IN Training | REVIEW Shane Blakeborough – Mercedes-Benz Actros

Shane Blakeborough took the lessons learned from driver training into full-time truck operation 

Shane Blakeborough has been involved in the transport game for a long time, and covered many different aspects of the industry. From humble beginnings operating a crane truck, he and his wife went on to build a successful driver training school “Journey Management Group”, which is now one of the largest privately owned driver training schools in Australia.

In more recent years, Shane has returned to the working side of the industry, and over the last four years has built up a fleet of 75 trucks that cover both regional and interstate tasks. This growth hasn’t happened just through good luck, though. There has been a lot of work applied in the background to ensure the business not only services the needs of its clients, but does so efficiently and safely, and utilises cost-effective equipment to get the job done.

The latest additions to the SBL fleet are four Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663 prime movers. This is a notable purchase for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the SBL fleet has, up until now, been made up of primarily American-style trucks, and secondly, the choice of truck was heavily influenced by those who actually drive them.

“It wasn’t about me walking in and saying we’re buying Benzs, or we’re buying Scanias, or we’re buying MANs,” explained Shane Blakeborough.

“Guys won’t drive them. They’ve got to have ownership in wanting to drive these trucks. Before a truck would be considered, it had to go through a 20,000 km evaluation drive. Each guy had it for 20,000 km, drove it, and would know after three or four weeks what problems came about,” he added.

While there were a few other makes that went through the same evaluation process, the Actros came out on top overall in the driver’s opinions.

“Within an hour, the first guy was saying this is different. He did a trip in it, came back home and said this was the rising star. This was a game changer, because we had four other trucks that were ready to be ordered, and this caused us to cancel that order. These things were so much better,” he said bluntly.

With the Actros earmarked as the best potential candidate, the demo truck was left in the shed to judge the reaction of those drivers not involved in the trial.

“We would park it out the front of the door here, and leave the keys in it,” said Shane. “All the interstate drivers would walk past it and say, ‘I’m not driving that, it’s a Mercedes-Benz’. But, when no-one was around, they would climb up and have a look. The comments and the feedback were just fantastic”.

But, while the driver’s opinion is important, the operating costs also have to be factored into the purchasing decision. According to Mr. Blakeborough, the Actros also won out in this area.

“The second thing that obviously played a huge part was the fuel. We were absolutely smashed by the fuel consumption. The fuel was just the biggest game changer,” Shane continued.

“We had an SAR with an E5 (Cummins ISX E5) doing a comparison run, and we went from 2.1 km/l (with the SAR) to 2.9 km/l (with the Actros). We thought there was something wrong, we were out checking the bowser”.

“This went on for a number of weeks. The more the driver wanted to be a part of making it better on fuel, the better it got. But what we also found was that we could put any driver in it and get amazing fuel consumption. There was a huge fuel number that just couldn’t be missed,” added Shane.

According to Mr. Blakeborough, a typical service cost also worked in favour of the Actros. With all the electronics on the new engine, the engine will actually dictate the service intervals based on oil quality and numerous other parameters. This could be either a good or bad thing, but, in the case of SBL’s four Actroses, it seems to be a positive.

“The better the driver we put in this thing, the longer the service interval got,” Mr. Blakeborough said. “So, where with the E5s we’re servicing at 40,000 km, we have seen numbers of up to 80,000 km (with the Actros).

“While there is still bound to be some minor servicing in between engine services, this adds to the appeal from a whole-of-life point of view, significantly reducing operating costs and downtime.”

The Actros also brings with it a suite of smart technology that benefits both efficiency and safety. All new trailers to join the fleet since 2014 have been fitted with EBS braking.

“We see the EBS trailers as a great tool for our drivers’ safety. We used to say we’d never know whether EBS has been a good thing. Now we do know, because the vehicle tells us.

“The trailer and the EBS unit talk directly to the truck, so we haven’t had any of the interface issues that we had with other brands. This goes so far as to alert the driver that the lift axle has automatically raised, should the load not require a third axle.

“The minute you get out the gate and you’re up to 18 km/h, and the axle doesn’t think it needs to be there, it just pops up on the dashboard. The technology from the Mercedes truck into the trailers has just been so simple”.

Axle weight readings for the truck and trailers can also be shown on the dash, with Shane saying, “We fit axle air pressure weight gauges to all of our trailers and trucks, but we haven’t seen the need with the Mercedes, because it just comes up on the dash. We know exactly what the weights are, and it’s also giving us a much more accurate number”.

It would seem after just a few months of operation, the Mercedes-Benz Actros is proving a good addition to the SBL fleet. Not only are the drivers happy to drive them (in fact, many other drivers in the fleet are now asking for them), but the return to the bottom line is also there.

With significant savings in fuel, AdBlue and maintenance, SBL is expecting big things from these trucks.

“If you’d have asked me twelve months ago would I have a fleet of Mercedes-Benz trucks in my yard, I would’ve probably told you no, there’s not a hope in hell,” he said. “But, I look at my bottom line every day. If you look at those numbers, we are seeing reductions in servicing costs, fuel, AdBlue and tyres. We expect to see a return saving of around $40,000 a year, per truck,” he added.

Mercedes-Benz has been spruiking the benefits of the new Actros for some time, with driver comfort, efficiency and whole-of-life costs being touted as the main criterion in its design.

While it’s one thing for a manufacturer to make claims about a new model, there is no telling how true they are until the truck is put to work in the real world. Only then can you get a true perspective on the improvements (or otherwise), from someone who has put their own money on the line to find out if those claims are true. If Shane Blakeborough’s experience is anything to go by, it would seem the numbers support MB’s claims.

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