WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK OF OUR INDUSTRY, THEY HAVE VISIONS OF BIG TRUCKS RUMBLING DOWN THE HIGHWAY AND COVERING LONG DISTANCES BETWEEN OUR CAPITAL CITIES.
While this is fair representation of parts of our job, the local pick-up and delivery side of road transport is often overlooked when, in reality, it is probably the most difficult and important part of the freight chain.
While some long-distance operators do their own pick-ups and deliveries (PUD), the vast majority of linehaul operators rely on the services of local trucks and drivers to collect their freight, before consolidating it and sending it in the required direction. The same applies to inbound freight, with the local fleet working to make sure all the freight is delivered on time and intact.
The job of local PUD work certainly has its challenges for a driver, with city traffic, narrow streets and plenty of paperwork to test their skill and patience. The truck chosen to do the task can have a big effect on a driver's workload, with manoeuvrability and vision being very important factors when dealing with the tight confines of residential streets and outdated industrial areas. Put simply, the wrong truck can make life very difficult.
While the Japanese manufacturers have long held top spot in the medium-duty market (most of which would fit into the local distribution category), the European manufacturers have done a great job in closing the gap with their recent offerings. The 14-pallet rigid has been the backbone of local PUD work for many years, and will likely continue to be for some time to come, so it's no surprise that this particular area of the market is proving to be popular among manufacturers.
Region Peak Transport is one company that relies upon its local trucks and drivers to keep the linehaul side of the business operating. Having efficient and driver-friendly trucks on their local fleet not only saves them time and money, but has also brought about a few unexpected changes among the drivers. To find out more, I went along for the ride with one of Region Peak's local drivers in Melbourne for a day, aboard one of their Iveco Eurocargo rigids.
The Iveco Eurocargo was initially put into the Region Peak fleet to fill a niche role. As Brian Harper, "The Boss Man" at Region Peak explained, "One of our customer's freight is stacked very high on the pallet. I was looking for a truck with a low chassis height, so we could get more space between the floor and the roof of the body without going higher overall. Our previous supplier couldn't make it happen, but when I rang Adtrans (the local Iveco dealer) they said they had the perfect truck, ready to go".
The perfect truck was a Eurocargo ML 225E28P, which offers a low chassis height through the standard fitment of 19.5-inch wheels and tyres and a lower profile suspension setup. Fitted with a K-Hitch KH7016 trailing lazy axle, the ML offers a GVM of 22.5 tonnes without the height and tare weight penalties of a bigger truck. Powered by Iveco's 5.9-litre Tector F4AE28 engine that delivers 279 hp (205 kW) and 950 Nm (700 Ib-ft) of torque, and driven through a nine-speed ZF manual transmission (with AMT option available), the Eurocargo also offers enough power to get the job done.
My day out started at around 8:00 a.m., when my chauffeur for the day, Stephen, arrived back at Region Peak's Somerton depot from his first run. After loading the deliveries for his second run, we hit the road in perfect weather for the run around Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Straight out of the gate, the comfort and ride quality of the Iveco was evident. Noise levels in the cab were low enough for easy conversation, and, on asking Stephen of his impression of the truck, the reply was adamant: "It's much more comfortable, and has more power than my last truck," he said.
He also commented on the vision around the truck: "It took a while to get used to all the mirrors, but now it's great. I can see clearly down both sides, and down beside the cab on the passenger's side. It makes a big difference. There are no blind spots out the front either, because of the narrow pillars," he said. This was put into perspective quite a few times throughout the day, when he squeezed the truck into (and extracted it from) some pretty tight spaces with relative ease.
Another benefit of the low chassis height is the ease of entry and exit from the cab, with low-set door handles in easy reach, and only two steps up to floor height. Well positioned grab handles also make life easier. Access is important when you spend your day getting in and out of the truck, with this being one of the bigger health and safety issues for those on the job.
Having spent the day experiencing the Eurocargo, it was back to the yard, where I took the opportunity to talk to some of the other drivers who had stepped from a Japanese truck into a new Iveco.
While the Ivecos are only relatively new to the fleet, the response was unanimous - none of them would go back. As Brian Harper said, "I've never seen a bunch of local drivers so happy to come to work. They love them. The local trucks have never been so clean, they treat them like they own them, and that never happened with the other trucks".
While driver acceptance is a great attribute to have, there are other areas of the relationship with Iveco that have led Brian to add more to the fleet.
"With the previous supplier, we never saw them. The salesman never came to my office, and it was only after we had bought a few Ivecos that they asked why we hadn't been in touch for a while," said Brian.
"Now, we have bought ten Ivecos, and the guys who don't have one yet are asking when they're going to get one". He went on to say that, "We have a small workshop here for our own trucks, but with the service we are getting from Adtrans we send them there for servicing. Our guys can drop a truck off in the afternoon and pick it up the next morning ready to go".
Brian added that the Ivecos come with a five-year front-to-back warranty, and the fact that they are Iveco from front to back means that the dealer can fix or service every part of the truck.
In a business where brand loyalty can sometimes override the bottom line, it's interesting to see the effect a change of truck brand has had on Region Peak.
From the top to the bottom, everyone is happy with the move to Iveco. This move not only includes the local fleet, but Brian has started buying Iveco Powerstars for the linehaul fleet as well. This all came about through the persistence of a salesman, and the ability of the dealership to back him up with the right product and good customer service. Ironically, these are the same attributes you need to run a successful transport business.
I would like to thank Brian for having me in his depot, and Stephen for putting up with me throughout the day.