On the bustling roads of Victoria’s Western Freeway, ATN was joined by a Scania driver trainer in one of its V8 prime movers to showcase the work the vehicle giant is doing in maximising vehicle efficiency
For many heavy vehicle manufacturers, efficiency is all about the engine and other internal parts. The latest models of trucks are being made lighter and slimmer than ever before to match the consistent transition to zero-emissions vehicles and more sustainable operations.
Much like anything it does, Scania Group Australia has zoomed out of this view, instead looking at all facets of truck driving to increase efficiency. Its newest forays into the space include looking at driver behaviours and finding ways to make minute changes. By doing so, its goal is to make every Scania truck traversing Australia travel just that bit further on each run without needing to refuel.
I’m shown this complex thought pattern in the flesh as I turn up at one of Scania’s Victorian branches in Laverton North on an overcast May morning.
I’ll be taking a ride in one of Scania’s new truck generation evaluation test vehicles in the R 660 V8 prime mover 6×4. It’s an impressive beast that glints in the rays of sun that try to peak through dense cloud cover. Yet my attention and awe is quickly taken away from the truck before me to the small innovations that Scania has fitted in around the truck itself.
Upon escorting me to the V8 model, Scania driver trainer Peter Clarkson reveals the brand’s first nifty trick to increase sustainability. Instead of turning on the lights and checking they all work while letting the engine warm up, the key system of the new generation truck can rotate through all of the lights at the click of a button.
This means the driver doesn’t even have to hop up and turn on the ignition to check everything is working smoothly. For Clarkson and Scania, there’s no notion of ‘warming up’ the truck – with some of the latest technology Scania fits into these prime movers, the engine is more than capable of performing admirably at the click of a button.
Immediately it shows Scania is focused on reducing all excess uses of fuel and time, no matter how small they might be. This handy addition to the key system means no fuel is used while drivers check through the array of lights before starting their runs.
If this wasn’t enough, the innovations to efficiency and sustainability only increase upon climbing up into the passenger seat of the prime mover.
From here, Clarkson is comfortable to showcase the many improvements Scania has made to its new generation V8 models. He’s been brought onboard by the heavy vehicle giant to train the many operators and drivers at the wheel of Scania trucks around Australia. He’s not there to teach them how to drive a truck – instead, he’s focused on tweaking behaviours to get the most out of each Scania vehicle on the road so that they all perform to their best.
As soon as we rumble out onto the suburban roads, the internal parts of Scania’s efficiency push is made evident.
On the right side of the steering wheel is the retarder that Clarkson often clicks up and down as he travels along the industrial area of Laverton North. It’s quickly made clear that Clarkson is barely using his feet, especially when it comes to braking. Upon asking, I stumble upon the major driver behaviour change that Clarkson is trying to impart on the many Scania truck drivers around Australia.
“The retarder uses multiple click levels to implement the brake rather than using the foot pedals, which is more efficient for the vehicle,” he says.
“This protects the Scania gearbox and lowers fuel usage.”
While doing this, Clarkson also aims to cut out any unnecessary braking. If he sees vehicles up ahead begin to brake at an intersection, he immediately takes the foot off the accelerator and rolls forward, allowing the heavy truck to come to as much of a stop as it can before his hand begins clicking the retarder.
It’s a different way to drive for many of Australian drivers, but Clarkson says he has already seen how much better it can be. Although it may sound foreign to truckies, Clarkson says it’s simply a new habit that can be easily learnt, providing more kilometres per each full tank and making traversing Australia’s roads easier.
For me in the passenger seat, it’s a simple tweak that has many logical benefits. Yet I’m not in a driver’s cab each and every day – what matters most is how truck drivers respond to this.
Clarkson says many have accepted it when he hops in the passenger seat on a journey, but many veterans are also reluctant to change their style.
“I teach a mix of drivers how to drive Scania trucks more efficiently, with many being receptive,” he says.
“However, some do get agitated and tell me they’ve been driving for 40 years, so what could I teach them when it comes to driving a truck?
“I tell them I can’t, and that I’m just there to get the most out of their vehicles so they have better experiences driving Scania trucks. That seems to do the trick.”
Although Clarkson is a driver trainer, the word ‘trainer’ isn’t necessarily the best way to describe what he does. He’s more of an external guide, helping point out factors and stimuli that many truck drivers may not initially perceive, such as the brake lights shining up the road and what that means for them.
He says the biggest learning he’s been able to impart on drivers is how to roll to a stop instead of braking suddenly.
But that doesn’t mean the V8 truck we’re in is just idling along. As we get further away from Melbourne and along the sloping bends and hills of the Western Freeway, the ease and grace at which the truck takes the gradients shows the firepower lurking beneath the hood of this model.
As we finish another descent and begin the winds back upwards, Clarkson uses momentum to get himself up. Just as it looks like the pace is beginning to slow on the behemoth prime mover we’re in, he gives the accelerator a light nudge and the V8 power brims to the surface, easily carrying us through the rest of the ascent.
Between Clarkson and this model, the drive is smooth and easy. He has history in teaching people how to drive heavy vehicles such as fire brigade trucks before joining Scania. These models may not have been Scania’s, but it didn’t stop him in learning the basics to provide some handy tips to the many truck drivers around Australia.
His job came full circle recently when he was tasked with delivering a Scania truck to the Mildura fire department, where his son currently works. On the way there, Clarkson used the new and improved Scania driver cab to call his son hands-free and say he was currently driving the truck his son would use up to the station.
As we turn around and make the return trip to Scania home base, he tells me how he’s set to go to Mount Gambier the next week to teach more Australian truckies how to get the most out of their Scania models. While doing so, he flicks the active cruise control on early to prevent his foot from sliding towards the brake pedals.
He does it with amazing ease, a mixture of flicking hands on the retarder and early foresight allowing him to return back among the hills of the Western Freeway without too much stress. When returning to more traffic and merging cars, the cruise control is at it again, sensing cars that pull in front too close for comfort and immediately slowing to match their speed.
At a time where heavy vehicle safety is in the spotlight, these innovations make a world of difference for our afternoon drive. All throughout it, the engine is incredibly quiet, purring along without having to raise its voice to a roar.
Upon returning to the Scania branch and hopping out, it’s clear that both Clarkson and Scania have eyes on efficiency and ease. Its latest touches on new models like this V8 prime mover prove that these efficiencies are in place to help not just the truck, but the driver too. And that’s a bonus for all Australians.