Trying to persuade Britain’s hard-nosed van fleet operators to cough up an extra £1,000 per vehicle for automatic gearboxes in order to make their drivers’ lives easier may sound like an impossible task.
But times are changing.
The phrase ‘duty of care’ is on everyone’s lips and some – just some – operators are beginning to realise that maybe their drivers have a right to be treated like human beings instead of office consumables.
In this new enlightened world, health and safety devices are slowly filtering down from cars to commercial vehicles, although it’s a slow process.
Even now, some manufacturers charge extra for a driver’s airbag because they claim fleet buyers won’t cough up the extra cash for them.
The latest added extra, which more and more makers are beginning to offer, is an automatic gearbox.
It might not at first seem like a health and safety aid, but just consider that the average urban van driver makes around 1,800 clutch operations in a day.
Taking away responsibility for gear-changing makes for a more relaxed driver – and a more relaxed driver is a safer driver.
The latest auto kid on the block is the Volkswagen Caddy DSG – the moniker standing for direct shift gearbox.
It is no ordinary automatic shifter but a specially made unit that offers a conventional synchroniser unit assigned to each gear, like a manual box.
It has a ‘brain’ inside it that flips through the cogs with no loss of traction. All this means some amazingly slick changes. While
Volkswagen doesn’t expect a huge take-up of the DSG option – 250 in the first year and 10% of the sales mix later – the firm believes that eventually, items like this will become commonplace among British fleets.
Duncan Sands, head of operations for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: ‘A driver using this van will be less stressed and therefore will be safer on the roads.
‘Companies are beginning to be more concerned about health and safety than they were years ago.
‘People are beginning to realise that their drivers are an important asset and as such should be looked after.’
Sands believes urban fleets and courier companies will be especially interested in the DSG option, which is already available on Volkswagen’s cars.
The firm claims that, unlike other automatic boxes, there is no increase in fuel consumption over the manual versions.