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Fleet focus from our Fleet Director

Paul JeffersonPaul Jefferson is our Group Legal, Fleet & Sustainability Director. Every day he makes decisions that help our business evolve and grow, and fleet is a large part of those decisions. We interviewed him shortly after he spent a day “back to the floor” with one of our milk tanker drivers. He tells us about his day and more about the Gregory Group fleet as a whole.

How many vehicles are in our fleet?

At any given time, we have 1,200 Gregory Group vehicles on the road and 2,000 trailers in circulation. Most of our trucks are from four major brands – Scania, Volvo, DAF and MAN. Our trailers come from many different suppliers, including Donn Burr, SDC and Crossland to name just a few.

To keep our vehicles on the road we have seven of our own workshops dotted around the country who support with maintenance inspections and repairs. We also have a network of third-party suppliers who provide maintenance services where we do not have our own workshops and specialist services.

How do we decide which makes and models to bring into our fleet?

There are many factors we take into consideration:

  • The financial elements such as purchase price, residual value, maintenance costs, MPG and reliability which make up the total cost of ownership.
  • The service elements such as after sales support including maintenance and parts.
  • The environmental elements such as alternative fuel options to support our sustainability objectives.
  • And the opinion of our drivers – if our drivers like the vehicles they take greater pride in them and pride is a powerful promoter of our business.

How do we decide when to replace our fleet?

This is under constant review. It’s no surprise that maintenance costs increase with vehicle age. It is a case of optimising the replacement cycle to minimise the total cost of ownership taking into account maintenance costs, reliability, resale market value and the cost of the replacement truck.

As an average, our trunking tractor units typically run for up to 1.25m kms or around 6 years, but our farm collection rigids which have to contend with very challenging terrain, have a shorter life of 4-5 years. But while the rigid gets replaced, the tank has a second life because it is remounted onto a new chassis. Trailers have the longest lifespan of between 10 – 12 years.

Tell us about your “back to the floor” day.

A lot of my job revolves around fleet. By going out on the road I can see first hand how the decisions we make at head office pan out in reality.

milk tanker collecting milk from a farm
Paul Jefferson and Mike Morris collecting milk from farms in West Wales.

On this occasion, I went out with Mike Morris who drives a 32 tonne Scania 8-wheeler to collect milk from farms around West Wales. I was particularly keen to go out on a milk tanker because, in my opinion, these vehicles have the toughest job. They often navigate narrow, steep, muddy and uneven roads and farm tracks that are full of potholes. They also operate across two shifts every day of the year. I often hear it said that the engines never cool down!

I was keen to go to West Wales because we recently opened a workshop in Whitland, and I was eager to see the differences it was making to the support we are providing the fleet across West Wales. I also wanted to get a better understanding of the factors that might influence vehicle selection and maintenance costs.

As with all our milk collection drivers, Mike was an expert at manoeuvring the vehicle – from narrow lanes to small yards, and dogs running around, Mike took it all in his stride. We spoke a lot about the capabilities of the vehicle, and it was fascinating to get a closer look at the milk metering equipment at the back of the vehicle. Fitted with GPS, the equipment knows which farm it is at and automatically samples the milk during loading. When the vehicle tank is full it automatically cuts out to ensure the gross vehicle weight is not exceeded. The system also draws all the milk from the collection hose to prevent spillage. Individually, these are small things, but together they help maintain safety, efficiency, and make our driver’s lives easier. The system also digitally records the volumes collected from each farm which can be transmitted to the customer and helps our operations with route and schedule optimisation.

But perhaps the most valuable takeaway was the reminder of how choosing the right vehicle for the job impacts service. Timing is everything in milk collection. We can only collect milk when the milking has finished and the milk has cooled to the right temperature. If our vehicles can’t keep to the schedule, farmers may be forced to throw away milk and our customers will not receive the milk they are expecting. But further to this, our drivers need to enjoy driving our tankers. I saw firsthand the rapport Mike has with the farmers. These relationships are important to the service we deliver but without a robust vehicle that gives Mike the tools he needs to do his job well, this rapport would be harder to maintain.

An enormous thanks to Mike and his fellow drivers who make the job look easy. It really isn’t. It’s a highly skilled profession which needs the perfect balance of respect for the road and vehicle, knowledge of legislation and vehicle capabilities, and people skills.

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