Word has reached Tachoblog that Fresh Start Bakeries, the company that supplies McDonalds with its hamburger buns across Australia, has started switching its fleet of manual transmission rigid delivery trucks to fully automatics in a bid to reduce driver fatigue, increase efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

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Fresh Start purchased five new UD and four Isuzu trucks equipped with Allison fully automatic transmissions in August 2010 to service McDonalds stores in and around the Sydney and Brisbane metropolitan areas.

The company added four UD PK 10 automatics and a smaller UD MK6 automatic to its Sydney bakery operation, along with four Isuzu FVD 1000 automatics at its Brisbane facility. The result has been extremely positive both in terms of serviceability and driver reaction.

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“The cost of clutch replacement was a major factor in switching to automatics, but the other benefits include a reduction in driver fatigue, better levels of safety, and more efficient operation,” Ben Hampson, Fresh Start’s distribution manager for NSW and Queensland told Tachoblog.

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“In the few months we have had the Allison automatic equipped trucks in the fleet, we would normally have seen one or two clutch replacements (with the manuals). Avoiding that has saved us a lot already, not just in repair costs but downtime as well.”

At its main bakery in Sydney, the four UD PK10 automatics which are fitted with Allison 3000 Series six speed automatics are loaded up each day and deliver fresh hamburger buns to McDonalds stores around the suburbs and up to 200 km from the city, while the smaller UD MK6 automatic using Allison’s 2500 Series five speed automatic operates a gruelling 20 hour day on double shifts servicing Sydney’s central business district and height restricted locations, mainly at shopping centres.

“Constant stop-start driving and heavy traffic make for tough conditions, and in a manual truck, the driver is constantly changing gear, which is a really hard task,” says Hampson.

“When we first trialled the automatics, the reaction from the drivers was one of silence. Obviously there is always a bit of resistance to change, and most truck drivers think it is macho to drive a manual. Our drivers weren’t quite sure what to make of it.

“However the attitude changed pretty quickly, and now the guys driving the manuals are pretty jealous of the automatic drivers. Unfortunately they will have to wait a little while until we turn over our entire fleet, and all our trucks are autos,” says Ben.

“The trucks are very easy to drive, the transmissions are intelligent and intuitive, and the fact is they do not get overdriven.”

So impressed have the Fresh Start drivers been with their new automatics that one even approached the managing director and thanked him for giving him the best truck he had ever driven.

The Fresh Start trucks log around 100,000km a year, and the company retains each truck on fleet for four years before trading them for new ones. On every run the trucks are loaded with up to 6 tonnes of bread rolls in special trays that can be easily unloaded at McDonalds stores. The trucks return carrying the empty trays, which means they usually return with around 60 percent of the outbound load.

“Our workforce tends to be a little older, and we have very good staff retention with many of our drivers working at Fresh Start for more than 10 years,” adds Hampson. “Three of them have been here for 20 years, and with the automatics we believe our driver longevity will increase even more. Happy drivers are also more efficient, and we also believe that running automatics will open up potential sources of new drivers.”

Hampson concludes, “At this point I cannot see Fresh Start buying another manual truck; the Allison automatics make more sense in every way.”

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