Hands on and loving it
Truck Test 2012 caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s vice-president of commercial vehicles to such an extent that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take part. GAVIN MYERS spoke to Kobus van Zyl about his experience.
“And can you believe it? I was pulled over!” laughs Van Zyl as he recounts his experience driving Mercedes-Benz’s Actros 2658 entrant during Truck Test 2012. “We were just outside Harrismith when we drove past a police vehicle,” he explains. “As we went past, I pressed the hooter to wave at them – and they then proceeded to follow us with lights blazing!
“The big concern I had was that there were clear risks with a big rig like the Actros stopping on an uncompacted shoulder. We eventually found a safe place to stop, and even though it ‘damaged’ my fuel consumption, the police were actually friendly. And once they realised what we were busy with, they let us go quite quickly.
“But this was yet another example of what drivers experience every day, so I can also now update my CV with that,” laughs Van Zyl, who has held his code 14 driver’s licence for seven years now.
“I decided early on in my commercial vehicle career that the best way to have a good understanding of the products would be to drive them,” he says. “That’s why we have a motto here: ‘If you can’t drive it, you can’t sell it’.”
That said, Van Zyl doesn’t get the opportunity to do so as often as he’d like. “Taking part in this test, I wanted to experience commercial vehicles in the operational sense: with other trucks running, and spending some time with the teams and drivers of the other rigs. There was a big experience aspect for me.
“But it was reinforced in my mind very quickly that there’s a constant requirement for absolute focus and concentration from the driver. Despite the fact that we’ve got so much technological support today, the driver remains the single most important factor in ensuring economical and safe operation,” says Van Zyl.
His 6,5-hour drive saw him do the Johannesburg to Harrismith and Cato Ridge to Ballito legs. Taking part in the test gave Van Zyl the opportunity to observe other drivers and see how they cope with their operational environment and the driving conditions they are subjected to.
“It was excellent for me!” he says. “I was so energised – though a little bit tired – when I got to Ballito, but it was a fantastic experience. From 05:00 when we left Alrode, to arriving in Ballito at 17:00, it was just one incredibly well-spent, well-run day.
“What stood out for me most was when we left Anderson’s Transport. The procession of beautiful vehicles in the sort of ‘grand prix’ set off, and Fritz Hellberg with his clipboard and stopwatch, everybody tense and nervous – it was actually quite an emotional moment. That was my best part of the experience,” he smiles.
“I felt the Actros performed faultlessly,” he adds. “And it was a very good experience for Mercedes-Benz and also for the transport industry in general.
“But we can do a lot more. I hope my colleagues will take me up on the challenge I set at the RFA Conference, especially with regards to doing more in terms of general public awareness – the public needs to be aware of what we do in terms of our environmental efforts, safety standards and what it takes to drive these vehicles,” he says. “It could be a great social responsibility drive.”
And maybe the traffic police won’t be so surprised by friendly truck drivers either …