Cool product, cool driver, cool truck

16 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 7, 2017

Managing controlled temperature distribution requires a cool head. Big Chill‘s driver Mark Bassett showed me that extended right to the driver‘s seat and how much driving the right truck certainly helps.

The tail end of any distribution chain is never easy. Much of the time it will involve a metropolitan element and that always means tight alleyways, insufficient parking and chaotic traffic.

For the fleet owner the challenge is finding a vehicle that can carry as much as possible, yet be nimble enough to allow the driver the best chance of completing his deliveries.

Big Chill Distribution faces the added complication of delivering temperature sensitive freight, and things can turn pear shaped if product becomes ‘out of spec‘; in other words, too hot or too cold. That means the selection of man and machine is even more critical.

After spending the day with Mark Bassett in Big Chill‘s latest Isuzu FSR700, it seemed to me the company ha one very cool combination. When he was told he would be taking possession of a new FSR 700 last May, Mark‘s first reaction was, “No thanks!” He thought the new truck would have him on tenterhooks, not wanting to put a mark on it. 

So the truck would be reassigned, and Mark would stay with his old Isuzu. However, because his truck was scheduled for maintenance, he did have to drive the new truck for one day. After a couple of hours on the road, a call was made back to the depot: “You do realise you‘re not getting this back, don‘t you!”

We met Mark in a typical work situation for him, delivering to a shopping complex in Hamilton, hemmed in to a woefully inadequate loading zone. He and other drivers were attempting to get their product delivered amidst the self-absorbed madding crowd. Once completed, it was into the FSR and off to the next drop.

The fit of the Isuzu‘s specification to this type of application was instantly apparent. Mark climbed in and you could tell the truck fitted him like a glove. Departure was immediate and acceleration akin to a courier van, which is unsurprising considering the 240hp on tap, and in no time we had arrived at a more relaxed point of delivery in a designated service lane.

The FSR 700 is a mid-range truck in the Isuzu line-up and differs from the FSD in that the latter has air suspension. It‘s the largest model available with 19.5in wheels, which gives a great compromise between deck height and power. This may initially seem a somewhat odd attribute association, until you look at it in the context of the Big Chill operation.

Left: 19.5 inch wheels shod with 265/70 tyres make the access height superb for hand unloads.
Middle: Mark manoeuvres a pallet into position at Southern Fresh. The (7.2m) Alitrans insulated body and Carrier fridge keep the product “in spec”. 
Right: Thoughtful features like the fold out step make the unit a safer and more efficient place to work.

Mark loads at the company‘s Putaruru depot at about 3.30am each morning and drives for a little over an hour to his first drop in the ‘Tron‘. Once there his needs change from power and progress to nimbleness and usability. That‘s not an easy alchemy to strike in a truck.

Power and progress comes from Isuzu‘s 7.79 litre, turbo and intercooled Euro V 6HK1-TCN diesel engine. It‘s an in-line 6-cylinder, 24-valve single overhead cam unit, with an electronically controlled direct injection, high pressure common rail fuel system.

Metro deliveries in city traffic is not everyone‘s cup of tea, but Mark Bassett will tell you it‘s all about approach.

All this technology produces a more than respectable 240hp (176kW) at 2,400rpm, and 521lb/ft (706Nm) of torque at 1450rpm. Incidentally, that torque curve is almost flat from about 1100rpm right through until 2500rpm, with the power sweet spot at 1800rpm where both lines cross.

The truck has a 6-speed manual gearbox with Isuzu‘s R090 rear axle rated at nine tonne. At the front is the company‘s F050 axle rated at five tonne. Both ride on conventional leaf springs but the ride seemed smooth and well controlled on test. Gross Vehicle Mass on the FSR700 is 14 tonne, which was also the RUC sticker weight. GCM is 20 tonne. The main area requiring constant vigilance in this application is the front axle loading.

The Isuzu engine meets the Euro V emission standard via cooled EGR and Isuzu‘s Diesel Particulate Diffuser technology. The truck manages its own regeneration based on either extended running at higher engine temperatures or particulate build up in the diffuser, but it can also be driver activated based on a dashboard warning light prompt. Mark commented on the rather unpleasant odour emitted at regeneration time.

Back in the cab, Mark said that the FSR cab was narrower than his old truck and as such easier to manoeuvre in tight spots. One regular delivery, down an alleyway, which always required the mirrors on the old truck to be pulled in (that makes backing easy – not!), no longer requires that inconvenience.

Mark is an experienced man on 4×2 driving and that‘s interesting, because running at the higher end of that configuration‘s capacity means a gentle hand and cautious approach is mandatory.

“You have to make sure your loading and packing is spot on, otherwise it will bounce around. Taking the extra few minutes can save a lot of time picking up product”.

This was noticeable negotiating roundabouts, with the body listing well to port or starboard
as Mark eased it around. There were also troublesome delivery docks, like the one at Waikato Hospital where the FSR dipped over a deeply guttered exit from a steep, heavily cambered drive, onto a narrow street and around a waiting truck. Mark looked at me and said, “If you come at that all wrong, you‘ll catch the tail lift on the road camber!”

The inside of the FSR is about ease of use and practicality. There‘s no carpet and all surfaces are durable and easily cleaned. I would suggest, however, the almost monotone grey could be broken with something to just separate lines and give the cab some individuality. Controls fall readily to hand with all the daily needs mounted on the left or right wands and the instrument panel is clear and simple to read, housing a speedo, tachometer, coolant temp, fuel and dual brake air gauges. 

The dash is a flat single plane affair from door to door, broken by the instrument cluster at the driver‘s end and to its left a digital display for the radio and bluetooth phone information. It‘s a personal thing, but I‘d like to see even just the tiniest wrap in the dash at the driver‘s end. I‘m not talking International T-line style incarceration, or inhibiting cross cab access, but just enough to bring a sense of purpose and place. The weirdest part of the layout was the mirror adjusters located to the rear of the park brake handle, essentially out of sight on the driver‘s left. It looked an afterthought in contrast to the rest of the truck.

The driver is treated to an ISRI 6870 throne as standard, and the FSR has a day rest bunk. Storage comprised overhead lockers above the windscreen on the left and right side, a table come document locker between the seats, and door pockets. The cab is lit with a small spot light above the driver and a huge, centrally mounted, fluorescent light that would illuminate a pavilion, fantastic for after dark document dealings.

Mark and his Isuzu made a job that would have most of us in an exhausted rage by lunchtime look simple. His awareness and accommodation of people, cars, lamp posts, shop awnings, plus a plethora of other hindrances, is a skill not obvious to the untrained eye. Sometimes a block and a half away was as close as he could get to a delivery and so out came the hand trolley.

Mark said he was no truck enthusiast, and in his spare time he is most happy in his garden or wood turning. Having said that, he was quick to point out that he enjoyed working at Big Chill and driving for a living.

“It‘s a good team of guys and we all pitch in to get the job done.”

He believes the secret to what he does is remaining calm and, wherever possible, being the guy who creates the space to let a potential situation go. On at least three occasions Mark made a decision that resulted in a wave and a smile. His philosophy is that if people get “cheesed off” they see the name Big Chill.

“If it‘s bad for the company, then eventually that‘ll be bad for everyone who works there.”

Mark added that if you get hot under the collar it starts to impact on the truck, and the metro runs can be very tough on brakes if over zealous driving results from too much rushing. 

On the way home, we swung into Southern Fresh gardens at Matangi for a load of veges to take back to the Putaruru depot. Looking at the FSR 700 the addition of the aero kit not only makes the truck a bit more slippery through the air, but gives the whole unit a more complete and professional appearance. It molded nicely up around the fridge unit, but tilted with the cab, so posed no problems in that department. It‘s inclusion is money well spent.

The Isuzu barely felt the nine pallets of produce on the way home, happily holding top gear all the way. The only niggles that Mark could think of were the mirrors which he didn‘t like as much as those on his old truck, and the slightly “notchy” throw between first and second gears. He felt the latter may be simply an adjustment thing. For me, one real high point was that after almost a year of turning, twisting and racking it‘s way around Hamilton there was not a single rattle or clunk in the cab.

As we approached Cambridge, there was one more ‘Markism‘ to come, “I always drop back approaching Cambridge and create a longer gap between me and car in front. It‘s congested in here now and some of these people have been waiting for ages for a gap in the traffic; it doesn‘t cost anything to let them in.”

This self confessed non truck enthusiast makes more than a positive contribution to professionalism in our industry.