Forming a top tanker fleet

United Bulk is a South African tanker-trailer haulier, transporting food-grade products and Dangerous Goods such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG), ammonia gas, solvents and acids.

The company, based in Gauteng with a depot in Worcester, was started by Patrick Pols in 1996 to capitalise on Sasol’s tendering for outsourced tanker transport. While United Bulk’s 90-truck and tanker fleet consists of various OEM derivatives, Pols is a staunch believer in the power and payload efficiency of American truck tractors.
“We run 6x4 truck tractors from Europe and the USA but we’ve found the American vehicles to be more cost efficient and profitable because of their comparatively low tare mass and excellent fuel consumption,” says Pols. “As a result, the newer vehicles in our fleet are all American-made.”
The two leading US brands in South Africa are International and Freightliner, both distinctively different from their European and Asian counterparts, thanks to bonneted cabs and lots of chrome and rivets. Apart from their eye-catching appearance, bonneted truck tractors also have a longer wheel base than competitor ‘cab-over’ models, making them ideal for payload optimisation using tri-axle tanker semi-trailers, adds Pols.
The fleet first discovered the payload efficiency of both Freightliner and International in 2007 when it purchased 10 International and six Freightliner Columbia truck tractors. According to Pols, “In the three years since, we have had mixed service from both OEMs and when it came to adding new trucks to our fleet, we came to an executive decision to go the Freightliner route, largely due to the excellent after-sales support we have received from its dealer network in the Cape and in Gauteng.”
The latest United Bulk order for Freightliner comprises 15 Argosy 90 CUM 500s and 12 Columbia 112 6x4 truck tractors. The deal was brokered through the Bellville (Cape Town) dealership of Sandown Commercial Vehicles.
According to Brand Centre Manager, Mark Croxon, “The new Columbia models with their long wheel-bases come with heavy-rated front axles which allows them to carry 34 to 35 tons of payload on a six-axle rig, compared to the typical interlink configuration which has seven axles.”
The tanker trailers, predominantly from Wellington-based CA Muller Fabrications, are fitted with super-single Bridgestone tyres. “This allows us to run 16 tyres on each rig instead of the normal 26 found on a typical interlink tanker combination,” explains Pols. “This reduces tyre costs as well as fuel consumption through reduced rolling resistance. We are now achieving an impressive 2.6 km/litre on some of our Columbia rigs, well below the industry benchmark.”
Both the Argosy and Columbia truck tractors are equipped with air suspension and ABS drum brakes all round. The Argosy is powered by a 15-litre inline six-cylinder Cummins engine pushing out a maximum power of 373kW@1 700 - 1 800rpm with a torque rating of 2 237Nm@1 100rpm. The Columbia 112 is equipped with an 11.9 litre Caterpillar engine pushing out 317kW@1 800rpm with a torque rating of 2 102Nm@1 200rpm. All the new vehicles are maintained with Sandown Motors and come with a 2 year/400 000km warranty on the drivetrain and 5 years/800 000km on the engine.
The Autoshift transmission units in both derivatives are made by Eaton Fuller and offer reductions in driver fatigue as well as fuel consumption, adds Croxon. Auxiliary braking is via engine valve brake icon, Jacobs Brake (or ‘Jake Brake’, to the US truck lover).
While Freightliner offers expert driver training through the Daimler Driver Training programme, United Bulk has its own in-house driver trainer to get the best from its ‘D’-rated Code 14 drivers. The fleet uses the Orchid Fleet Management system to monitor both its short and long-haul operations.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
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