AUSSIE ANGLES - High Country Hauler

Friday, December 15, 2017

During the Victorian winter months more than 300,000 people flock to the Mt Buller ski fields. Transporting the fundamental supplies for the hospitality industry on the mountain and the surrounding areas is a critical just-in-time operation.

Located in northeast Victoria, approximately three hours’ drive north of Melbourne, the Mt Buller resort village is predominantly known for its downhill ski slopes. However, in recent years the opening of mountain bike trails and footpaths that crisscross the mountain have boosted the resort’s utilisation to a year-round holiday destination.

Melbourne seems a long way away as the Coronado heads for Victoria’s rural interior.

Consequently this has increased the transport task into the region, as the surrounding area has also expanded to support the development in the region’s tourism. Mt Buller Area Transport (MBAT) has evolved from a small transport business in the early eighties that had traditionally supported the local farming and timber industries, the mainstay of the community at the time. However, as the ski fields of Mt Buller expanded and attracted more and more visitors, demand on MBAT’s services grew.

According to owner Evan Lowing, maintaining their growth in the fiercely competitive transport market stems from that same reliable good old-fashioned country service that the company was founded upon. Those underlining values are still at the core of the company and are a key factor in any of their decision-making processes, including the specifying of new equipment.

MBAT’s senior driver and customer relations manager, Paul Thomas, said the Freightliner Coronado FL114 ticked all the boxes when they went shopping for a new prime mover to add to their B-double fleet.

Paul Thomas (above) believes Mt Buller Area Transport has the most cost-effective solution for their operations with Freightliner, Detroit and the Freightliner Servicing agreement.

“We took our time to shop around this time and researched several major brands and really compared apples with apples,” Paul said.

“For us the service we get from the dealer is arguably a decisive factor in any purchase. Granted, most trucks will do the job we do, some a bit better than others, but it’s the support that really counts. With the level of sophistication in truck components these days, when things start to get complicated you appreciate genuine customer service and Daimler Trucks Laverton (DTL) does a brilliant job.

“In this business there are no fail options, uptime is everything because there are a lot of people who depend on us,” Paul explained. “If there’s a landslide up the mountain or something out of our control, that’s one thing, but we’re responsible for everything that’s in our control. It’s our job to make sure we always deliver the vital freight on time.”

The truck chosen by MBAT was a Freightliner Coronado 114 with Detroit DD15 power producing 418kW (560hp) and 2508Nm (1850ib/ft) of torque. Gearbox is the Eaton 18-speed UltraShift PLUS (MHP) with Freightliner’s SmartShift.

Bringing up the rear are Meritor RT46-160GP diffs with DCDL on Freightliner AirLiner 46K suspension with Dual levelling valves. The rig is fitted with WABCO ABS with traction control and roll stability control. The Freightliner was specced with a 34” sleeper and vinyl/woodgrain trim with bright finish instruments.

Paul was impressed with favourable reports of the Detroit DD15’s fuel economy and the extended oil drains out to 40,000 kilometres.

“Most people I’ve spoken to who run these new Detroits have been happy with the performance, economy and the reliability of their DD15,” Paul said. “Besides, the monthly cost of the service agreement is more favourable with a Detroit than a Cummins.”

In terms of reliability Detroit Diesel’s literature says the DD15 has a B50 life of one million kilometres. The ‘B50’ tag is an engineering term that means the point at which half of all engines produced will still be running without need of major repairs, overhaul or replacement. That’s the highest rating in the heavy-duty industry, the company says.

Paul admits that his preference is the manual 18-speed stick, however he concedes that to stay ahead one must adapt to new efficient technologies.

“I’m impressed with the UltraShift and Freightliner SmartShift combination,” Paul said. “It is particularly good in the stop-start traffic you get in Melbourne’s peak hours and around road works on the freeways. I thought I’d be using the manual mode a lot more often, but the UltraShift reads the road and load well.”

Also included to assist the driver is a hill-start aid that will hold the truck stationary for up to three seconds as throttle is applied – heading up or down a grade. Later models include a gear-hold creep mode that allows a driver to select a gear that will hold and allow for creeping along in heavy traffic. In the lower gears each shift is completed with the aid of the clutch.

However, in the lowest gears, the inertia brake (it replaces the simpler but primitive clutch brake) allows for very quick shifts. This combination, along with the super-fast calculations on the control module that senses torque, throttle, weight and grade, equate to a fast progression through the gears.

“It certainly is a clever and smooth transmission,” said Paul. Paul says in a perfect world a good in-house mechanic might save a cent or two on a cost per kilometre basis when it comes to comparing the Freightliner Service agreement versus having their own mechanic perform the services.

“But it’s not a perfect world,” Paul adds. “We don’t have to carry any parts, so that’s money we haven’t had to outlay up front and there is a very limited warranty if we do the work ourselves compared with the full warranty given by DLT.

“We’ve ordered a new Actros and placed it on a service agreement as well,” Paul said. “It arrives in a few weeks so you’ll have to come back in a few months after it arrives.”