Cameron Dudley-Owen knows a thing or two about truck aerodynamics. After all, that’s all he’s been doing since 1986. GAVIN MYERS got to know the man behind the aerokits.
It’s amazing the turns one’s life can take – as Cameron Dudley-Owen, director of Aero Truck, and I contemplate. After all, before landing up in truck aerodynamics, Dudley-Owen was a farmer. Unfortunately (or fortunately for our industry) farming wasn’t as profitable as he’d hoped, which resulted in Dudley-Owen moving into the motor industry.
“I certainly never expected to end up in aerodynamics,” he says. “But life just sort of dictates the way.” And dictate it has. “We were making spoilers for motorcars, but that was dying a natural death,” he tells me. “So, coming from England where European truckers were realising the benefits of wind deflectors, we thought we’d move into that.” And, despite there being almost no local market for this concept back in 1986, Dudley-Owen guided a fledgling Aero Truck in growing its own market.
He relates the story of his relationship with Bakers Transport in Pietermaritzburg, which is Aero Truck’s longest-standing customer. “In the 1980s I’d drive down to Pietermaritzburg with one Aero Kit and fit it myself. Two weeks later I’d do the same thing again. It’s taken this time to grow – no big company would have done it, because the market wasn’t there,” he says. For the first five or six years Dudley-Owen played in very much a “garden-sized” industry, but, today, an aerodynamic kit is not a product that needs to be sold – it has to go on the truck.
Of course, in the current climate of stratospheric fuel prices and every business sector now worrying about pollution and sustainability, it’s a completely different industry to the one Dudley-Owen started 25 years ago. “I am a business man at heart,” he notes. With Aero Truck branches now in Durban, Cape Town and Meyerton (in addition to the main plant in Tulisa Park, Johannesburg), he is in his office early each morning to ensure everything is running smoothly at all the divisions.
Dudley-Owen notes that he is fortunate to have a competent and experienced production team, lead by an excellent production manager, Filemon Chambal.
He says that, if there are projects to be undertaken and jobs to be delivered, he and his team can be busy 24/7 – Aero Truck’s fitting teams are operating countrywide to meet the clients’ needs. The company also takes pride in its level of customer care and fast response to any problems that may develop.
On the design side, Dudley-Owen states: “I appreciate the artistic aspect of the designs and handle this myself with the assistance of my development team. I’m very hands-on when it comes to development – it has to be a good product to both work on the truck and be aesthetic as well.”
Which leads us to the topic of the latest in trailer design: the teardrop. “The teardrop is a British concept that many have bought into,” he notes. “Make no mistake; the British have done a lot of work on truck aerodynamics,” he adds. “I think it’s a great idea, but they don’t make jumbo jets in a tear drop shape … so it might not turn out to be cost effective. My view is to make the brick as round as possible, as demonstrated by development work with Barloworld’s Green Truck; Bakers’ Advanced Aerodynamic Truck and MAN’s Efficient Line project.”
Dudley-Owen is excited about a forthcoming project with DHL and Mercedes-Benz, in which Aero Truck is to do some work on a teardrop interlink, while at the same time duplicating it on a standard square trailer to see what the differences are. Dudley-Owen is also doing work with tanker aerodynamics. “Anything that moves can be made more aerodynamic,” he stresses.
“From an eco-friendly standpoint, trucks are not the most efficient way to lower the carbon footprint, but, until we have a freight railway service that functions, road transport is the only option. So in my view it is essential to continue to work towards making our trucking industry as green as possible,” says Dudley-Owen.
So there is certainly no sign of him stopping – being at the forefront of the industry in South Africa is the one highlight that Dudley-Owen is most proud of. “We’ve done a lot of work greening this country when everybody else thought it was a waste of time, but, thankfully, it’s not like that anymore,” he smiles.