Ease on down the line
With 80 percent of goods transported by land across southern Africa done so by truck, the longhaul road freight industry could well be regarded as the backbone of the SADEC economy. FOCUS investigates buying trends and the latest operational imperatives in this vital logistics sector.
Traditionally, longhaul road transport has been the domain of the 6×4 truck-tractor towing a semi or interlink trailer carrying 20 to 35 tons of legal payload, travelling on average between 15 000 to 20 000 km per month. As automotive engineering progresses, trucks capable of carrying heavier loads more efficiently over greater distances are becoming the longhaul industry standard.
While truck manufacturers bring greater capacity to their vehicles, helping spur the evolution of longhaul trucking are a number of other factors related to new government legislation and shifting market forces that directly impact on the way longhaul fleets need to be managed today.
By looking at the major challenges facing longhaul transport right now, one can clearly see where this robust sector of the road freight industry is headed in terms of vehicle selection and operations management.
Fuel price hikes and rising maintenance costs keep the long/linehaul industry under constant pressure, and fleet owners are opting for trucks that are economical, powerful, versatile and reliable. While 6×4 truck tractors remain the predominant prime movers in the field, more specialised linehaul operations (like cold-chain/reefer/FMCG transport that is strictly on-highway with predictable payload mass/volume), are opting for 6×2 truck tractors and rigids with lower purchase prices and operating costs.
Power-to-weight ratios are a primary consideration for longhaul operators looking to achieve maximum payload without compromising fuel consumption and vehicle component wear. Lowering CPK is the Holy Grail for all linehaul operators and having solid service support from suppliers is crucial in this regard, as is having comprehensive warranty, maintenance and servicing contracts in place to help galvanise cost predictability.
According to Isuzu Truck’s Anton du Plessis, “Almost 42% of SA’s total truck market sales is made up of 6×4 truck tractors and the majority of these are deployed in longhaul applications. The industry is seeing operators increasing their prime-mover power from 300-335 kW (400-450 hp) to 360-450 kW (480-600 hp) to bring more pulling/payload power and versatility to their fleets. Environmental issues are also driving vehicle selection, particularly due to multinational courier companies operating longhaul divisions in South Africa demanding Euro 3 or Euro 4-specified vehicles in their fleets.”
The top sellers in the longhaul market right now are the Mercedes-Benz Actros, the MAN TGS WW, Scania’s R Series, Volvo’s FH 16, the Argosy and Columbia from Freightliner, International’s 9800 and Japanese heavies from Isuzu (Gigamax range), the Hino 700 and Nissan’s Quon range.
All these brands offer quality of product and excellent service support, so it’s all about “horses for courses” and operators conducting comprehensive comparative analyses to find the ideal truck for their application.
Says Neil Henderson, managing director, Manline, “For our latest fleet replacement cycle, we conducted three-month trials on truck tractors from several manufacturers to determine accurate lifecycle costs of each model. Our buying criteria include purchase price, trade-in value, fuel efficiency, maintenance costs as well as cab comfort and driveability. We also place huge value on what our drivers have to say about the trucks they drive.”
For Alan Date, managing director, Date Farms (timber, cane and general freight transport): “I want a quality vehicle with hands-on service delivery and comprehensive technical support from the dealer. Speed of repair is a priority as is 24/7 roadside assist.”
Another timber transporter sold on premium truck technology is Rynardt Pietersen, general manager, LT Plant: “The automated gearbox reduces driver abuse and improves fuel consumption. The intarder is extremely potent, making the rig safer, improving turnaround times and saving costs on brake lining replacement.”
Tanker transport is a key sector of the longhaul industry and due to the sensitivity/volatility of the products being transported; premium-class vehicles are a must-have, equipped with air suspension, automated transmission and luxury cabs.
Says Donovan O’Grady, distribution manager: Bulk Division, Air Products: “Cryogenic tanker transport demands reliability, safety and cost efficiency. Image is also important. Driver comfort is a big issue because they are the customer interface and ease of driving leads to fewer accidents.”
Managing mobile assets
Without doubt, the longhaul trucking industry is leading the way in terms of driver behaviour and fleet management using the latest telematics tools and training methodologies to enhance operational efficiencies and road safety.
According to Jose Rodrigues, managing director, Master Movers: “The HIV/Aids pandemic remains a major threat to the industry. It takes years to train a heavy-duty truck driver, so retaining skilled longhaul drivers is crucial. Give them quality vehicles, ongoing training and pay them well.”
The adoption of fleet management technology by longhaul fleets in South Africa has brought about a paradigm shift in the industry. By having constant visibility of all fleet vehicles, fleet managers can clamp down on any wasteful behaviours, be that risky driving, excessive fuel use, route deviation and other crucial considerations. Intelligence delivered by FM systems can be leveraged to coach and incentivise drivers, as well as act as a customer-relationship tool, letting fleet clients know exactly when their consignment will arrive.
According to Ken Bailey, managing director, Compass FM, “Our longhaul fleet clients want savings wherever possible in terms of overall running costs. They also want to employ the best drivers possible. A quality FM system and service will offer a solid Return on Investment (ROI) by protecting the asset, reducing vehicle downtime, elevating production uptime, lowering fuel and maintenance costs, while enabling accurate accident analysis and legal compliance.”
With many longhaul operations offering financial rewards to their top-performing drivers based on vehicle operating cost savings, the initial resistance to FM systems on the part of drivers is diminishing, being replaced by genuine professionalism.
Longhaul truck driver, Promise Ntini of Barloworld Logistics says, “After each trip, I attend a debriefing session with operations manager Carol Xaba, where we go through a trip replay report from the fleet management system. This allows me to see exactly where I can improve my driving style to improve my productivity, lower general vehicle wear and tear, and reduce fuel consumption, which not only saves money, but also makes the fleet more ‘green’ by reducing harmful exhaust gas emissions.”
The power of FM systems to generate competitive edge cannot be underestimated. As Manline’s Henderson puts it: “Driver recruitment, retention and training are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now. Data collection using FM technology to acquire fleet intelligence is the best way to mitigate on-road risk and positively motivate drivers.”
Whether it’s a super-link, a rigid-drawbar combination or a semi-trailer, most longhaul operators want trailers and load bodies that push the proverbial ‘payload envelope’. Many local trailer builders are world-class and can enable fully-legal payloads around the 38-ton mark. The introduction of “abnormal-length/load” trailers under the RTMS/PBS accreditation process in the timber, coal and sugar industries (where payload efficiency is improved by as much as 25%), has piqued the appetite of the longhaul industry at large.
According to Johan Hagg, of Afrit, manufacturers of PBS trailers: “Our customers are hungry for PBS accreditation. Barloworld is the first longhaul freight carrier to get RTMS accreditation, which is an encouraging sign that PBS permits may soon be granted to compliant operators in the general road freight industry.”
Until the DoT issues such permits, it’s business as usual, but longhaul trailer buyers have specific demands, says Danie Oosthuizen, technical designer, Homez Trailers and Bodies: “Our longhaul clients want high-quality customised trailers that maximise payload and lower total cost of ownership through long service life, as well as solid service backup including swift trailer repairs, refurbishment and roadside assist.”
Abdool Tayob, chief executive, Bakers Transport offers his insights into how new transport-related legislation will affect the industry: “Legislation is moving more towards international standards and is having a positive impact on our industry. Prior to the mid-1980s there was a lot of red tape and we operated under a permit system; but that has all changed, and anyone with cash has been able to buy a truck and start a business. This has resulted in a drop in industry standards and a ‘cowboy market’ with poor road safety. Fortunately, this is all starting to change and the legislation will create a level playing field.”
In the interim, the adoption of “Best Practice” policies and procedures by leading longhaul fleets, including the procurement of technology trucks, telematics systems, and driver training and reward programmes, is helping transform the industry, making it safer, ‘greener’ and more efficient. It begs the question – “will rail ever be able to again compete with it?”