Main Test April: KING of the ROAD

Wednesday, April 12, 2017



Over the past few years Regal Haulage has refined their business model to ensure customer service and transport efficiency. One of the key factors in their modus operandi is operating a fleet of mainly similar trucks; another is using standardised bins and trailers that satisfy their customers’ demands as perfectly as possible. These two factors have resulted in about 60 Volvo FM 8x4 rigids, each fitted with one of four standard tipping bin designs, towing 4-axle or 5-axle trailers, again in a limited number of designs. 


In Europe FM and FH Volvos are popular fleet trucks in high-end fleets where safety and driver comfort are important factors when selecting trucks. In New Zealand, large fleets are less common and, until recently it was probably more common for fleet truck purchases to be based on low capital outlay, rather than quality, safety, driver acceptance and whole of life cost. That business model has changed and we now see significant numbers of relatively expensive trucks in fleets. Traditional factors that led to trucks being rejected for fleet use, such as capital cost and tare, are often less relevant now that we have fixed or pretty accurate whole of life costs available. Workplace safety is an essential consideration and driver acceptance is important if an operator wants to attract and keep drivers.

Photo: The mid-cube bins are significantly higher than the cab

Volvo’s FM model has proven popular here with Fonterra using them on tanker work and several other big players also using them. The FM is full of typical European refinements, but with a lower cab height and smaller engine than the top of the line FH models. It has a few advantages over its more expensive stablemate, especially when it comes to fleet work, however, with the higher gross weights now expected through the high productivity regime the FM’s maximum 500 horsepower was at the lower end of the effective horsepower to gross weight ratio scale. 

Enter the 540hp D13C540 engine, with 540hp and 2600Nm (1918lb/ft) of torque. The output figures are similar to those only seen in large displacement engines a few years back, and getting 540hp out of a 12.8-litre engine is impressive. W hat ’s more, the increase in power is simply a software change; the engine has the same hardware as its lower rated sibling. A low cab with easy access, good fuel economy and driver comfort are some of the features that make the higher horsepower FM very attractive as a fleet truck. 

  
Photo: One of the FM's attractions is excellent access

Damian Beets drives one of Regal’s new Volvo FMs. It’s his second Volvo; he was in a 500hp FM that was reassigned to a new role, but he has been with Regal several years and progressed through five Macks before getting his first Volvo in 2014. His new truck tows a 5-axle trailer and is classed as a mid-cube unit, which is the standard combination in Regal’s classification system. 

We met Damian in Mount Maunganui where he was loading up for a run through to Hastings. He started early and had already done a run over the Kaimais. The Mount is a familiar place to Damian and he does some work around the port, including short run work between ships and storage facilities when unloading boats. 

With a combination tare of 17,700kg, the 50 tonne rated unit can carry 32 tonne and still allow a useful margin for weighbridge variations. 

Inside the cab is more than comfortable. It ’s clearly not the super luxury that we’ve seen in the FH Globetrotter, but it’s hard to work out what ’s missing. It’s a sleeper cab, with a 700mm wide bunk, and although the engine cover protrudes about 400mm above the floor, it feels spacious. The stubby gear lever for the I-Shift is mounted on the side of the driver’s seat, so it doesn’t get in the way at all. Heated leather air seats with twin arm rests for the driver and passenger, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity and a decent sound system all indicate that this truck is set up for the driver to handle comfortably. 

As well as driver comfort, safety and technology are Volvo hallmarks that are always present in their trucks. The new FM features EBS and ABS disc brakes, as well as a fire extinguisher mounted alongside the driver’s seat. 

It only takes three bucket loads for the big loader to fill the trailer and Damian rolls the cover across by pressing a button on the remote control. The button activates a small airoperated motor that saves the driver cranking a handle, and the cover is secured in place in about 15 seconds. It ’s a smart innovation that has safety and time advantages over other systems. 

The instant we hit the road, the comfort is noticeable. The cab sits on top of an engine powering a combination weighing almost 50 tonne, yet it is remarkably quiet and there’s no sign of strain as the truck smoothly accelerates on the flat road. There’s no thumping from the trailer either, something which is often noticeable on smooth flat roads, even with all-new units such as this. 


Photo: A large DEF tank sits between the left front wheels and a neat side skirt covers the hydraulic tank

We take SH33 through to Rotorua where we join SH5 and follow it until reaching Broadlands Road for the run up to the Taupo bypass. It ’s an easy run for the truck and the transmission cuts down a gear or two on some of the slopes, but it ’s not hard work and the fan never cuts in. The trailer tracks beautifully; it’s a big unit, but it sits behind the truck nicely. Damian comments that Regal management encourage the drivers to take advantage of I-Roll, a fuel-saving system that drops the transmission into neutral and lets the truck coast on long flat sections of road to save fuel. He points out that this road provides good opportunities to save fuel. 

After a break at Taupo, Damian is ready to tackle the Napier Taupo Road. It is a perfect day weatherwise and the Volvo takes the notorious road in its stride. 

VOLVO is on the ball when it comes to technology; while there’s obviously plenty in the I-Shift transmission, we have covered that in previous articles. Perhaps the biggest advance in technology recently is the interaction between the truck and the driver. Volvo’s secondary driver information display supplies the driver directly with driving performance data and lets him or her know how they are driving compared with a perfect driver. It ’s part of the Dynafleet telematics system and goes as far as coaching the driver. The system also provides the driver with tips to get the best out of the truck, such as advising when to use cruise control. 

Drivers are given scores in four key areas; anticipation and braking, engine and gear utilisation, speed adaptation, and idle time. These feed an overall fuel efficiency score and the resulting information is available on the Dynafleet app through drivers’ mobile phones. A simple scoring system with traffic light coded features allows drivers to see the results while trying different approaches and driving styles to improve their performance. 


Photo: Number 476 is one of about 60 Volvos in Regal Haulages's 100-strong fleet.

Damian, along with most of the Regal Volvo drivers, has the app on his phone and regularly checks his performance. While in the cab he can see what ’s happening on the secondary display, but he can also check his performance and compare it with other days at any time through the app. There is a healthy competition between drivers, and Alan Pye, Regal’s long-time driver trainer, updates the leader board every week. 

Operators can get significant data on every Dynafleet equipped truck in their fleet in real time. Information such as fuel consumption, engine condition, gears used, speed and engine revs, can be supplemented with data not exclusive to Volvo, such as tyre pressures, refrigeration data and the number of times the bin is tipped, through additional connections. 

The Dynafleet system ties in well with Regal’s culture. Management gives drivers good tools and training, and in return expects them to do a top job. The truck is clearly a tool that drivers can work with to improve their skills, especially around minimising fuel consumption. The drivers are SAFED trained too. SAFED (Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving) is a technique developed in the UK to reduce fuel use without reducing efficiency. Alan Pye keeps a close watch on driver performance and fuel figures. 

While Regal’s fuel figures are impressive, their drive for increased efficiency covers a much broader range of factors than just fuel, and we expect their business performance is well above the industry average. Dispatchers and the sales team buy into the culture too; jobs are distributed to achieve the best results when it comes to overall efficiency and there’s a quest to minimise empty running. 

The handling of the truck and trailer on the tight turns is superb; no doubt Damian’s driving skills play an important role, but the whole rig feels very steady and the steering is predictable and responsive. The truck notices the hills, but the engine lugs nicely at low revs and the transmission does not change down prematurely to keep engine revs up. Damian leaves the transmission in economy mode and uses the throttle kick-down when he needs a little extra, but it’s rarely necessary. He’s been behind the wheel of a 500hp Volvo and says he notices the extra power available in the 540. 

The climb up to the 762-metre high Titiokura Summit is handled comfortably; the gearbox drops down to seventh gear. Damian controls the descent coming down the hill into Hawke’s Bay with the powerful retarder and leaves the gearbox in eighth gear, occasionally touching the brakes. He says if he uses seventh gear the truck is too slow on the descent. 


Photo: The distinct angle on the front of the trailer is an innovative design feature.

As we head through Bay View and along the expressway to unload in Hastings, the smoked sunvisor controls the bright sun as it sits at a difficult angle. At the delivery site Damian stops the truck over a grid and exits the cab with a remote control. He stands in a safe position and uses the remote to tip the bin; he can easily see the product tipping off and control the flow to prevent it overloading the conveyor belt under the grid. Once the truck is empty, he carries out the same process with the trailer. 

Damian can control the covers without leaving the cab, which is handy when loading at some sites where drivers are encouraged to remain in the cab. 

The next load is headed north, but Damian won’t make it home to Hamilton tonight; the comfortable sleeper will be his apartment for the night. Regal provide their drivers with an allowance if they have to stay away and it’s up to the driver to decide whether to stay in the truck or ask the office to organise suitable accommodation. Damian says most of their clients are happy to let the drivers use showers and it ’s a good lifestyle. 

The FM Volvo perfectly complements Regal Haulage’s culture of providing a safe and efficient transport service for their customers and drivers. With 540hp under the cab, the truck reaches a new level of perfection for the role.




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