The pursuit of perfect consumption
GAVIN MYERS joins Volvo as it sends two popular FH models from Jet Park in Gauteng, to Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal and back – on a quest for ultimate fuel consumption
I struggle to understand how the employees at the Volvo Pinetown dealership manage to get their work done every day, with the rather delectable aroma hanging in the air from the Bakers Biscuits factory just across the road …
Having just arrived at the dealership, after about nine hours on the road with driver trainer Yaganshran “Alvin” Naiker in an FH480, I can think of little else but clawing at the gate and asking for handouts.
We are, however, here on a mission of a less tasty, but equally satisfying, kind: to extract the best real-world figures possible from the FH480 and its smaller FH440 brother – which has just pulled in behind us with driver trainer Mthokozisi “Mtho” Sangweni at the wheel.
The test was put together by Volvo Trucks South Africa demo fleet and training manager, Phillip Phasha. His aim was to demonstrate what is achievable with these popular FH “all-rounders”, when driven by trained drivers and using Volvo’s on-board Dynafleet system.
Both vehicles are hauling identical Afrit flat-deck interlink trailers. Phasha was unable to secure a full 56 t load for each rig, due to logistical constraints, so these are loaded with 32 t of bricks on loan for the test from Rosema Bricks.
“This is a benchmarking exercise for a long-haul roundtrip trip on the N3. Most operators claim an average fuel consumption of 1,8 km/l, we are aiming for around 2,2 km/l,” Phasha explains.
Naiker and Sangweni have nearly 30 years of driving experience between them. Both have worked for some of South Africa’s top transport operators and have been training Volvo customers for a number of years. They’re both particular fans of the FH’s fuel-saving features and the Dynafleet system.
Leaving the Volvo head office in Jet Park, on Gauteng’s east rand, at 06:00, Naiker wastes no time explaining the virtues of the Eco-Roll system. “When the system identifies that the truck is on a flat or downhill section, it automatically puts the transmission in neutral and allows kinetic energy to carry the truck for up to three kilometres.”
The system requires the truck’s 12-speed I-Shift transmission and three-stage retarder to be in their automatic modes. “All you need do is set the over-speed control on the cruise control. As soon as the truck’s momentum reaches this speed, the engine brake and retarder will engage to bring it back to the speed you’ve set for the section of road ahead,” he explains.
If the truck encounters an uphill gradient and loses a certain amount of momentum, the transmission will engage the correct gear to allow it to keep climbing efficiently.
On the trip back I join Sangweni in the FH440 – I’m particularly interested to see how the less-powerful truck compares as we climb our way back up to the reef. “We need to observe how it does up Marian Hill and Van Reenen’s Pass – the more gear changes made, the heavier the fuel consumption will be,” Phasha explains.
Sangweni illustrates the virtues of the Dynafleet system as he uses it to coach himself on the trip. “There are various aspects to the system,” he begins. “It monitors my driving and, using the Driver Coaching component, I can see where I’m doing well, or what I might need to improve. The Trip Log records details such as fuel used; idling time; over revving and coasting – which the boss can also view online or on the Dynafleet app.”
The system also goes a step further, incorporating a two-way messaging feature with a wireless keyboard in the cab (that can only be used when the vehicle is stationary).
“You see! Driving a truck is all about having patience!” Sangweni exclaims as he hits his target consumption near the end of our trip. “Using training, the truck’s systems and the Dynafleet coaching, any driver will be able to repeat the figures we’ve obtained on this test.”
Back at Volvo HQ, Phasha is pleased with the results returned by both vehicles. “We’ve been able to practically show the market what a Volvo can do, and the difference proper driver training can make,” he smiles.
As for me, the test has brought a few things to my attention as well … First, if transport operators and their drivers were all as passionate as the likes of Phasha, Naiker and Sangweni, South Africa would have a far safer trucking industry.
Second, real-world fuel consumption gains are easy to achieve if you have the will to do so. And, third, I’d still kill for some of those freshly baked biscuits …