Close cooperation brings its own rewards: Words and images by Chris Mullett
Fleet orders of 50 vehicles in one hit are something of a rarity in the Australian market. But, when the fleet in question encompasses a customer service requirement on a national basis, it’s imperative that proper research takes place prior to placing the initial order.
Delivery Magazine has long held the view that small businesses, as well as the large players in the world of PUD fleets, have been short of choice when it comes to finding the best solution for efficiency and practicality.
The European manufacturers of light commercials have concentrated for years on vans of different sizes, only realising relatively recently that light trucks based on semi-bonneted designs that offer car-like safety standards and levels of comfort have the potential to substantially increase their market share. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of the traditional style of Japanese cabovers have taken the initiative to introduce technology in the form of telematics and optional hybrid drivelines, in turn reinforcing their own position to maintain their market share.
The continuing evolvement of Australia Post and its stable mate StarTrack has in turn created a need for greater specialisation in vehicle ability to provide operational benefits that can flow forwards through both divisions. By avoiding duplication of services in some categories, namely those of parcel delivery, the fleet can develop synergies that benefit both brands, along with improving customer service.
When considering making a substantial order for new vehicles to operate in the Australia Post and StarTrack fleet at urban street level, Terry Bickerton, the group’s national fleet manager, embarked on a 12-month evaluation programme. This brought together the Mercedes-Benz Australia van division and Melbourne-based Prestige Truck Bodies to develop a unique design and fit-out to tailor the vehicles to the emerging growth of parcel volumes that result from on-line consumer buying.
Garry Cook, general manager of Prestige Truck Bodies, explained to Delivery Magazine that the company’s growth has come from being innovative and keen to investigate better solutions in transport.
“One of our great strengths is our ability to understand what the operator requires and combine that information with the being able to visualise solutions and consequently find new ways of gaining efficiencies on behalf of an operator,” said Gary.
Delivery Magazine joined Gary Cook’s team together with Terry Bickerton and Peter Barker, senior manager fleet sales Mercedes-Benz Vans, to witness the final sign-off procedure for the completion of the first of 50 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 516 cab/chassis models fitted with a custom-built Prestige Truck Body.
“The Sprinter programme brought together Mercedes-Benz and Prestige with Australia Post and StarTrack over a 12-month development period,” said Terry Bickerton.
“We worked with Gary and Peter to incorporate our suggestions and put forward a concept, leveraging on benefits of the product such as vehicle access, ease of use, fuel economy, and health and safety benefits.
“We visualised and then drew the concept and went to the drivers for their comments. This gave us a lot of input on operating in their environment and they communicated to us to what they wanted to change. We then ran a three-month evaluation programme with a prototype for the drivers to see if the forward engine and cab type seating arrangement was more convenient for them than a typical cabover format.
“That’s where the side access door came into play, and the locking and loading of racking. With nearly 21 cubic metres, the layout is much more compact than in a panel van of the same volume. We can also switch the body to a replacement chassis when the time comes to purchase new vehicles,” added Terry.
The new Sprinter fleet will be branded universally with the Australia Post and StarTrack logos and blue colourscheme, and will be used to replace the traditional PUD stop/start vehicle.
The 516 is powered by a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel, that produces 120 kW with peak torque of 360 Nm rated at 1400-2400 rpm. The driveline features a full fluid, five-speed automatic transmission.
“Because of the changing face of the Australia Post and StarTrack network, we are able to launch the ultimate customer network and ultimately there will be some overlap between the Post and StarTrack space,” said Terry.
“Heavy vehicles have a requirement for satellite tracking, but it is not required at this level. Drivers of the light vehicles will log into the vehicle through the handset and this tells us the driver ID and licence classification. Having completed the pre-start check on the screen, the driver then gets the route run details and can start from there.
“Drivers are issued with a dual-network scanner that operates on both the Australia Post and StarTrack networks. From a logistical perspective it makes no sense to send two vehicles down the same street when, from an environmental perspective, one vehicle can reduce emissions and improve efficiency,” said Terry.
Sprinter comes with a lot more safety features than you traditionally get in that category of vehicle and includes an array of new safety innovations under the optional Driving Assistance package from Mercedes-Benz.
These features include Collision Prevention Assist, Lane Departure Assist, Highbeam Assist, Adaptive ESP and Brake Disc Wipe, Hill Start Assist and Cross Wind Assist. The hazard warning lights flash when the vehicle is stationary and the doors are open, and an audible alarm will sound if the park brake is not actuated.
“By collaboration with Prestige Truck Bodies we have been able to incorporate easy to use fold-down shelving and racking systems, enable access and egress through non-slip areas with three points of contact for operator safety, and we have a floor height compatible with the level of the loading dock,” said Terry.
“These latest 516 chassis/cabs are rated at 5.0 tonnes and require a medium rigid licence. With a payload of two tonnes we can load palletised freight through the rear roller shutter door and secure them using the floor-mounted tie downs. The lightweight Todco rear door has a pinchless point, with no gaps where a finger can get caught,” added Terry.
Unlike many bodybuilding operations, Prestige Truck Bodies manufactures all componentry and bracketry in-house, excluding the body panelling and the supply of axles and suspension systems used on trailers.
With on-site plasma cutters, paint bake ovens and powder coating facilities, the company therefore becomes independently capable of developing all the parts necessary to fulfil an order for equipment.
This self-sustainability prevents the company from being reliant on external suppliers and ensures continuity and supply for its production lines. The company is also approved to certify the final body construction conforms to specific government code requirements.