Safety was at the top of its shopping list when online grocer Ocado ordered a new fleet of Mercedes-Benz trucks. The fast-growing retailer is now running another 20 Actros tractor units from its Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs) in Hatfield, and at Dordon, near Tamworth, and awaiting delivery of a further 15.
Supplied by dealer S & B Commercials, all have been specified with the optional Active Brake Assist 3 and Proximity Control Assist systems, as well as Spraydown mud flaps designed to limit road spray, and additional cab windows to enhance visibility for drivers.
The remarkable ABA3 system already out-performs the requirements of General Safety Regulations that do not come into force until 2018. Using a combination of radar and cameras, it monitors moving and stationary objects in front and sounds an audible warning when it senses potential for a collision. If the driver takes no action, the system will apply staged braking – and eventually full braking power – to prevent a crash, or dramatically reduce the effects of an impact.
Proximity Control Assist, meanwhile, works in conjunction with the cruise control, intervening automatically to restrict the truck’s speed and maintain a pre-set distance from the vehicle in front.
Other additions to the Actros’s reassuring armoury of standard-fit active and passive safety features include anti-slip, full chassis catwalks by SB Components, which restrict the chances of drivers falling while working at the rear of the cab. Four of the new trucks also have additional bench seating allowing Ocado’s driver-trainers to instruct up to five colleagues at a time.
Fleet Services Manager Graham Thomas observed: “The safety of employees and other road users has been the number one priority for Ocado since it began trading in 2000. We commit huge resources to the promotion of best practice, not only within our truck fleet but also by the Customer Service Team Members who drive our 1,300 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter home delivery vehicles.
“Following an initial evaluation of the first five Actros units which joined the fleet in 2015, it was time to review our specification priorities for future requirements. Keeping safety and fuel economy at the forefront of our thinking, we set about pulling together the ‘must have’ features for our next batch of units – ABA3 and PPC were the first two systems on the paper.”
Rather than servicing customers from stores, Ocado employs a centralised distribution model. Most of the 118 tractor units on its Mercedes-Benz-dominated fleet are 4x2 versions plated at 38 tonnes gcw. They operate from the two CFC ‘hubs’ – a third, at Andover, is due to open later this year, and the company has also begun construction of a fourth, at Erith. These vehicles pull single- and double-deck temperature-controlled Paneltex trailers and deliver on a seven days-a-week basis to its network of 17 ‘spoke’ sites, returning to base with empty cages and totes.
Ocado’s latest Actros have aerodynamic StreamSpace cabs and are powered by advanced 315 kW (430 hp) straight-six engines that drive through Mercedes PowerShift 3 automated transmissions specified in Fleet mode for economy. Although the majority are 4x2 1843LS variants, the line-up also includes a handful of 6x2 2543LS 44-tonners which make collections from suppliers.
The new trucks are the subject of CharterWay contract hire agreements from Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, as were the Axor units which they have replaced – these vehicles were stood down 12-18 months ahead of schedule, so Ocado could get the Actros on the road as soon as possible.
Those based in Hatfield are being inspected and serviced at S & B Commercials’ vehicle maintenance unit in the town, while the vehicles which operate from Dordon are attended to in the Tamworth workshop of Dealer Midlands Truck & Van.
Fuel-efficiency and emission reductions were also key for Ocado, and its latest trucks are additionally equipped with the manufacturer’s ground-breaking Predictive Powertrain Control system. PPC is an innovative cruise control that employs digital 3D mapping and GPS data to scan the road ahead. Armed with this topographical information it manages gear changes and vehicle speed, making full use of the truck’s EcoRoll function to restrict diesel consumption and CO2 emissions. By also applying engine braking at every opportunity the system reduces component wear and tear, while drivers are less stressed and safer because it leaves them free to concentrate fully on the road ahead.
Mr Thomas continued: “We commissioned our first five Actros last year, then retrofitted PPC to one of them to measure its effectiveness. That vehicle showed a 3% improvement in fuel efficiency. Given that our 4x2 tractors are covering 180,000 km a year there was a clear economic benefit with a quick return on investment, as well as a reduced environmental impact.”
Other features specified to reduce diesel consumption include automatically adjusting Active Freddie cab roof air deflectors and collars by Hatcher Components, while SB Components also claims fuel-saving properties for its new, aerodynamically profiled ALFIE catwalk. Completing the picture, Ocado’s latest batch of Paneltex trailers have rounded front ends to further reduce wind resistance.
Mr Thomas added: “Our Mercedes-Benz Axor tractors have been exceptionally reliable but these new Actros take us to another level in terms of safety, fuel efficiency and driver comfort. We also enjoy excellent relationships with the manufacturer and its Dealers – S & B’s Fleet Sales Manager Steve North and Mercedes-Benz UK’s Truck Strategic Account Manager James Venables are both very supportive.”