“Testing times” with Fritz

“Testing times” with Fritz

If ever there was a reason for stress levels to run at an all-time high, it was the introduction of the FOCUS Truck Test programme. But Fritz Hellberg, with his unflappable and easy-going nature, ensured that the wheels kept on turning … and everyone kept on smiling.

If ever there was a man who put the gentle into gentleman, it was Fritz. I first got to know him many decades ago, but it was only when we started working together VERY closely on the Truck Test programme, that I really got to know this true gentleman.

Fritz first approached me with the Truck Test concept at the RFA Conference in Gaborone in 2011, after apparently having chatted about the idea to Voith’s Peter Wraight and the RFA’s Gavin Kelly. Fritz, in turn, approached me.

“I think this could work. It looks as though the recession is over. Truck availability is probably better now than it was in the overheated market of the pre-recession years. In recent years, a number of new vehicle brands have entered the heavy end of the truck market and these might want to be showcased to the industry. Furthermore, the world is much more environmentally orientated now, and that includes the trucking industry,” he pointed out.

I agreed. Readily. And so the concept of Truck Test was born. There and then, Fritz and I chatted to Engen. The company enthusiastically welcomed the concept, coming on board straight away and agreeing to sponsor the fuel. (Thank you Karen Smith and Lindsay Bassett from Engen.) Ctrack was our next port of call; the team from DigiCore enthusiastically embraced the concept.

But then, of course, it was time to start nurturing our little baby, which rapidly took on a life of its own as the industry embraced the idea of establishing independent, real-life performance data. As the convenor of the event, Fritz was ever so enthusiastic – from day one.

“We will be showcasing the performance of trucks in a controlled environment, the results of which can then be transposed into practical day-to-day operations as benchmarks. Our test can practically demonstrate how fuel efficiency has developed in recent times by having, for instance, vehicles with Euro-2 specifications running side-by-side with vehicles with Euro-4 or even Euro-5 engines.

“It can also demonstrate concepts such as the Performance Based Standards (PBS) for vehicle design and the benefits of substantially improved aerodynamics of rigs,” he enthused. It was a delight to watch the man at work … his mighty wonderful brain ticking over as he pondered all the possibilities and implications.

The first test – of extra-heavy commercial vehicles – took place in 2012. In 2013, we scrutinised 4×2 freight carriers with a legal carrying capacity of seven tonnes and over. Both tests were huge successes … and that was all thanks to Fritz. He took our little baby under his wing, nurturing it until it grew into a handsome adult. Along the way, he showed some discipline – of course. Even the best-behaved kids need some guidance.

He also demonstrated an incredible ability to mediate and placate. While the Truck Test has never been a competition, the manufacturers are always eager to outperform their rivals. I saw Fritz calm many a stormy discussion with anxious manufacturers …

His job as convenor of Truck Test was a tough one. There were so many things that could go wrong. (Thanks to his superb planning, they didn’t.) However, throughout the entire process, he remained cool, calm, collected, unflappable … and I never saw him without a smile. (Actually that’s not true. During the 2012 test, I caught him napping under a bridge. That was after a 3.30 am start that morning …) Our “testing times” were anything but testing …

In the last quarter of 2013, we began planning for the 2014 event, which takes place in April. We will be testing five- to nine-tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM) vehicles this time around. Once again, Fritz headed the planning sessions enthusiastically … he was determined to ensure that the 2014 Truck Test would be the best one ever.

But now Fritz’s truck-testing times are over. Sadly, he won’t be able to join us at Truck Test 2014. But I know that he will be with us in spirit, watching down on us, and gently urging us on.

Rest in peace, Fritz. I learnt many lessons from you; I think the most valuable one was kindness. I never heard you say a harsh word about anyone or anything … even after queuing for three hours to refuel trucks in the dead of night.

You transformed our industry and you were an absolutely essential part of the FOCUS family. We will miss you. For ever.


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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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