Master of the forest

He was runner-up at this year’s Volvo Driver Challenge World Final and is a real master at fuel-efficient driving. Timber truck driver and owner Bert ‘Knatte’ Johansson knows how to get the most out of every drop – and his Volvo trucks.
Timber transport in Sweden.
30 years of driving 64-tonne rigs through winding forest roads, have made Bert ‘Knatte’ Johansson highly skilled at precision driving.

It’s a beautiful autumn day in the deep forests of central Sweden. Bert Johansson, who goes by “Knatte”, a nickname he has had since childhood, sits in his crane cab. He is busy loading 60 tonnes of timber and the eight-metre crane moves quickly and with precision. The crane’s clamp, which deftly grips and lifts the timber from the pile on the ground to the truck’s trailer, moves like it is an extension of Knatte’s own hand.

We must constantly keep an eye on fuel efficiency and optimise fuel consumption because we always drive full loads.

After 30 years as a timber driver, Knatte knows exactly how the logs should be placed on the trailer and how he can best navigate the winding forest roads to collect his loads. The daily work of manoeuvring through tight spaces has made him skilled at precision driving, and over the years he has won a number of competitions at the annual Swedish Elmia automotive exhibition. In 2009, he also won the Super Eco Driver Volvo contest, a competition that today’s Driver Challenge is modelled on, and this year he came second in the global final against 32 contenders from other countries. Many of the other competitors who battled for the top spots in the Swedish final are also timber drivers, and Knatte has his own theory about why he and his industry colleagues do so well.

Bert ‘Knatte’ Johansson believes it is no coincidence that so many of the world finalists in the Driver Challenge work in the timber industry. “As a timber driver you get to know exactly where the corners of the truck are and where the trailer is.”
Knatte’ was 19 when he started working for his father’s transport company. Back then, there was no cab crane, and he had to sit outside in a shed during loading and unloading.

“As a timber driver you get to know exactly where the corners of the truck are and where the trailer is, otherwise you would easily get stuck and left alone in the woods. And we must constantly keep an eye on fuel efficiency and optimise fuel consumption because we always drive full loads,” he explains.

Since he was 19 and started working for Sommens Transport, which was then his father’s transport company, Knatte has closely followed the development of trucks and trailers. In those days, there was no crane cab, so he and his colleagues needed to sit outside in a shed during loading and unloading, all year round. And due to the weaker engines back then, it was also more common for trucks to get stuck. Before Dynafleet was introduced and the positioning service made it possible to follow each truck from afar, timber drivers who got stuck were completely left to their own devices out in the forest. Knatte recalls several times when he had to go out and search for colleagues who did not come back after their shift was over.

Knatte together with his local Volvo dealer Johan Ejdehage. Today, his company uses Volvo FH16s with 750 hp engines.

“The uncertainty was the worst. Today I can always follow where my trucks are and see if they are rolling or standing still. That provides real peace of mind, both to me and my employees,” he says.

Today Knatte’s Volvo FH16 trucks are equipped with 750 hp engines in order to make starting his 64-tonne-heavy vehicle combination in rugged terrain easier. He’s also had I-Shift since the gearbox was first introduced, and believes that it, along with Volvo Dynamic Steering, has contributed to a more comfortable and calmer driving experience.

“I’m much more rested after a work shift today than when I started out as a driver,” he says as he climbs out of the crane cab.

This is Knatte’s second run for the day. Since he started working at four o’clock in the morning, he fits in a break to take a look around in the forest. Even though he is only 30 kilometres from his company offices in Tranås, he’s never been here before. Many landowners only fell trees at a certain spot once during a lifetime, so the areas for loading timber vary from day to day. Knatte feels a lot of responsibility towards his customers whose livelihood he is transporting, and believe that he is performing a key function in the supply chain.

“I have always been interested in the forest because it’s so important for Sweden. Everyone wants building material for their houses and paper for their toilets. I also enjoy the calm and freedom of the forest – it’s very important to me,” he says, climbing back onto the truck cab to drive on.

Knatte’ delivers a load to the Bergs Timber sawmill in Mörlunda, about 150 kilometres from where he collected the timber.

His destination is the sawmill Bergs Timber in Mörlunda, about 150 kilometres from where he is now. As soon as he leaves the most difficult forest roads and comes out onto a paved country road, Knatte turns on the cruise control I-Cruise. He also activates the I-See fuel-saving programme that scans the road ahead of him and plans the driving to make it as fuel-efficient as possible.

“On paved country roads and highways, I use these programmes 99 percent of the time. If you have cruise control, I-See works perfectly since the system thinks for you. If I tried to drive as fuel efficiently as the system does when I am driving manually, I would need full concentration throughout the day. I just can’t maintain that level of focus for such a long time,” he says.

To get really skilled at fuel-efficient driving, Knatte says that you need to avoid the gas pedal as much as possible – that you can coast much more than people expect. He also tries to learn how the technology in the truck works, and then test the different systems to get the best results.

Knatte points to the display and explains how I-See makes a difference: “Now I’ve been coasting for a long time, but I would’ve otherwise never taken my foot off the gas so early. Volvo has really managed to develop a smart system,” he says.

In his daily work, ‘Knatte’ likes to use features such as I-See, I-Shift, Volvo Dynamic Steering, Tandem Axle Lift, Dynafleet and I-Cruise.

After about two hours of driving, Knatte turns into the sawmill and unloads the timber. The air is full of sawdust and the giant plant smells of fresh wood. Everywhere there are huge piles of logs – their ends branded and tagged with flaps to indicate the order number, the supplier, and name of the landowner. Knatte marks out his cargo before starting his journey back.

Today he does the drive back without a load – something he would rather avoid. Until a couple of years ago, there was a sawmill near Tranås, but since it closed, Knatte has needed to get new customers to secure the home loads. For example, he takes some loads to Eksjöhus, a producer of prefabricated houses, which has its own sawmill 50 kilometres from Tranås.

On the occasions when he has to drive without a load, he always uses the Tandem Axle Lift feature to reduce fuel consumption. In the long run, it will have an impact since his seven trucks shuttle back and forth in 24-hour shifts.

If you have cruise control, I-See works perfectly since the system thinks for you.

Knatte admits that it is not always possible to live as he learns, and that both he and his employees sometimes need to compromise on fuel efficiency, especially on stressful days with a lot of work.

“Then it’s important that we make up lost ground through increased productivity. That’s the key balance that I always try to convey to my drivers,” he says.

A person who has been important to Knatte when it comes to knowing how to maximise the results from Volvo Trucks’ technology is his local dealer, Johan Ejdehage at Rejmes. Johan’s dad sold trucks to Knatte’s father Bertil for 24 years, and after both he and Knatte took over their father’s respective businesses, they themselves have worked together for more than two decades. Johan usually accompanies Knatte when he competes at Volvo driving competitions, and together they discuss how to drive to get the best results.

“During the world final in the Driver Challenge, I noticed that many other competitors chose to manually shift gears, but I didn’t. I just put in one gear change manually during a single uphill drive! That really proves that the technology in Volvo trucks works well,” says Knatte. 

I-See – Saves up to 5 per cent fuel

1. Builds momentum
I-See knows when a hill is ahead, so the truck accelerates and remains in a higher gear for a longer time.

2. Avoids downshifting
By preventing needless gearchanges, I-See makes your uphill climb smoother and more fuel-efficient.

3. Curbs speed on the crest
When the downhill is approaching, I-See stops the truck from accelerating unnecessarily.

4. Coasts before the downhill
To save energy and minimise braking, I-See temporarily disengages the driveline just before a downhill slope.

5. Control downhill braking
I-See knows where one slope ends and the next begins. It applies the auxillary brakes as needed for maximum efficiency.

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