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August 5, 2011

The Three Points of Economy Driving

Drivers have a major influence on trucking costs, just how much was driven home for me at Mercedes-Benz, when I was in Germany late last year. It came as no real surprise as we know through work done here by the Technology and Maintenance Council of ATA that a driver can impact fuel use by 30% ‒ far more than can be gained by all the fuel saving gizmos that can be hung on a truck.

Of course, in Europe where fuel is $7+ per gallon, the drive to deliver fuel-efficient products at the manufacturer level is intense. So the driver won’t negate those fuel economy efforts, since the early 1970s Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand has partnered with its trucker customers to do something about the driver impact on fuel economy.

Back then, a training program was introduced as an available benefit at the Daimler-Benz Customer Center at the Woerth truck plant and in its first year the program saw 2,000 drivers take the course. With the completion of the stunning new Customer Center in 1991, the number had risen to 35,000 drivers. Today, though, fewer trainees go through the center as more and more of the training gets done at customer locations by the dozen driver trainers on the Daimler staff.

In Europe, where fleet sizes are in general much smaller than here, it is not unusual for a Mercedes-Benz truck customer to go to the factory to collect a new truck. There the proud owner or driver ‒ or both ‒ can get an orientation on the new vehicle and, if they choose, an opportunity to learn how to drive it to get the best performance and economy that is part of the three-pointed star’s brand promise.

As part of a visit to the Woerth plant after last year’s Hanover truck show, a small cadre of North American trucking journalists had the opportunity to experience this driver education process.

In the introduction, trainer Mathius Beismann said that in the aftermath of the world-wide oil-price escalation of the 1970s, Daimler set about building a driver training module. The reason, explained Beismann, is that when you carve up European operating costs, something like 56% are fixed costs, but the remainder – 4% for tires, 8% for repair and maintenance, 32% for fuel – are all very much influenced by the driver. Plus, using the anticipatory driving techniques that are the basis of the training, safety is also improved, potentially lowering insurance costs and maybe giving the driver as much as 50% control over lifetime costs of operating a heavy truck – whatever the brand.

The course is pretty intensive, but can take as little as seven hours for an experienced driver or as much as three days for a “train the trainer” who will go back to spread the gospel at his fleet. And that includes the driver certification/re-certification training that all drivers of vehicles over 3.5 tonne (7,700 pounds) must have on a regular basis.

The training emphasizes the anticipation of potential accidents first, then observation of the route, junctions such as roundabouts, traffic lights and so on to maximize the momentum of the trucks, loaded to 40 tonne (88,000 pounds) GCW. The training extends to using the engine, automated 12-speed transmission and the five-level retarder to keep the truck rolling as much as possible.

During a 90-minute drive, Beismann touched the service brakes just twice on the route and once more setting the brakes back at the Customer Center. And that involved a route negotiating the incredibly tight and incredibly beautiful little old German villages en route.

The Mercedes-Benz Actros cabover he was driving is something of a technological tour de force. It has so many driver-settable controls that the Driver Information booklet runs to 100 pages. Some of that includes a little Mercedes-Benz history, but the rest is a fairly technical description of the truck and how it should be driven for maximum safety and efficiency. Beismann gave a convincing demonstration using cruise control, engine brake and retarder and even, in restricted construction zones, the programmable top speed control to save exceeding some of the very low speed limits.

And talking of low, the handbook says that if less than 2/3rds of the throttle pedal is called for, then the driver should be cruising as near to 900 rpm as possible. It relents a little at full power, when the range is 100 to 1500. At the other end of the scale, the up-to-476 hp V6 and the up-to-598 hp V8 can be run out to 2200 rpm for the maximum retarder operation.

Beismann did everything by the book. So it can be done. It takes commitment from the truck manufacturer, like this training from Daimler, and it takes commitment by the fleet to improve the skills of drivers. The reward? Maybe 15% to 20% improvement in driver-related costs according to Beismann.

And that’s worth having in anyone’s book.

1 comment:

  1. Some of these are great points to focus on, by doing so the driving skills of the driver will be improved and lot of money will be saved which was just wasted behind a driver.

    Driver Training

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