Britain’s oldest brewer has refreshed its distribution fleet with the latest in trucking technology, in the shape of its first Mercedes-Benz ‘urban artic’.
Shepherd Neame’s new Atego 1329LS tractor unit was supplied by Sparshatts of Kent, the reigning Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicle Dealer of the Year.
Founded in 1698, Faversham-based Shepherd Neame is renowned for its high-quality range of cask ales, which rejoice in names such as Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger and Master Brew.
The family-owned company also operates some 350 of its own pubs across London and the South-East – having beaten off competition from three national chains it has just won the Best Food Offer trophy at The Publican Awards 2012.
Shepherd Neame operates a fleet of 16 trucks, 10 of which are lightweight 4×2 tractor units popular with many drinks industry operators but something of a niche product as far as the wider commercial vehicle market is concerned.
Downplated from the standard 28 tonnes to a gross combination weight of 25 tonnes, the Atego has an air-conditioned day cab fitted with a Kuda air management kit that was specially adapted by Sparshatts at its Sittingbourne bodyshop; the dealer also undertook other chassis modifications to ensure that the vehicle is ideally configured for the application.
Pulling one of Shepherd Neame’s new aerodynamic and fuel-saving twin-axle Don-Bur Teardrop urban trailers, the Atego is now delivering real ales in casks, keg and bottled lagers, and spirits, to pubs and other outlets throughout Kent and Sussex – it typically makes a couple of dozen ‘drops’ each day.
Shepherd Neame Transport Manager Simon Fisher said: "We’ve previously sourced all of our vehicles from another manufacturer, but on this occasion went out to the market to see what was available and spoke to a couple of dealers from which we have not bought previously.
"The Atego enjoys an excellent reputation for reliability, of course, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was also very competitively priced, so we’ve decided to give Mercedes-Benz and Sparshatts a chance."
The brewer’s urban artics typically cover upwards of 75,000km a year and are worked extremely hard – its oldest unit dates back to 2004.
"Obviously time will tell whether the Atego proves to be the workhorse that we hope it will, and we’ll be closely monitoring its fuel and maintenance costs over the months to come," continued Mr Fisher. "First impressions are certainly very positive though. I took the Mercedes out for a trial the other day and found it very comfortable and easy to drive."
Shepherd Neame’s tractor units are usually double-manned but occasionally a driver-trainer will also travel in the cab – until now the two passengers have been provided with a bench seat but the brewer was able to specify its first Mercedes-Benz with three individual seats, a big improvement.
The Atego has also gone down a treat with long-serving driver Tony Young. "He absolutely loves it," confirmed Mr Fisher, "not least because it has 290hp on demand, an extra 70hp compared to his last truck.
"He’s really noticed the difference when he’s climbing Detling Hill, near Maidstone, for example. He tells me that the increase in power is very noticeable and he also reckons that he’s using much less fuel than he did previously. We’ll be able to confirm that when we run our first proper measurements in a few weeks’ time but Tony’s feedback is certainly very encouraging."
Shepherd Neame will maintain the Atego in its own garage with parts and warranty support from Sparshatts of Kent. "The dealer has been very good and done everything we’ve asked," added Mr Fisher. "Its truck sales executive Martin Kemsley was particularly helpful when we came to design and specify the vehicle.
"Sparshatts have made a great start so provided things continue to go well there’s every prospect of our doing business with them again in the future."