Vauxhall press releases that include my name always seem to be accompanied by the phrase “resident eco-driving expert”. I’ve earned this moniker from my regular (successful) outings on the Fleetworld MPG Marathon; a modern day version of the old Mobil Economy run. (Remember the old press adverts of the sixties: “45 mpg in a car like mine?” – “Yes, on the Mobil Economy Run…..”)
I got the call to attend the 2012 event and I have to admit that my heart sank a wee bit when I was told that I would be driving a van in the commercial category but I suppose that it did contrast with last year’s outing in a 6.2 litre, V8 engined Vauxhall VXR8.
This year it was a Vauxhall 2.0CDTi-powered Vivaro ecoFLEX van and it was up against some strong opposition. A similar Renault Trafic (actually built in the same plant at Luton), the Bluemotion VW Transporter and a Cologne registered new design Ford Transit, hot off the press launch and piloted by two Ford engineers.
The event, based at the Four Pillars Hotel at the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester, takes in a 380-mile route over two days. Vehicles are brimmed before the start, and at the finish, and are equipped with a tracking device to verify the definitive mileage covered during the run.
The method of brimming the vehicles has improved over the years. In the early days, the final filling involved fuel cans and weighing devices, then copious calculations involving specific gravity. Nowadays, some keen engineers from the AA arrive with their specialist vehicles that are normally occupied at filling stations, sucking out diesel from petrol engined cars and vice versa with diesel motors. However, here they blow instead of suck (if you get my meaning) and with the aid of a thin proboscis push fuel into the tanks until they really are fully brimmed.
The first day of the event saw myself driving with co-driver, Neil McIntee, the editor of Vans A2Z website, going West on B, A, Trunk roads and motorways over the Severn bridge and onto the Forest of Dean. Then, after a lunch stop, we continued out into the Welsh Marches and the first big climb of the day over the Black Mountains to Talgarth. Back via the Golden Valley and Ross on Wye saw us hit Gloucester at rush hour, but the big concern of the day – the ‘Category 1’ climb up Air Balloon Hill at Birdlip – passed without problems as traffic was flowing freely and relatively quickly.
Second day had us contending with the ups and downs of the Fosse Way to Stow and then (luckily!) down Broadway Hill to Evesham, Tewkesbury before stops at Ledbury and Stratford on Avon. We returned down the Fosse where a route blockage at Stow saw us take to the lanes following the map instead of tulips to get to Burford. Here we met our biggest problem of the event as inconsiderate tourists were deciding to cross at both the Zebra Crossings on the severe ascent up the hill through the town. How dare they!
At past finishes of the event there have been lots of anxious participants pacing up and down doing very good impressions of expectant fathers outside the maternity ward. This year, the organizers told us to go home as the AA bods needed to do things at their pace and results would be issued the following day. Vehicles were filled to the second pump click at a filling station before the final brimming was done at the finish from the AA vans. Our tank clicked off after just 10 litres were added. At 378 miles on the trip, the figures didn’t make much sense. How much would the AA engineers add from their vans?…..We had expected around 50 mpg, but all we could do was go home and fret for 24 hours until the results were released.
It turned out that the AA managed to add another 15 litres at the brimming, so with the other 10 litres, our stats were a very creditable 65.16mpg with a 59.3% improvement over the manufacturer’s figures. This made us clear winners over the other comparative vans, the Trafic coming nearest with 57mpg and the VW and New Transit both achieving 56mpg. Most importantly, our improvement was the best of all participants in car or van.
Our efforts were well received within the commercial vehicle world. However, the headlines from the event will probably go to Mick Linford and Andy Dawson (remember him?) who in their respective Kia Rio Diesel and Ford Fiesta Econetic both managed to record over 100mpg, the first time any passenger car has achieved this figure.
So, another good year result-wise for the ‘resident eco-driving expert’. Now, however, I can get back to driving with a ‘normal’ right foot on the accelerator!