What do golf and trucking have in common? I started thinking about this when I attended the launch of the new Mercedes-Benz Actros held at the Oubaai Golf Resort in Herold’s Bay. The golf course was designed by ace golfer Ernie Els whose dad, Neels Els was, by the way, a trucker. Let’s have a look. In golf, the objective is to start off at a point and by using a combination of skill and the right equipment to end your round in the shortest possible number of strokes. There are also certain time restrictions imposed along the route but these are not set in gold. Lengthy time delays are, however, frowned upon and slow play can result in penalties.
Isn’t that what trucking is about? To start off at a particular point and to get to the delivery point via the quickest route possible without unnecessary time delays or deviations from the route. Going off the route into the rough can be costly in professional golf where today’s competition is so intense that every shot counts. So too in trucking. What has helped truckers in this regard are the various route scheduling programmes which can plot the quickest route with minimum traffic congestion and delays. What has helped golfers are the advancements made in equipment technology. Some of the golf drivers (for the non-golfer, that’s the long big stick that hits the ball faaaar) look like blinking spaceship control centres with all the screws and gismos that can be adjusted to offset a hook, a slice or any other inbuilt deviation from the norm; in other words, to keep your ball on the straight and narrow fairway. The irons have also changed amazingly with advances in technology all aimed at helping to make the game easier for both the professional and the average golfer. And if one takes a look at the many different putters of today, they look like they’ve been designed by some guy who accidently spilt his beer on his design board and caused his pen to go walk-about during the design process. To the traditional ‘old-timer’ golfer who for years has been using a straight blade type putter, the new fancy putters are taboo. However, that old timer is losing out by sticking to his old equipment as such equipment has resulted in a huge improvement to most golfers’ games. If one compares the scores in professional golf tournaments today to the scores say 30 years back, they have come down dramatically and it’s not the players who have changed; it’s the equipment that has changed. Even the golf ball is now a technological marvel; far removed from those early Dunlop golf balls with the white bag in the middle and miles of rubber wound round it.
Which brings me to the new Mecedes-Benz Actros. The objectives of trucking have not changed over the years. What has changed – and which got me thinking about the similarities betwen golf and trucking – is the superior technology of the equipment which is designed to enable you to play the transport game in a more efficient and profitable way without any additional input from you as the ‘player‘. Let’s liken the golfer’s choice of club for a particular distance to the Mercedes-Powershift 3 fully automated 12-speed transmission which is fitted as standard to these new Actros models. The golfer has to determine the distance from where his ball lies to the green. He then has to select the right club to accurately hit that distance to get his ball as close as possible to the pin. In the new Actros, you have 12 gears in your ‘bag’ and unlike the golfer, the truck driver doesn’t have to select the exact gear suitable for the revs and other inputs. The Powershift does it for him. It relieves the driver’s choice of having to select the right gear and therefore helps to prevent errors. It’s a hole-in-one for the truck driver using the Powershift 3 transmission.
This is just one example. There are many more. Let’s take the safety arena as an example. Imagine Tiger Woods hitting one of his mighty power shots and the ball veers off course and heads straight towards a spectator at a zillion kph. There is nothing Tiger will be able to do to stop that ball. The spectator will be klapped big-time. Now, if that golf ball was fitted with the Active Brake Assist 4 system as is fitted to the new Actors models, the system would detect the spectator and stop in mid-flight without Tiger having to do anything at all. On the truck, if there is a risk of a collision, this system initiates emergency braking and is the world’s first emergency brake assistance system in the transport sector which can also now detect moving pedestrians.
Aerodynamics is another area which the development engineers at Mercedes-Benz focussed on to design a truck that, with all components working in harmony, would give the longest distance at the shortest score – read fuel consumption. By optimising the aerodynamics of the cab, the engineers have enabled the operator to get improved fuel consumption without doing anything apart from using the truck. Do you know that the TopFlight golf ball company has a head of aerodynamics research. This is because aerodynamic optimization – achieved through dimple pattern design–is a critical part of overall golf ball development. So there’s the trucking/golf link again.
The point is that just as technological innovations have helped the professional golfer of today bring down his score and improve his performance, so too is the modern technology incorporated into today’s modern trucks such as the new Actros helping truckers improve their performance and efficiency. And the great thing is that it’s got to the point where the ‘player‘ – the ‘trucker‘ – doesn‘t need to do anything apart from changing to the new equipment. Of course, let’s not forget though that the guy using the equipment – the golfer and the truck driver – must have the correct skills to get the maximum benefit out of the technology. Let’s put it this way. Tiger Woods will shoot 63 using his modern equipment. Using the same equipment, I would shoot 96 – on a good day. There is a huge difference between an amateur golfer and a professional golfer using the same equipment. The modern truck of today is a technological marvel. Make sure your truck driver is a professional player and you will all soar to the top of the log.