One of the hardest parts of the job for a semi-trailer driver is getting a 19m-truck through busy city traffic in and around suburban areas, where the roads are not designed for freight traffic and many of the delivery points are virtually inaccessible. Those in the urban distribution game live and work in that trying environment 24/7, dealing with lengthy rush-hour periods and tight schedules while often handling heavy transport equipment.
The kind of prime movers used by companies in this business varies greatly. For some fleets, the urban distribution task is performed by trucks which have already served their time as line haul prime movers in the earlier part of their working life. After running three or so years over large mileages, they can continue to be productive and useful in the second stage of their career when they are perhaps not quite so reliable or fuel-efficient as they had been earlier in their life.
However, the road transport industry is an extremely competitive game and operators are not only competing with other operators for work tenders, but also for drivers. Some fleets are developing their urban distribution operations on similar margins to which they run the line haul side of things. This means more efficient trucks, happier drivers and improved health and safety are becoming more important in these kinds of operations.
Getting in and out of the truck many times a day is a lot easier in a truck designed for this kind of task with lower step heights and a lower driver seat position. Climbing in and out of a tall line haul prime mover may be okay a few times in a shift, but is not so pleasant 20 or 30 times in the same period. A lower, more compact cab over prime mover is also better when manoeuvring between bins and parked cars when trying to reverse a trailer onto a suburban supermarket.
This kind of prime mover, specifically designed for the tight urban distribution task, is the speciality of the European truck manufacturers. This kind of design is sold in vast numbers to operators trying to get goods in and around the crowded roads and streets of Europe. The trucks often run at relatively low weights and as 4×2 prime movers pulling relatively light trailers. Often their models will suit the lighter end of the urban distribution truck market here in Australia, but have come up short when working at higher overall mass levels.
With the introduction of the P 440 SCR model, Scania have come up with a solution which can offer the modern urban operator that kind of track which will suit the potential customer and bottom-line at the same time as being able to cope with fully loaded trailers grossing at well over 40 tonnes. But the truck has clearly been designed to tick all of the boxes for an operator who is tendering for a major urban distributional contract and knows margins are going to be tight.
Scania have been going through this process of honing their range to suit Australian conditions for sometime now, and recent sales successes have shown the work was worthwhile. Over 10 years ago, the company began serious research defining the requirements of each aspect of the freight task here in Australia. Since then, the process has been one of taking the various components of track specification from the Scania range and putting it together in a way that suits, as closely as possible, the needs of the Australian trucking industry. Recent successes – indicated by an increased heavy-duty truck market share – have seen this process finally bearing fruit, making the Scandinavian truck maker a more serious player in this market.
Prime Mover tested the latest Scania around the urban and industrial areas of southern Sydney to get a handle on just how well this truck may perform. The specification of the truck includes a 6 x 2 configuration, which appears to be more attractive to the trucking industry in recent years. The engine also has plenty of power at 440 hp (324 kW) and 2300 Nm (1700 ft lb) of torque available between 1000 and 1300 rpm.
At a first glance, this truck has clearly been designed for ease of ingress and egress and comfortable, worry-free driving. Walking up to the low cab and opening the door, the driver is faced with two wide full steps to climb in with well-placed and designed handles to aid the driver. In fact, the drivers door has been designed with a large indent to accommodate the placing of the handle on the A pillar in the correct position.
For a relatively small and compact sleeper cabin, the feeling is actually quite spacious and uncluttered. The design and layout is very similar to that found in all Scania trucks, except, in this situation, the driver is closer to the ground and the roof is a little lower. The bank is also smaller than the version fitted to the larger prime movers – but there is still space underneath for a small pullout fridge to keep the driver refreshed during the day.
However, not all refreshment requirements are as well catered for in the P 440 SCR. There is no handy solution to place a cup of coffee or a 600ml drink bottle while travelling along. There is a pocket in the door which could be used to store a bottled drink, but it is not ideal. When these trucks are in service, you can be sure drivers will be adding to the interior fittings to ensure they can get a drink on the run as they fight their way through the city traffic.
The actual driving of this truck is as simple as it could be. The two-pedal truck is using the automated Opticruise transmission, controlled by a stalk on the right-hand side of the steering column. Very little driver input is needed apart from selecting drive when setting off and neutral when parking up. The control systems in a transmission react quickly to driver and truck inputs and it would be difficult to find a situation in an urban distribution freight task where any driver intervention was needed. This leaves the driver to concentrate on the task at hand, staying safe on the highway.
This is also a quiet truck, as the level of noise coming out of the relatively high engine cover is very low. A well-placed array of mirrors around the cabin ensures the driver is always in control of the situation. Apart from the two rear-view mirrors on each door with a large spotter fitted above, there is also a downward looking mirror on the passenger door and another covering the area directly in front of the truck cabin itself. We have to thank the tightness of many European urban delivery situations and their visibility rules for receiving a high standard of visibility around new P 440 SCR.
In addition, our test model was fitted with a lane control system plus hill holder as driver aids. The system ensures the truck remains in the correct lane and sounds an alarm when the truck drifts out of its lane. It’s relatively usable on suburban roads and motorways but can be annoying and on roads near to the centre of Sydney where lanes are narrows. Hill holding is useful at any time, making life easier for the driver as they take off at road junctions and traffic lights and doing away with the need to use the trailer handpiece when taking off in difficult circumstances. In fact, this additional equipment makes the inclusion of a trailer handpiece almost superfluous, as this kind of truck would almost never have the need to use one when hill holding is fitted.
The Driver Support system is also included in this truck and has the ability to be either a useful tool to keep the driver informed about ways in which they could drive the truck better or as an annoyance marking the driver down when they make mistakes. The normal psyche of most truck drivers will tend to resist any attempt to teach them how to suck eggs, but if the driver takes a more positive view and looks at it as more of a tool to help them improve, it can bring notable benefits.
On this test, Prime Mover decided to follow the instructions and attempt to get the driver score as high as possible. Thinking about anticipation all of the time and allowing to go down through the gears when approaching a junction instead of breaking harshly reaped rewards in terms of percentage points and gentle acceleration instead of flooring the pedal also collected brownie points. When viewed in a positive light, the support system can be treated as gentle reminder and as a game to play for the driver as they travel around the city. After a day fighting with the traffic of southern Sydney, going from 54 per cent to a final score of 65 per cent was a pleasing result for someone who doesn't drive this truck or these roads on a daily basis.