tured rib­bing of lit­tle brother Hay­den, who has just ar­rived back in the yard be­hind the wheel of the com­pany’s brand new FM prime mover. A quick glance at the lat­ter’s Dy­nafleet score for the day re­veals that he is no slouch be­hind the wheel ei­ther.

“We just knocked the high­way speed back a lit­tle in places, sit­ting on 95km/h on the free­way for ex­am­ple,” Hansen says. “We cut back on idle time, used cruise con­trol a lit­tle more as well.

“But im­por­tantly we also got his coast­ing time up which makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hansen, it can be hard to make these sort of gains with an al­ready very good driver: “It’s a re­ally good re­sult.”

Simp­son is off to the Gold Coast to com­pete in the na­tional fi­nal of the Driver’s Fuel Chal­lenge in just a mat­ter of weeks. Here he’ll be up against state fi­nal­ists from around the coun­try, as well as a few wild­card en­tries. If he’s suc­cess­ful, he’ll be off to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia at the in­ter­na­tional fi nal in Swe­den.

At this stage, though, Simp­son isn’t talk­ing big, he’s clearly just chuffed to be a part of it.

Though the longer you talk to him, the more you see the pride he has in what he does and the fam­ily com­pany.

That is re­ally what the DFC is about af­ter all. It’s not just scores and num­bers, it’s about recog­nis­ing the daily con­tri­bu­tion made by truck driv­ers around Aus­tralia.

And these days, that kind of recog­ni­tion is way too thin on the ground.

“It’s about recog­nis­ing the daily con­tri­bu­tion made by truck driv­ers around Aus­tralia”

Above left to right: This truck and dog com­bi­na­tion can run at up to 57.5 tonnes gross un­der PBS; Win­ter is meant to be the quiet sea­son, though Cameron Simp­son reck­ons de­mand has stayed steady this year; Pep talk time

Be­low: The Dynaeet data can be viewed on tablet or smart­phone through an easy-to-nav­i­gate app

Top right: Ac­cord­ing to Volvo’s Dynaeet Telem­at­ics, Cameron Simp­son is the most fuel-ef­fi­cient Volvo driver in Vic­to­ria

Above: Volvo driver de­vel­op­ment coach Per Hansen is on hand to give Cameron Simp­son some tips and tricks on fuel ef­fi­cient driv­ing

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