Ray Engley, Road Haulage Association, discusses how the road haulage industry can learn from Formula 1
Last autumn, Lewis Hamilton took the laurels as proud winner of the Formula 1 Championship. His skill, driving technique, consistency and the ability to adapt to different circuits and weather conditions are vital qualities that helped to make him top driver. His McLaren team was vital too. And they couldn’t have done their job without the use of world-leading telematics, which allowed the pit team to monitor exactly what was happening to Hamilton’s car, second by second during race. How’s the engine running? What’s the optimum gear? How are the tyres, the brakes and the fuel? When do we need to make a pit stop? Sensors on the car and the onboard computers relay all this information back to the team, which can then pass on the important bits to Hamilton.
All this information is recorded, so that the team can review the race in minute detail in the calm of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey, to learn lessons for the next encounter.
Achieving best results
There is a lesson in this for the other end for road haulage companies, running trucks at the other end of the vehicle spectrum. A much simpler and lower-cost version of the same technology can be applied to managing their vehicles and drivers – and in some forward looking companies, they already are. Just as Hamilton and his team got the very best from his car using telematics to plan, monitor and learn, road haulage and logistics companies can use it to get the best from their vehicles.
Some fleets have already placed telematics at the centre of their operations and are achieving new, high levels of performance – that means low fuel consumption, low maintenance bills and greater efficiency in delivering goods. Increasingly, firms that do not embrace the concept risk becoming back markers in a sector of the economy that is renowned for it high levels of competition.
The common interest of both the transport company and its drivers in using what detractors call this 21st century “spy in the cab” is less immediately obvious than it is for MacLaren and Hamilton. But it is there, all the same.
Like Hamilton, truck drivers can be positive about what these systems can do for them. True, it’s not going to make any hgv driver a multi-millionaire tax exile; nor is it going to tell them they can afford to push that bit harder round the bends. But it should give the really good drivers the recognition they deserve and help not-so-good drivers to get better; and it should aid job security – which is a far greater concern now than it was even when Hamilton won his F1 title.
There is no pretence that telematics is primarily a tool for employers to operate their trucks more efficiently and to ensure that their driver, as well as their truck and their routeing, is up to scratch. There is often resistance, initially, from drivers; and fear of driver reaction is a common reason given for failure to adopt telematics. But driver opposition can be greatly overstated and negative sentiment can quickly be overcome.
The transition to using telematics can impose more far-reaching demands on managers and this is less readily admitted – by management. The technology is not difficult to use, in terms of downloading information and understanding what it is telling you. But managers also have to be given the time to use it to make improvements, including those that require getting drivers to change their style or habits. And they have to have the man management skills.
What are the wins? A system that will: reduce the number of times the traffic office rings the mobile to check up on drivers; takes out any suspicion that the driver has been slow when the company’s customer is at fault, for example by delaying loading or unloading; and that gives credit where it is due for a smooth, safe, fuel-efficient scheduling, drive and delivery. These are the factors that win and secure customers and improve profitability without cutting corners.
They are also the factors that add to the professionalism of the industry and make it less stressful and therefore more attractive to employees. The perception of the haulage sector is changing; for example, the EU has lifted the ban on member states giving de minimis payments (i.e. state aid) for business and service development in the industry. Telematics technology and management fits perfectly with this changing image of what is an essential industry.