South Canterbury truckie Johnny Baxter never set out to become a world champion driver – he just wanted to beat his mate Hamish.
Outdo him, that is, in notching-up better fuel economy in the Temuka Transport Volvo FH they shared.
Next thing you know (well, let’s call it three years on), here’s Johnny Baxter – not merely world famous in Temuka….but truly a global champion!
The 27-year-old Baxter reckons he was surprised enough when first he became the winner of the New Zealand round of Volvo’s worldwide Fuelwatch Challenge – which he’d gone into thinking: “Righto, a trip to Feilding for the weekend....if I make the finals that’ll be a pretty good achievement for a young fella.”
When they announced the results, he reckons: “I thought ‘ooh…strange. This is interesting.’ And so she all unfolded.”
What he means is that as the Kiwi champion, Volvo paid for him to go to Sweden late last year for the global Fuelwatch final.
And when he won that – beating 11 other finalists from around the world – well, that was “absolutely amazing. Yeah, nah – she was pretty good. Pretty exciting times actually!
“When I won the NZ one I thought it was quite cool. I never once dreamt of ever doing anything like this…..”
He reckons this driving-on-less-diesel-thing all started when his boss at Temuka Transport, Garry (Gutsy) Aitken at once embarrassed and surprised him: “Gutsy pulled me up one day – says ‘there’s a brand-new truck in the yard – do you want it?’ I was like ‘no – I’m too new, there’s lots of guys above me…I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes to get a new truck.’ ”
The Dunedin-born truckie, who’d started work with Fulton Hogan at 17 – “on a lollipop, a broom, and shovelling shingle and chip,” then advanced to driving a truck and trailer with them before moving north – had only been with Temuka for about three years.
Anyway, in the end “Gutsy said ‘I don’t care – do I have to go and take the gear out of your truck and put it in the new truck?’ ”
The 2014 Volvo FH 540 came with Volvo’s Dynafleet fleet management system in it – part of which monitors the driver and comes up with a fuel efficiency score…taking account of speed, braking, acceleration, anticipation, gearshifting, using the engine to its best advantage and stopped time.
The truck was going to be doubleshifted – and Johnny’s fellow Temuka driver and good mate Hamish Norton volunteered to do the night shift.
So the scene was set for their own personal fuel challenge: “Him and I sort of took it on ourselves to prove everyone wrong…. Aw, not prove them wrong, but just go ‘well, Gutsy’s given a young guy a new truck. Let’s actually make sure it was a good decision….’ ”
The pair initially aimed to beat each other in Dynafleet’s fuel and efficiency scores: “We were trying to get anything above 98%....every day.”
Doing a lot of short bulk milktanker running, between Fonterra’s Clandeboye plant and Ashburton, they found it pretty straightforward to get high scores – ‘specially since there was a lot of flat, main road running and no idling time en route...
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