Delivering better service and lower costs

REFLECTING its commitment to providing every client with the optimal logistics solution, Imperial Logistics has invested R1.6 million and devoted 12 months to a vehicle testing project that has generated an unrivalled vehicle selection model. It is enabling the group to identify the ideal vehicle for different long distance routes in South Africa and offer clients improved service and cost savings.

Francois Ehlers, technical executive at Imperial, explains that the year-long project focused on premium brand 6 x 4 tractor trailers, with primarily European units evaluated. “A total of 10 different vehicles were tested, and these represented the latest technology and specifications from the different manufacturers,” he expands. “Our aim was to ensure that Imperial clients can expect the right ‘tool’ for the task – in this case the vehicle that delivers the best performance and fuel economy on a particular route, thereby driving our clients’ competitiveness.”

Imperial’s test drives were carried out on five different routes: Johannesburg to Cape Town, Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth to East London, East London to Durban and Durban to Johannesburg. Ehlers notes that a detailed schedule was followed by the test drivers, in order to minimise variables. “Driving time was not a factor, since our selection of vehicles tested was based on certain horse power and torque capabilities. We set an 80km/h speed limit on the test. For every route tested, our drivers left the starting point at the same time, to remove variables like the effect of air temperature on fuel consumption.”

The issues of load distribution and variable payloads were also removed from the testing process, since every trip was undertaken with the same, full dead load. “We did not use payloads, and sought to not touch the load during the test, to ensure that it was identical for every vehicle tested,” he stresses, and adds that since customer loads were not transported during the testing, this was an exercise that did not generate revenue for Imperial.

Outlining the testing process, Ehlers says that every vehicle was driven on the five routes twice, by two different drivers, following the same detailed schedule, with specified times and points for stops. “This ensured that a very thorough set of results could be generated.” Some of the tests were undertaken utilising “aerokits” on the vehicles, to assess the impact of wind resistance on fuel consumption.

Imperial’s ultimate goal was to develop a cost of ownership model for each different vehicle over five years, which factored in its fuel consumption on the different routes. A cradle to grave approach was followed, and, in addition to fuel economy, further considerations were the vehicle’s original purchase price, maintenance costs, vehicle warranty and trade-back agreement.

Along with the standard vehicle maintenance costs, Imperial’s team also considered the impact on the cost of ownership of spare parts that would not be covered by a maintenance contract. Ehlers elaborates: “If the vehicle is in an accident or a mirror or door is bumped, costs would be incurred for these parts, so we priced out a ‘parts basket’ for each vehicle, and factored this into our model, too.”

He notes, however, that the testing was not entirely focused on Rand and cents, and says that in addition to measurable factors like fuel consumption, purchase prices and spare parts, this exercise also included drivers’ feedback and scorecards. “Driver fatigue will impact how many kilometres can be travelled, and this is affected by subjective factors like cab comfort, in-cab features like air conditioning and the radio, even the bed size.” To gauge how each vehicle delivered in these areas, the test drivers completed detailed scorecards, rating elements like the seat comfort and operation; cab suspension; interior space; rear view mirrors; storage areas; bed comfort; air conditioner efficiency; quality of the radio; and driver’s view. Other important features that the drivers assessed, Ehlers states, were the ease of access for inspections like oil and brake fluid. “If a driver needs to check fluid levels, we wanted to establish whether he can do so easily, or whether this is an onerous process. Whether state-of-the-art features like lane assist and proximity control were standard was also considered,” he adds.

Ehlers reveals that at the end of the exercise, all of the premium brands assessed performed equally well in terms of the drivers’ scorecards. “Our aim was to see if there were any driver perception issues that really stood out, but, ultimately, all the units tested received similar high ratings from the drivers.

“It finally came down to the measurable factors,” he states. “In terms of fuel efficiency, we discovered that each of the test vehicles clearly performed differently on the different routes. Some were more fuel efficient than others at altitude, and likewise, some outperformed others at sea level. There are clearly different trucks for different operations and different routes. There is no one size fits all, but rather, horses for courses,” he quips.

Imperial’s vehicle selection model has enabled the group to identify a limited number of premium brands that are best suited for each route, and focus on adding these to its substantial fleet of more than 5 300 vehicles. “We are able to make fully informed purchasing decisions, depending on the region and route, and negotiate the best rates with vehicle manufacturers. The information we have gleaned is helping us to improve our clients’ competitiveness by optimising our transport service, efficiency and costs,” he concludes.