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New Caledonia: heavy duty mineworking

New Caledonia is an archipelago of islands covering almost 20,000 km2, the largest being Grande Terre. It is located in the south-west Pacific (Melanesia) and has a population of 250,000.

Nickel, New Caledionia’s primary mineral resource

The New Caledonian islands feature areas of high relief. Irrigated by strong and irregular rainfall, they are made up of valleys and mountains, fertile soil, abundant vegitation... and nickel. New Caledonia holds 25% of the world’s reserves of the metal. The world’s 4th largest producer, it is also one of the leading suppliers of ferronickels used in the production of stainless steels. The abundant quantities of minerals in the soil make mining New Caledonia’s largest economic resource. Some twenty deposits now cross the island from north to south. The environment is rough: stony dirt tracks, steep slopes, sharp bends, fords, etc. The mines are located in the mountains and the minerals have to be carried by truck to the coast for shipping by sea.

A fleet of over 500 Renault Kerax

The Renault Kerax occupies an important place in these harsh operating conditions, with a fleet of over 500 vehicles on Grand Terre backed by the unflagging support of the Renault Trucks Sodauto dealership. Operating on the island since the 1970s, Sodauto provides onsite mobile assistance with a constant supply of spare parts. This is an important point, for the mining transport island economy is largely made up of owner-drivers, who depend on having their working tool operational at all times. Vehicle reliability and efficiency are the key words here. Two of the owner-drivers who career along these dirt tracks loaded with several dozen tons of ore every day give us an insight into their experience.

Eddy Sautron, owner-driver, specialised in carrying nickel

Eddy Sautron is 46 years old. A driver all his life, Eddy began working in mining in 1999 and then started his own business in 2007. Every day, he carries ore extracted from the Tontouata mine in the south of New Caledonia to the sea some 35 kilometres away. He makes 6 round trips a day, covering a total of 400 km between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Before setting up on his own, Eddy Sautron drove a Renault Kerax 370 hp. He then drove a Renault Kerax 400 hp during his first two years as an independent driver until he acquired a Renault Kerax 8x4 DXi 440 in 2009. He has now clocked up a total of over 300,000 km. Throughout these years, his vehicle has proved to be reliable under all circumstances, for every kind of application. Eddy Sautron doesn’t give his vehicle an easy time: in his job, he never drives on metalled roads. Instead, he has to face potholed dirt tracks and negotiate fords caused by torrential rain and mineworkings ringed by razor sharp stones... All in a truck carrying almost 40 tonnes of ore that demands highly efficient braking to handle the steep downhill slopes on the mountain roads. It is under driving conditions such as these that the Renault Kerax’s electrical and hydraulic braking systems come into their own. The brake pedal is only used as a last resort to save the brakes from wear. The tyres are a different story! For not only do they have to handle the stony ground, but there are also all the twists and turns of the mountain roads to contend with. They have to be changed every 4 or 5 months! Father of 4 children, Eddy Sautron enjoys his work. Even if he describes it as tough and demanding, he has no plans for giving up. On the contrary, for he is thinking of acquiring another Renault Kerax, maybe an XTREM version, while still keeping his current vehicle. Despite having been worked hard since he acquired it in 2009, it will continue to play an important role in bolstering his business.

Philippe Thomas, mining handed down from father to son

For the Thomases, mining is part of their family history. Philippe Thomas learnt about the business of transporting ore at the wheel of Berliet GBH and TBH vehicles in the 1970s with his father. At a time when trucks still arrived by ship in sets of parts. In the meantime, Berliet became Renault Véhicules Industriels and then Renault Trucks. But Philippe’s attachment to trucks with the diamond logo remained the same. Nowadays, the company he manages at Kouaoua, in the eastern part of Grande Terre, employs 19 drivers and operates 6 Renault Kerax vehicles: three for a variety of different uses (a 6x6 tractor, a tipper and a 6x4 tanker sprinkler) and three 8x4 vehicles specifically devoted to mineworking. The work as described by Philippe Thomas is just as demanding for men as it is for machines: they arrive at the mine at 4 a.m. and never get back before 6 p.m. at the earliest. Sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays as well. The days often involve some 10 roundtrips between the mine and the sea, and all of it over “roads” which are not really roads at all...What Philippe Thomas most appreciates about his Renault Kerax vehicles is their controlled fuel consumption, driving flexibility, pulling power when fully loaded and their excellent braking. Descending from an altitude of more than 1,000 m with deep ravines on either side of the road and almost 50 t of ore in the tipper calls for total confidence in the vehicles’ brakes. Thanks to the hydraulic retarder coupled to the gearbox and an electric retarder on the transmission, 90% of the time the driver does not need to touch the pedal at all, thereby preserving the brakes. Under these conditions, they only have to be changed every 7 or 8 years. But for Philippe Thomas, maintaining his operational efficiency also relies on the ties he has with the local Renault Trucks Sodauto dealership. It provides constant and essential support for an activity as demanding as his. When you’re working on an isolated island, being sure you will have your truck back on the road the same day if you have a problem, irrespective of any issues concerning supply of parts or accessing the vehicle wherever it may be, is absolutely vital.

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