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Commercialmotor.com editorial team highlights of 2013

  • 31 December 2013
  • By Christopher Walton

Throughout 2013 the Commercialmotor.com editorial team has traveled the length and breadth of the country (and in many cases beyond) to bring you the biggest, best breaking news in the road transport industry. Here a a few selected highlights of the year from the faces behind the headlines.

Laura Hailstone, Group Content Editor:  “If I could get you an interview with the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, would you be interested?” said Peter Carroll, FairFuelUK (FFUK) co-founder, on the phone to me in March.
“Yes, definitely,” I replied.
“Great, I’ve got you one.”
“Oh…..when?” I stammered…
“It will be within the next few days,” said Peter.

And so I found myself with just a couple of days to prepare to interview the most high profile person I have, and possibly will ever have, an audience with.

Despite preparing enough questions to fill 45 minutes, I ended up with about 15 minutes of his time as it was the day after the Chancellor’s Budget and Mr Alexander had back-to-back interviews with the national media.

First impressions: a very open, honest and considerate MP . My opening question was whether he understood just how much of an issue high fuel duty is for freight operators – and he did. But explained that it’s not that easy to just cut fuel duty without impacting on the economy. I pointed out that FFUK had commissioned research that proved that a cut in duty would actually be beneficial to the economy and after further pressing, I got him to commit to sit down with FFUK and discuss their report findings in more detail.

Overall I found him to be a lot more clued up about our sector than many of his peers and pretty modest. He actually thanked me for taking the time to come and see him!

Christopher Walton, Group News Editor: Back in April the industry descended on Birmingham for the CV Show, and it was my job to put together three editions of the CV Show Daily – special editions of CM for all who attend the show. The buzz at this year’s show was palpable, with new models galore. Day two of the show in particular was insane. The new Volvo FM was unveiled, Daf debuted the new LF and CF and that barely skims the surface. The wealth of exhibitors and attendees made it a show to remember, as did the CM editorial team who worked tremendously hard to give this landmark show the coverage it deserved. I even came out of CM’s annual dog night £18 up – everyone’s a winner!

Chris Druce, Deputy Group News Editor: My interview with Peter Eason, MD, and Mark Norman, transport manager, at Wimbledon-based ELB Partners in September turned out to be the most memorable, and challenging article that I produced this year (and possibly since joining CM). For these chaps to open up and discuss such a harrowing episode – and one that clearly still haunts them to this day – was humbling, and of course it was a harrowing tale, where both the driver and cyclist paid the ultimate price. It turned out of course to be sadly very topical too, with the spate of cycling deaths in London in the autumn highlighting the importance of looking  at this issue proportionately and, difficult as it is, as disproportionally as humanely possible in a bib to reduce cycling deaths. While the article was not about apportioning blame, it was also one I also wanted to write to simply give hauliers a voice and show the very real impact it has on the individuals involved. Sadly there remains too much bias against hauliers from within the media when tragic incidents such as this are reported.

Overseeing our Great Rates Debate series, which for me included a visit to meet and interview The Pallet Network’s Adam Leonard was satisfying and something we’ll likely revisit in 2014. Equally, writing an Investigation into the thorny issue of high pallet weights within the pallet networks (and beyond) for our Guest Editor issue with Frampton’s Richard Fry, gave me an opportunity to tackle an issue that isn’t going to go away (indeed it remains a regular issue of complaint to this day when I chat with pallet network members).

And of course it’s always a pleasure to meet the latest Road Haulage Association national chairman, which in this case was WH Barley’s Peter Barber, a man who has probably forgot more about running a road transport operation than I know. Barber also wins my personal award for smartest ever taxi-substitute, when he kindly collected me from Milton Keynes Central most certainly not in a black cab.

Chairing a recent Roundtable on the driver shortage, which was hosted by Meachers Global Logistics with support from Defro Communications was both a pleasure and an eye-opener. I salute the 14 hauliers that attended for having the gumption to see problem and attempt to sort it themselves – I’ll be following the group’s progress with interest in 2014.

Of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a journalist without the odd scoop or two, so being first with the sad news that Bill Chippington has gone under was professionally satisfying

Ashleigh Wight, Reporter: One of my highlights of 2013 was spending the night in a new Euro-6 Volvo FH. The Euro-6 test is due to appear in Commercial Motor in the New Year, but at the same time I carried out a separate sleeper cab test for sister title Truck Driver, which involved living in the truck for the night.

Not only was it my first time sleeping in a truck and experiencing first hand what many drivers have to do on a regular basis, it also gave me the opportunity to see for myself just how many blind spots there are in a typical cab. While it was comfortable and had all a driver may need for a night or two away from home, doing the test in late November did have some slight hiccups- especially when my night heater mysteriously turned off halfway through the night.

David Wilcox, Technical Editor: It is a sunny Thursday afternoon in September. The location is a quarry south of Gothenburg in Sweden. I am about to try Volvo’s new FMX construction range, updated for Euro-6. Next up is a 460hp 8×4 tipper. But this is no ordinary 8×4. It has a tridem configuration, with a single front steer-axle and the other three axles all directly under the tipper body. Axles two and three provide traction; the fourth is positively steered by electro-hydraulics and can also be lifted when running unladen. Whether the axle is up or down, this FMX turns on the proverbial sixpence.

It also rides well, thanks to new air-suspension on the rear bogie, purpose designed for off-road conditions. And then there is VDS – Volvo Dynamic Steering. This is an electro-hydraulic system that combines an electric motor with a conventional hydraulic steering pump. The motor delivers extra power assistance, making the steering remarkably light, particularly at low speeds. It also provides self-centring. More importantly, torque sensors that compare steering input and feedback 2,000 times a second control the motor’s output so that it serves as a buffer, damping out kick-backs coming through the steering.
To be frank, I was rather under-whelmed by VDS in an FM tractor unit on the road. The steering certainly felt light – almost too light. Volvo seemed to have solved a problem that didn’t really exist as far as I was concerned. But VDS in the 8×4 FMX in the quarry is a different kettle of fish. Taking it off-road transforms VDS from under-whelming to jaw-dropping. Your eyes see ruts, ridges and pot-holes and you take a firmer grip of the wheel, tensing to resist the yank from the steering wheel. But there is nothing. The wheel remains docile and the truck simply goes in a straight line as if a giant unseen hand is filling in the ruts and flattening the ground as it disappears beneath the front bumper.

When I think back to all that has happened in the year just gone it is this one afternoon deep in a Swedish stone quarry that comes to the fore. The rawness of the natural setting is awe-inspiring but so too is the technology that tames it. With a list price of £2,700 I am still uncertain about the strength of the business case for VDS, but it is truly uncanny to experience it.

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