Fuel ef­fi­ciency:

Volvo’s Driver Chal­lenge brings out the best

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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.

TEST­ING TO­POG­RA­PHY

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

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