It’s no secret that having quality commercial vehicles goes a long way to attracting quality drivers and if a fleet is already fortunate enough to employ some of them, then a top of the range truck won’t hinder the prospects of keeping them longer term.
In an ultra-competitive market plagued by an unremitting driver shortage having the best person behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, especially one charged with moving precious freight while navigating the vagaries that come with sharing the highway with other road users, is a requisite for fleet managers and freight carriers alike.
Not all rare commodities on the road are carried in the trailer.
Against a backdrop of an escalating freight task compounded even further by global supply chain disruptions, G1 Logistics, the road freight wing of GTS Freight Management in Mildura, where it is based, has introduced two new Scanias into its fleet of over 150 prime movers.
Both Euro 6 emission rated V8s have been purchased to anchor a major contract for the business under special permit first granted by Transport for NSW at the height of the 2020 COVID-19 scare in Australia.
The first of these, a Scania R 580, arrived in April last year, back when there were more unknowns than knowns regarding how industry was going to be affected. Looking back at the higher productivity vehicles launched last year one must bear in mind the context of which their operation on the Hume Highway was sanctioned.
The permit for specialised B-triples now in action for G1 Logistics was granted to ensure products arrived faster to depleted supermarkets.
At the time the supply chain for the sector was being stretched by uncertainties caused, roughly speaking, from the desperate behaviours of consumers stockpiling essential goods.
With the oncoming COVID crisis soon came opportunity. To see larger loads transported northbound across Sheahan Bridge near Gundagai, the permits enabled direct trips into a key Woolworths Distribution Centre in Western Sydney.
For G1 Logistics, approval for running a B-triple would give them 50 pallets capacity on the floor of each trailer, eight more each than a Super-B combination and 14 more each than a customary B-double.
Mass loading on this route increased from 68.5 tonnes to 79 tonnes, an estimated 22 per cent gain in payload. So that it would comply to the conditions of the permit the company, needed to tick every box available related to safety when it came to committing to a truck.
Scania, not surprisingly, soon emerged as the front runner.
“Today’s Scania has pretty much got everything any other truck can offer in the safety category,” says Damien Matthews, G1 Logistics Managing Director. “At the time of negotiation there was a lot of back and forth between Transport for NSW and myself. It was intrinsic to supplying those high safety standards as we sought approval on the vehicles.”
Another New Generation Scania, an R 650, was added five months later to work in tandem on the 1400-kilometre long haul circuit cycling between Adelaide, Mildura, where driver changeovers occur, and Sydney. Both Scanias are pulling identical B-triples built and designed by Vawdrey with a similar freight profile — mostly ambient — under the same permit.
“It makes for an interesting comparison,” says Damien. “Not often do you get that. As a fleet owner, not driving either vehicle, the R 580 is more than adequate for what we’re doing. Then again an owner-driver might, under different operating conditions, consider going with the R 650.”
In the current application speed is capped at 90 km/h. With the distinct spec of its Vawdrey trailers, designed to maximise the aperture in the trailers for extra internal height, an axle ratio of 3:05:1 on the steer and drive is ideal while using a customary low-profile trailer tyre.
“We’re seeing 1.6 km/litre with a B-triple which is as good as anything in our fleet,” Damien says.
That fuel burn figure isn’t necessarily something they have arrived at after 12 months of refinement. It’s been consistent over the year to date.
“There’s been a few signs the lesser horsepower 580 is getting a whisker better in fuel economy although it is negligible when you crunch all the numbers,” explains Damien. “That said, the more powerful horsepower of the R 650 is seeing it do only marginally better in trip time.”
Due to the punishing rate of travel, the R 650 is now well over 150,000 kilometres while the moderately older R 580, since inception, now displays 240,000 kilometres on the odometer.
Aerodynamically improved bodywork on the R series cab helps lower running costs.
The unofficial third auxiliary braking system represented by the Scania retarder when paired with Scania Opticruise provides appreciable support for the preservation of the engine brakes given the many rolling hills the trucks encounter between Wagga and Sydney and when on approach to Adelaide.
“After running for nearly half a million kilometres the Scanias have never put a foot wrong in regard to safety,” says Damien.
“We’ve got full visibility through cameras going forward, cameras going rear, with the Guardian ‘Seeing Eye’ fatigue management system on the driver. At any stage we can see what’s going on with the vehicle. How it tracks and how the last trailer handles going around, for instance, roundabouts and things like that. To date there’s simply no issues.”
G1 Logistics Fleet Manager Angelo Rodi was not, prior to these R Series V8s, unfamiliar with the brand. A pair of older Scanias have been in their system for a while.
“This newest product is the best product that Scania have ever had,” he says. “For fuel efficiency, power to weight ratio, performance, reliability and safety and also when it comes to downtime — we don’t tend to be seeing any with this new model.”
Both Scanias, according to Angelo, have been specified around additional safety features like its acclaimed AEB system, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control that have also been packaged with the platform.
Angelo, who has been with the business since 2004, started out originally as a mechanic before graduating to Fleet Manager and now oversees 200 specialist linehaul drivers.
The Scanias, with their extra comforts and low noise working environment, have helped to improve working conditions appreciably for his drivers.
“The feedback that we get receive from the drivers on the trip times is unanimous even though they’re only limited at 90 km/h, they’re actually very consistent in the hills,” says Angelo. “They’re often commenting on how good they are.”
Not only are they consistent but the driver feedback, according to Damien, is also positive in terms of how the trucks minimise fatigue and how comfortable they are to drive.
“Despite the extra power they get out of them they are not overly loaded,” he says. “The drivers don’t feel like they’re working really hard. Actually, they are very good for that application.”
With the driver shortage he sees continuing to exist in the market it’s an ongoing consideration as how to attract top talent and to ensure they are happy once they join the team.
“Across the industry it’s a battle and a challenge for every logistics company. But when you get your newer more comfortable trucks like the Scanias the feedback I get from drivers is that they enjoy driving them. Well, that’s got to be a huge positive to start with,” he says.
“We’re all trying to get more drivers and to contain the ones that we already have. We want to get less turnover. We want to keep our current drivers happy and to attract a better quality of driver also.”
On permanent freight runs such as this one, Damien and Angelo advocate a “set and forget” policy for the drivers they have assigned each truck.
Absent of traffic and swarming road users, G1 Logistics also dispatches triple roadtrains on the flat run from Adelaide to Perth behind bonneted American trucks.
“We can run the bigger vehicles in what in essence, for the main part, is outback conditions,” says Angelo. “Once there’s more density in the environment and the vehicles are likely to encounter more traffic, which means more people, meaning you can’t run the big ones.”
Managing COVID with a huge team of drivers presented innumerable challenges last year.
Being wedged in the northwest corner of the state brings certain advantages for accessing key freight passages but also means drivers are crossing borders every day, multiple times.
It was daunting in terms of compliance, requiring shrewd management to stay on top of driver movements amid a flux of restrictions at borders uninterrupted all too infrequently. Damien reached a point where it was necessary to bolster his administration.
Even still, the efficiencies afforded by the digital processing of information from dozens of trucks in transit proved arduous.
“Making sure all the documentation on all the borders was correct to make sure they could get through all the border crossings was a nightmare,” Damien recalls. “Our compliance team were very diligent in ensuring our drivers had up-to-date documentation. This was a very challenging task given how relentless the work was in such a fast-changing environment.”
Across the entire GTS Freight Management organisation the foremost priority in management was to keep everyone safe. That included the work force as well as customers.
“The focus for nearly 12 months was to try and prevent anyone getting COVID positive,” says Damien. “We’re really proud that we got through the whole COVID period with not one positive case within our directly employed group. My team have been outstanding this past year and I’m honoured by how they have overcome the many mounting challenges that beset our industry and pleased of what they have achieved.”
Of the more recent high productivity vehicle permit the Scania Euro 6 V8s are likely to defy betterment any time soon.
The permit is up for renewal at the end of the year when the company will have a new 40,000 sqm site under works in Adelaide complete with hardstands and provision to change trailers for roadtrains.
Beyond that GTS Freight Management will renegotiate with Transport for NSW and Damien has ambitions for getting the B-triples approved for a height of 4.6 metres.
“At the moment we’ve got a few restraints that we’re working around. One big problem for everybody, including us, is the Gundagai Bridge is only approved for 79 tonnes,” he says.
In an ideal situation Damien would like to go up to 85 tonnes but he acknowledges this would warrant fast-tracked improvements being made to outdated regional infrastructure.
With over 400,000 kilometres of operation in a real-world environment the combined value of the Scanias can be measured in the proof of concept it has afforded operations on this approved route with all of its many pre-conditions.
“A big part of the supermarket supply chain is the need to keep shelves at capacity. Without the special circumstances of last year I don’t think we would have got the permit,” Damien says.
“Without doubt COVID was a drawcard for enabling these high productivity vehicles. There’s a lot of proof in the pudding that it should become normal instead of a special permit. As a freight carrier we want it to become the new normal.”