European vacation? Not hardly

Strasswalchen, Austria, is the home base of the Augustine Group, a major trucking fleet leading the charge on upcoming Euro 6 emissions. And thanks to a visit arranged by ZF On-Highway, we were privileged to spend a morning with the Augustine operational staff for a firsthand look at trucking, European style. In many ways, European fleets face tougher challenges than their American cousins.

Herr Oskar Berger, chief executive officer and owner, and his management team are pursuing a restructuring and modernization program that includes upgrading and adding company facilities, improving the maintenance program and increasing efficiencies.

Herr Berger has whittled his fleet from 1,000 “trailerheads” – as the Germans and Austrians call their on-highway tractors – to 750 power units this year, with a total fleet goal of 600 trucks targeted by next year. A fleet this size isn’t unusual here, but it’s one of Europe’s largest operations.

Like you, Herr Berger struggles with finding and keeping qualified drivers. Commercial driver’s licenses issued from the former Soviet Bloc are virtually worthless, so the company puts all new hires through a comprehensive two-week course that covers everything from driving skills to load securement. When completed, the drivers are issued an “Augustine Drivers License” to show they have mastered the course.

Dispatching is another headache for the company. Drivers leaving Strasswalchen may be bound for any point in Europe – Greece, Russia, Bulgaria or France, for example. Language barriers can be daunting. To counter this, Augustine maintains a crew of language-specific dispatchers, with nine different foreign tongues in the mix.

Although it is not required to do so, Augustine operates trucks with urea-injection SCR systems on its trucks – or “Ad Blue,” as automotive-grade urea is known in Europe. This is one area where the challenges may be easing. Augustine’s fleet manager reports that some SCR-equipped trucks already have logged more than 400,000 kilometers on the road with no major maintenance issues.

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Even better news has been a boost in fuel economy with Ad Blue-spec’d trucks. Europeans don’t figure kilometers-per-liter, the way we’d expect them to. Instead, their fuel economy standard is liters of fuel burned per 100 kilometers traveled.

Herr Berger says that the company’s pre-Ad Blue trucks burned an average of 38 liters of fuel every 100 kilometers. The current Ad Blue “trailerheads” are logging 34 liters for every 100 kilometers, and some talented drivers have managed runs burning less than 30 liters for every 100 kilometers.

Ad Blue is readily available throughout Europe, and Augustine keeps tanks of it on hand at its terminals. The new trucks have a urea gauge on the dash to monitor Ad Blue levels in the tanks, which hold about 80 liters compared to 1,000-liter-capacity fuel tanks.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 emissions standards will be tougher than current European standards, but the Augustine Group’s smooth transition may be good news for any U.S. fleet managers looking ahead to 2010.