Chinese trucks are larger, more powerful and more comfortable than they used to be. Photo: Deborah Lockridge
Wang Weidong (the latter is his given name), a 45-year-old truck driver from the Jiangxi Province in China, has been a trucker for 20 years. The owner-operator runs about 800 miles traveling the route between Jiangxi and Shanghai. He owns an FAW Auwei model truck.
I met Mr. Wang at a truckstop in an industrial area near Shanghai, a visit arranged as part of an international media event showcasing Shell's new lubricants technology center in Shanghai.
This "truck park" apparently was a relatively small facility, serving about 350 trucks a day.
It looked a lot different from American truckstops.
Instead of a central facility with amenities, there were a number of storefronts on the way in to the parking area that apparently sold items such as tires and various services. Trucks, primarily Chinese cabovers with brand names such as Dongfeng (China's number one truck maker, which has a joint venture with Volvo), FAW and Foton (fourth-largest, with a deal with Daimler).
We didn't spot any fuel islands, and a group of intermodal containers in the center of the parking lot served as an area for drivers to pick up loads going from Shanghai back to their origin cities.
We were told that Chinese truckers, although they may have long hauls of 500 miles or more, typically go back and forth along the same route. For instance, Shanghai is along what's considered the southern route. They will stop for a day or two at a truck park like this until they get a load heading back toward home.
Trucks in China have improved greatly in recent years, but they're still not up to the quality and durability standards we're used to in this country. A new on-highway truck may cost only $40,000 to $50,000, but one pair of owner-operators I talked to said they trade in their trucks after five years because they're just no longer up to the rigors of the highway.
Wang and his friend and fellow owner-operator Yu Aixue say their trucks are four to five years old. Mr. Yu, from the Hunan province, has been a driver for 18 years and bought the same model truck as his friend, on Mr. Wang's recommendation.
When they got into the business, they told me, trucks were smaller, with less power and less payload capacity.
"The driving experience, the comfort is much better," Wang told me through an interpreter. "The horsepower, the transmission are better, and there are many electronic items in a new truck."
Interestingly, we also were told that iPhone penetration is very high among Chinese owner-operators.
Owner-operator rigs make up more than half of the trucks in China, although there also are big fleets with as many as a thousand trucks. Sometimes two
drivers may share ownership of a truck so they can take turns driving team.
The Shell Roadshow
Mr. Wang and Mr. Yu, owner-operators, give the Shell roadshow a thumbs-up. Photo: Deborah Lockridge
China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the biggest market for commercial lubricants, so it's not wonder Shell courts Chinese truckers through its road show, which it's been doing for 11 years. In this country, of course, it would be the Shell Rotella roadshow, but in the rest of the world, Rimula is Shell's premium oil brand.
It was a drizzly day, but that didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the truckers for the various games at the roadshow. They kicked soccer balls through holes, rode a stationary bike as fast as they could, bounced a ping pong ball on a paddle while riding a mechanical saddle, and tested their strength in a strongman game. They also could tour displays about Shell lubricants, get a health check, and watch dancing girls on the stage in between game events.
Perhaps their enthusiasm was driven partly by the fact that the top scoring drivers of these competitions will take part in a national driving competition, and the top five will get to go to London with their families to compete.
One young Chinese woman who seemed to be the master of ceremonies on stage enthusiastically encouraged the bike riders with the word "jiayou." We learned later that although it literally means "add fuel," a more idiomatic translation, at least in this context, would be something like us chanting, "go, go, go!" or dig deep and put in a little extra effort. If you watched the 2008 Olympics in Beijing you may have heard it then.
Wang and Yu, asked what they thought about the Shell event, gave it a thumbs-up. They have used the Shell brand for over a decade and are loyal customers.