Volvo’s Driver Challenge brings out the best
SKILL, 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 (DFC) 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 Cameron 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.
Cameron 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 says.
The business runs two rigids for farm and bush deliveries as well as a PBS truck and dog and a semi-tanker.
Standing in the warmth of the back office, Gordon even proudly displays some drawings for a PBS A-double tanker, with a Volvo on the front, of course.
According to Volvos’ Dynafleet telematics, Cameron scored 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 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.
“Being a mechanic by trade helps when it comes to driving”
“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 offroading and even hunting.
IMPROVING THE SCORE
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.
Cameron 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.
Per 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 Per on board and Cameron 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 Cameron 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!” Per says, wearing an expression of mock indignation on his face. “He’s making my job very difficult.”
Cameron looks quite pleased with himself, though it may have more to do with making Per’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 to crunch Dynafleet numbers on the computer, where Per may just have a game plan brewing.
The following day, both Per and Cameron climb back aboard the PBS combination for another trip.
This time Per 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.
Cameron 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, Cameron or Per. The laptop tells the story.
“A 6 per cent improvement in fuel consumption!” Per exclaims. “And the Dynafleet score is up to 94.”
Cameron 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,” Per 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 Per, it can be hard to make these sorts of gains with an already very good driver: “It’s a really good result.”
Following his Victorian selection, Cameron was planning a trip to the Gold Coast to compete in the national final of the Driver’s Fuel Challenge. There 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 heading to Sweden to represent Australia at the international final.
At this stage, though, Cameron 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.
“We just knocked the highway speed back a little”
More time coasting and utilising cruise control are just some of the keys to saving fuel
Winter is meant to be the quiet season, though Cameron reckons demand has stayed steady this year
Pep talk time!
Per will have his job cut out for him today!
A foggy winter’s morning in Alexandra and the start of another shift