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Mercedes-Benz revealed a prototype of urban tractor based on the Econic model

Mercedes-Benz revealed a prototype of urban tractor based on the Econic model

Mercedes-Benz has revealed a prototype urban tractor unit based on its low-entry Econic chassis. The truck features a deep, panoramic windscreen and full-height glazed passenger door, and a low seating position which enables the driver to make direct eye contact with cyclists and pedestrians at junctions and in traffic. The German manufacturer said the 4x2 Econic 1835L tractor will operate at a maximum GCW of 36 tonnes.

The truck has a 7.7-litre, 354 bhp straightsix engine and six-speed Allison automatic gearbox – though Merc confirmed a PowerShift automated ’box will be available in Econic models with the same engine before the end of this year. The vehicle made its public debut at Truckfest Peterborough and includes recent refinements to the Econic cab made to enhance driver appeal. These include a driver’s door which is higher and opens more widely, and a reprofiled floor to make cross-cab access easier.

“Our experience over the last couple of years in London and elsewhere has proved the safety benefits the Econic offers in comparison to a conventional rigid truck chassis give it significant market appeal,” said Philip Chance, senior municipal sales & special applications manager at M-B Trucks.

Ford Improves the Popular F-650 and F-750 Commercial Series Trucks

Ford Improves the Popular F-650 and F-750 Commercial Series Trucks

The Ford medium-duty series of trucks sold like gangbusters last year, and Ford plans to continue that trend with a series of 2018 model year upgrades. Designed for usability in the workforce and easy maintenance, the F-650 and F-750 chassises are helpful additions to any fleet.

Exclusive to the medium duty market, Ford offers both a gas and diesel engine for the F-650. Owners can either equip their truck with the honking 6.7-liter Powerstroke diesel V-8 or 6.8-liter gas-powered V-10. Both engines serve specific purposes and can drastically effect the cost of daily fleet operation.

The 6.7-liter is tuned to the sound of three different power outputs: 270 horsepower and 675 lb-ft of torque; 300 hp and 700 lb-ft; and 330 hp and 725 lb-ft. On a side note, if you were every wondering how much play these engines have in regards to tuning, here is your answer. Another comforting aspect of the new Ford F-650 and F-750 is under warranty for five years or a whopping 250,000 miles. Although both figures will most likely be surpassed by many owners, it is nice to see high-mileage warranties backing a product.

For the 2018 model year, Ford has added standard electronic stability control and traction control braking to the F-750. Ford is also offering a high-output 240-amp alternator for the 6.8-liter V-10 engine. This was done in order to allow for substantial auxiliary lighting—think the sort of accessories needed by ambulances, snow plows and tow trucks.

Other improvements include moving the engine oil dipstick on diesel models so it's now accessible from the ground. For gasoline models, the transmission fluid dipstick has been moved for the same reason. The final update for 2018 is an optional 3-inch front full-width bumper extension, which pushes the front bumper out in front of the grille/hood. 

DAF presents the new generation of CF and XF with technical and design updates

DAF presents the new generation of CF and XF with technical and design updates

DAF is introducing the new generation CF and XF trucks, which set a new standard in transport efficiency and driver comfort. Engine innovations, new drivelines and aerodynamic optimizations result in an up to 7% lower fuel consumption. The new DAF Connect fleet management system will drive even larger efficiency gains. The new generation CF and XF also feature lower weight for increased payload and an updated interior and exterior design for the highest driver comfort and greatest appeal. These excellent new trucks provide our customers with the lowest operating cost and the highest uptime.

DAF has enriched the exterior styling with subtle and stylish elements. A new DAF nameplate with a redesigned DAF logo featuring chrome letters symbolize the trucks’ quality. Accents in the bumper and sun visor give the exterior an extra touch of richness, as do the decorative strips in the grille and the new grill mesh.

Volvo reveals infotainment kit upgrades

Volvo reveals infotainment kit upgrades

Volvo Trucks has launched a new integrated infotainment system aimed at providing easier navigation, increased driver safety and more efficient fleet management. By combining the cab’s audio and entertainment unit with the navigation and fleet management systems, Volvo said it has created one easy-to-use, fully integrated system controlled via touch screen, voice command and buttons on the steering wheel.

“The new system allows drivers to really personalise their workspace,” said Anders Edenholm, chief project Manager at Volvo Trucks. “For example they can listen to their favourite local radio station no matter where they are, and they can have hands-free access to both their personal phone as well as work phone.”

The Swedish manufacturer said its new system allows for easier and more efficient assignment handling. The truck’s sat nav accepts a range of inputs for getting directions, including addresses, coordinates or by touching the onscreen map. Drivers can also access all Dynafleet OnBoard services including Driver Times Support, Driver Coaching and Messaging.

Volvo said drivers can use the system to track their driving performance and fuel consumption, plus identify areas where their performance could be Improved. “We’ve made it as easy as possible for drivers to navigate and complete their jobs," said John Comer, head of product management at Volvo Trucks UK & Ireland. “Because Dynafleet OnBoard and Navigation are integrated, drivers can receive messages with GPS coordinates and, in just with a few seconds, start navigating to their next job.”

Comer also stressed the safety benefits of the new system. “More time with hands on the steering wheel and eyes focused on the road means a safer and more productive driver,” he said. The upgraded infotainment kit is available when ordering a new FH, FM and FMX and can be specified with media only, Dynafleet messaging, navigation or a combination of the three.

Moving large but light static caravans is a challenge, but use the right kit and it becomes that much easier

Moving large but light static caravans is a challenge, but use the right kit and it becomes that much easier

Draw a circle around East and North Yorkshire and you’ll be on the epicentre for two commodities that share a tenuous link: ice cream and holiday caravans. The world’s second largest ice cream manufacturer (by volume) is just up the road at Leeming Bar, and within 45 miles of Hanson Caravan Transport’s Gilberdyke base lies almost every static caravan manufacturer you could name.

“We’re on the corridor in and out of the factories; that’s really why we moved here,” Gary Hanson tells us as we look out across the company’s new 2.3-acre site, recently acquired to replace two smaller yards. Hanson is now the nation’s largest static transporter, so location was key. “Probably 90% of the country’s static parc will come past us at some point on the nearby M62,” he remarks.

Leisure business booming

Currently the leisure business is booming. Manufacturers and holiday parks have seen record numbers of new caravans registered as more people look closer to home for their holiday requirements.

“When times are good, people buy caravans, when times are bad they rent them. The latter tend to keep their statics for a maximum of five years so it’s an ongoing replacement programme,” Gary explains.

Gary, Paul and Dawn Hanson share the day-to-day running of the company, started in 2010, although this is Gary’s second start-up. “I had a spell as an ownerdriver from 1999 until 2009 but this is really a numbers game. You’re never going to make much more than a living with one truck,” he admits. So, after a year out, the married couple joined up with Paul to launch the company they have today. “At the start we had the idea of more buying and selling than transporting but sometimes you have to just go in the direction customers dictate,” Paul says.

The truck fleet has grown steadily since 2010, at first sourcing from used dealers and auctions, whereas these days everything is bought new. An early association with Renault Trucks dealer Thompson Commercials has blossomed, and the Hanson fleet is 100% Renault. “The best part of the relationship is probably the dealer itself. Thompson tend to be really good at keeping their staff so, much the same as ourselves, you’re always dealing with the same people. It’s all new trucks with R&M,” says Gary.

“We’re now running a fleet of 31; 11 rigids and 20 artics. On the rigid side we started out with Premiums and newer Range Ds, but have now moved over to the larger Range Ts. “All of the trucks are occupied by a double-man team and the extra living space benefits both driver and second man,” adds Gary.

Range T flagship

There’s a slight reduction in body length with the Range T rigid (down from 32ft to 31ft), but Hanson thinks it’s a price worth paying for the much bigger cab. Chassis have changed with evolution too, with the older 4x2s replaced by higher-capacity 6x2s, albeit with one exception: in January of this year Hanson took delivery of its first flat-floor, left-hand-drive Range T 440. The 4x2 flagship rides on full air with polished alloy wheels, the manufacturer’s high level Comfort trim and some top and bottom light bars to finish it all off.

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Gary and Paul both agree that fleet replacement plans are currently openended, especially given the fact there is minimal strain on the chassis and driveline. “We’re not really pulling any weight. Our maximum payload is around nine tonnes but the average is probably down at around five tonnes,” Gary concedes. Dimensions vary as much as the weight – from 38ft x 13ft up to 49ft x 16 ft. Heights can be variable too, although Hanson says growth in recent years has seen a size increase. So much so that some of the larger statics are split into two sections. So there are no 15.5m trailers planned?

“No,” Gary says unequivocally, going on to explain that almost all sites and holiday parks are in rural areas with restricted enough access as it is. “We have four extending trailers capable of a 60ft reach. That gives us the flexibility to do the odd long mobile home while not putting too many eggs in one basket.”

Planning ahead

Larger caravans mean more planning, such as site surveys. The two-man truck crews can call on one of seven pilot vans for help, especially handy when scouting ahead for potential access issues is called for. And the value of these homes from home? A basic static will set you back around £12,000 but at the much larger luxury end you could be writing a cheque for up to £180,000!

If you’ve a CAT D11 bulldozer on the back of your low-loader and you hit a tree branch, we all know which would come off worse. Clip a tree with a static caravan and it’s a different story. “If you’re moving around 300 caravans a week, you are going to hit the odd overhanging obstruction,” Gary acknowledges. “But we have a quality procedure in place to deal with issues instantly,” Dawn adds.

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High winds are also a hazard for the light load-carrying boys. The driver makes the decision as to whether to stop or continue in high winds. “We don’t make 20 drivers park up in adverse weather or make them press on to make deadlines. They are the people out on the roads so we leave them to make the call,” says Gary. Staff turnover here is pleasantly low. Dawn reports daily phone calls from young people looking for a job as a second man, which is the firm’s one and only route for fresh, inexperienced potential employees (it has a ‘no under 25s’ policy). They progress to escort driver and then to the truck.

“Training second men is proving to be a good thing for all of us,” she says. “It schools people, from spending lots of time with an experienced driver through to passing their car test and working on one of the pilot vans, then on to full C+E licences.” If more mature drivers join without caravan transport experience they get six weeks on-the-job training with David Cadwallader, one of the most experienced guys in the company. “The industry is actually quite small so we kind of know most of the drivers on other firms too. The vast majority of those we have now have started and stayed,” the three agree.

Driver care

As you would probably expect from a boss with an owner-driver background, the health and welfare of his drivers is a subject close to the heart. “All truck drivers need some kind of a health plan. Far too many are eating sub-standard food in garages and MSAs,” says Gary. Loading a large static is probably more physically demanding than you might think. To see how it’s done, we watch driver Stephen Blanchard and second man Martin Bateman load a sizeable static for a site down in Cornwall. It takes exactly half-an-hour to load, although Stephen stresses they could do it in 20 minutes flat if T&D’s pesky snapper hadn’t been present!

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Despite it stating ‘International’ on the door, probably 2% of Hanson’s current traffic goes outside of the UK, although Gary remains positive this figure could change. “Brexit could prove really interesting for us. Britain is now becoming more and more competitive due to the value of the pound. This could really push exports as foreign competition gets more and more expensive.”

Portugal is probably the furthest destination, with backloads a rarity or avoided altogether. “We might do the odd recovery for The Camping and Caravanning Club.” Finally, how do the trio view further expansion? “We have the capacity to increase the fleet to 42. We’ve gone from one truck to 31 in a relatively short space of time so I guess anything’s possible.”

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