KALLERYD, SWEDEN. For timber companies working the dense forests of Sweden, having the right equipment is the difference between making money and losing money. Johan Sundberg, owner of Sundbergs Akeri AB, knows this lesson very well. And in Sweden, Sundberg told Fleet Owner, if you haul timber out of the forests, you only have two vehicle choices: Volvo and Scania.
“In Sweden we have Volvo and Scania in logging,” said Sundberg. “For logging, I think Volvo is a little bit better.”
The family-owned Sundbergs operation runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, shifting to a six-day schedule during slower times of the year. With nine trucks and 20 drivers, Sundberg relies on the reliability of the Volvos to keep his operation profitable.
Logging, though, is among the most severe applications, especially in Sweden with plenty of rolling hills and steep grades that take their toll on the equipment. And like his American counterparts, Sundberg finds recruiting drivers to this lifestyle, which involves 12-hour shifts starting at 4 a.m. for half the drivers, and the others working overnight, difficult—to say the least.
“It’s very hard to recruit,” Sundberg said. “The new recruits start in May or June, and after the first snow, we see whether they are man or mouse.”
Drivers are paid between $4,500 and $5,000 a month. Sundberg estimates it can take as many as five years to fully develop the skills necessary to expertly operate the crane, which the drivers not only use to load the logs, but also to snag the straps from the ground and flip them over the fully loaded trailer.
Sundberg figures that about 65% of his 20 drivers are personal friends, just one way he fights the driver turnover issue. Even still, he is on the constant lookout for drivers willing to put in the time to learn the job.
Sundberg and two of his drivers took members of the North American trucking press corps to see his operation up close as part of a media tour of Sweden conducted by Volvo Trucks. On that day, Sundberg took Fleet Owner on a logging run in a Swedish national forest, about 93 mi. northeast of Gothenberg.
From driving to loading and unloading, Sundberg’s drivers are a one-man crew, including maintenance in the field if needed.
“We have no problems with the engines or brakes,” he said. “With brakes, all we really do is maintenance. The new Volvo trucks, we never have trouble.”
The trucks Sundberg runs are Volvo FH 540s 6x2 models, running a 540-hp. D13C engine producing 1,917 lbs.-ft. of torque. A Volvo I-Shift AMT makes getting the trucks up and down the hilly terrain easy, Sundberg said. The transmission, which he said seamlessly positions the truck in the proper gear at all times with little to no driver interaction, also helps drivers focus on navigating the fully loaded rigs along the narrow logging roads that dot Sweden’s forests.
The vehicles, spec’d for logging, include a timber crane, which Sundberg said costs nearly as much as the truck itself, make about three loaded trips per driver shift. A special blend of Canadian oil, HD-46, is used to keep the hydraulics that operate the cranes operational.
Each truck, crane, and logging trailer costs Sundberg about $500,000. He keeps the vehicles for four years, running each between 125,000 and 155,000 mi. a year over some of the worst off-road conditions in Sweden, and relies on a Volvo service contract for primary maintenance.
Sundberg is the third generation running the fleet, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who founded the company in the mid-1930s with two brothers. As complicated and busy as the timber business is, Sundberg spends most of his time out on the road.
“I have tried to be a manager and sit in an office, but it’s not my thing,” he said. “[I] like to be in the truck and see what happens. I think the drivers like me because of that. I think it is much easier to manage the company that way.”
The Swedish timber industry is quite profitable, Sundberg said. The country exports almost 95% of its timber, mostly as finished products, with the UK being the biggest export market, he said. Japan and China also purchase a lot of Swedish timber.