Driv­ing re­spect

Truck driv­ers prob­a­bly cop more flak than any work­ers in any in­dus­try, but they are not with­out some staunch sup­port­ers. Among sev­eral valu­able ini­tia­tives show­cas­ing the skill of op­er­at­ing heavy trucks, the Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge brings to­gether t

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Volvo’s Fuel Chal­lenge show­cases driv­ers’ skills

From the out­side look­ing in, the Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge has all the ap­pear­ances of just another pub­lic­ity ex­er­cise by a com­pany highly skilled in sell­ing mar­ket­ing mes­sages to the masses.

But step in­side and take a closer look. Talk with the ex­ec­u­tives and or­gan­is­ers who make it all hap­pen. Pon­der the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts and ex­pense of bring­ing to­gether such an eclec­tic bunch of in­di­vid­u­als from all over Aus­tralia.

Spend time mix­ing with the driv­ers as they first shrug it off as a bit of fun, a cou­ple of days out­side the or­di­nary, be­fore sud­denly be­com­ing in­tensely se­ri­ous, and very de­ter­mined. Con­sider, if you can, the per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion and sur­prise of re­al­is­ing you’re some­one at the cen­tre of some­thing very spe­cial, in­stead of a daily rou­tine where de­ri­sion and ridicule are ev­ery­day events.

Then, af­ter two days of fierce com­pe­ti­tion mea­sured down to the last drop of diesel, smile at the hu­mour and hu­mil­ity of a group which has grown in­cred­i­bly close, de­spite the de­sire to win the highly cov­eted prize of a trip to Swe­den to com­pete in Volvo’s world cham­pi­onship. And fi­nally, wit­ness the flat­tery of be­ing guests at a lo­ca­tion nor­mally re­served for the rich and fa­mous, and best of all, revel in the sublime, shared thrill as win­ners are an­nounced.

Then, and only then, will you be able to see this ex­tra­or­di­nary event for what it truly is. A mar­vel­lous, ex­cit­ing, rare and to­tally pro­fes­sional ex­hi­bi­tion of the com­pe­tency and pride of some ex­tremely ca­pa­ble and im­pres­sive peo­ple. Truck driv­ers.

But of course, cel­e­brat­ing the skill and com­pe­tency of truck driv­ers is far from nor­mal, isn’t it! Let’s face it, for what­ever rea­son they take a flog­ging from just about every an­gle.

Pub­licly and pri­vately, whether de­served or not, they’re rou­tinely ham­mered for be­ing too rude, too ig­no­rant, too stupid, too ar­ro­gant, too tired. To the av­er­age mo­torist they are in­tim­i­dat­ing, care­less, con­fronting, cranky and worst of all, dan­ger­ous. Peo­ple to be avoided, even feared,

in trucks that are too big, too loud, too fast, too heavy, and in most minds, too many.

Given such opin­ions and pe­ri­odic out­bursts, it’s easy to won­der why any­one would want the job, let alone try to ac­tu­ally do it with a sense of pro­fes­sional pride and pur­pose. Es­pe­cially when a fair por­tion of the of­fense comes from within their own in­dus­try in the form of some foul-mouthed clown on the end of a ra­dio. Or worse, com­pany own­ers who see driv­ers as lit­tle more than a com­mod­ity, a nec­es­sary evil, to be ma­nip­u­lated and blamed when some­thing goes wrong, or vil­i­fied when a poorly man­aged and marginal busi­ness fi­nally fails un­der the stress of fierce com­pe­ti­tion.

Sure, there are crook driv­ers, no ques­tion. There are also crook com­pa­nies, crook plumbers, crook me­chan­ics, crook busi­ness­men, crook reg­u­la­tors, crook doc­tors, crook lawyers, crook cof­feemak­ers, crook cooks, crook politi­cians, crook drunks, and dare I say it, crook com­men­ta­tors.

BEST OF THE BEST

But in every en­deav­our there are also the good ones, like the 16 men and one woman in­vited to Bris­bane’s Mt Cot­ton Train­ing Cen­tre for the 2017 Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge.

They weren’t there for their stylish de­meanour or ar­tic­u­late speech, their aca­demic abil­i­ties, po­lit­i­cal smarts or ath­letic agility. They were there be­cause they are truck driv­ers. Good truck driv­ers, and each one had set a par­tic­u­larly high stan­dard for fuel ef­fi­cient driv­ing of a Volvo truck in their daily work, gain­ing them entry to an event where they would pit their abil­i­ties against each other and in the process de­velop a mu­tual re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion which would in­spire and sur­prise them all.

Sur­prise also came in Volvo’s de­ci­sion to this year add for the first time an off-road course, plac­ing the driv­ers at the con­trols of loaded FMX eight-wheeler rigids on a de­mand­ing track and al­most cer­tainly un­like any­thing en­coun­tered in their nor­mal driv­ing du­ties. Again though, there was plenty of in­cen­tive to do well with the most fuel ef­fi­cient driver on this sec­tion also win­ning a ticket to Swe­den for a shot at the world ti­tle.

Then again, sur­prise was not for driv­ers alone. The first Aus­tralian ‘chal­lenge’ was held in 2013 and de­spite pre­vi­ous in­vi­ta­tions, this was the first I’d at­tended. Tasked to ‘front’ a video on the event, I wasn’t sure what to ex­pect other than a cou­ple of trucks run­ning around the Mt Cot­ton cir­cuit with a bunch of dif­fer­ent driv­ers.

But this much I did know: Volvo rarely, if ever, does things by halves.

Even so, the level of ex­per­tise and com­mit­ment given to this ex­er­cise was in­deed sur­pris­ing and way be­yond any­thing I en­vis­aged. What I found, in fact, was a thor­oughly pro­fes­sional and su­perbly or­gan­ised event which in the first in­stance takes a rigidly en­forced and highly tech­ni­cal approach based on data pro­cessed by Volvo’s ad­vanced Dy­nafleet trip in­for­ma­tion sys­tem, to de­ter­mine the most fuel ef­fi­cient driver over a se­ries of laps around the test­ing Mt Cot­ton cir­cuit.

More to the point, and for me most sur­pris­ing of all, were the at­ti­tudes of ev­ery­one in­volved.

First, Volvo. At the top of the tree, Volvo Group Aus­tralia boss Peter Voorho­eve is cer­tainly no naïve new­comer to the truck busi­ness.

It’ll help make peo­ple see we ac­tu­ally care about what we do

Above: Com­peti­tors in the 2017 Volvo Driv­ers’ Fuel Chal­lenge. A great bunch of proud and pro­fes­sional peo­ple

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