Getting your teeth into stock cartage

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A proud history of carting stock with a three-pointed star has seen Canterbury Plains Transport recently take delivery of the first of three new Mercedes-Benz Arocs 3263s. We went on a run with Luke Henderson to sample some big teeth in the deep blue!

Canterbury Plains Transport (CPT) is no stranger to Mercedes-Benz trucks, or New Zealand Trucking magazine main tests. Last time we sampled a three-pointed star in the company’s lovely blue and teal livery it was 2009 and the test subject was a new Actros 3254
sporting the Euro 3 V8 OM502LA, at just on 16-litre displacement. The big vee engine had power and torque credentials of 402kW (540hp), and 2500Nm (1845lb/ft) respectively. Behind the power plant was the new GS330 12-speed AMT which CPT co-owner Mike Cowens said offered a significant step change in driveability and smoothness over its predecessor, the 16-speed Autoshift. The other significant feature on the truck was a Voith retarder, which also scored well on the performance, value-add, and ease of use, not to mention the noise pollution stakes. It was an 8-axle stock combination with two, four-deck/two-deck crates, no sign of an ‘H’ plate, and it ran along at an acceptable 1.67 to 1.80kpl. Mike felt the truck’s power, comfort, and technology was at the forefront of the big Euros of the time and was the answer to not only maintaining an acceptable bottom line in a highly competitive industry, but also in the
attraction and retention of top staff. A high tech powerful truck of the era that posed the age-old question that comes with every generation...how much better does it get? Well, lots actually. Let’s move ahead almost a decade.

In early March this year CPT took delivery of a new Mercedes-Benz Arocs 3263 8x4 rigid truck.

“I’ve only driven it from Christchurch to Timaru empty,” said Mike Cowens. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s just taken the whole game to another level entirely.”

And he’s entirely correct. We’ve never hidden our enthusiasm for the new Mercedes-Benz range right from the time of the 2015 Brisbane Truck show pre-field trial unveiling. The new range is an entirely new truck from its MP3 predecessor, and as we’ve said before, Mercedes-Benz set a base requirement at the start of the design process of a 20% improvement in the service life of all components.

The new range appeared on the roads of Europe in 2011, and with historical lessons duly noted on the part of Daimler, it was subjected to an exhaustive field trial and support systems preparation programme in this part of the world before we ever saw it. Such a programme was critical, as not one part on the truck, chassis, driveline, or cab was interchangeable with its predecessor. The uptake since the local launch last March has been rapid, with a new galaxy of stars appearing on New Zealand roads – there’s 20 coming to the South Island alone in the next few months.

Luke doing the pre-flight thing, making sure his passengers are comfy, and know what movies will be playing enroute etc. Hopefully not Silence of the Lambs!

The imposing 3263 gets its teeth into it as she thunders through the Lewis Pass.

Loaded to the gunnels with ewes, the Arocs drives out through the gate and bolts like a ute and trailer would. The torque availability at under 1000rpm can actually be seen.

A cab like no other
Nine years ago we noted that the external appearance of the cab was probably due for an update. Well, Mercedes listened (we like to think they did) and what we’re in today is the fruit of that labour. The CPT truck sports the top of the line 2.5m StreamSpace L cab. It’s probably the most opulent cab we’ve encountered in the magazine in recent times. The entirely flat floor still takes some getting used to. When sitting in your armchair you’re looking across at the driver sitting in his.

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz is all class: abundant storage, typical Euro dash. If you’re a woodgrain and gauges
person then no, it’s not going to be you. The fitout, materials, flat floor, and modern accoutrements like the fridge under the bed
mean it’s essentially a micro-apartment.

Harking back to the 8x4 Arocs’ original intended design as a construction off-highway truck, there’s no advanced safety package (Active Brake Assist etc) on this unit like there are on its 6x4 Arocs siblings. However, with the revamped options list now in action they will all be there by unit three.

The CPT truck has all the opulence of the Ranui machine. The space, fittings, seats, standing room, bed (full innerspring) storage, colour tones, driving position and dash layout in these cabs set the bar if Euro’s your buzz. It’s going to be an interesting comparison when the new Scania arrives here later in the year. Imagine telling drivers five decades ago that one day OEMs will be vying for who can pamper you the most.

It’s a huge, high cab with the floor almost at eye height for a six-footer standing outside. However the biomechanical algorithms that must have gone into entry and exit design make it among the easiest of any cab to get in and out of. Cosmetically it’s only the grille and the bumper/light arrangement that differentiate the Arocs and Actros. We won’t go into exhaustive detail on the cab interior; we’ve been there enough already (ref New Zealand Trucking magazine Jan/Feb 17, Aug 17, Oct 17, and Aug 15). Harking back to the 2009 truck, gone is the little stumpy toggle arm rest-mounted gear lever. Everything in the new truck happens on the steering wheel or on the two wands either side. We have to say we’re not the hugest fans of too many controls mounted on the steering wheel. In the autobahns of Europe and the interstates of the US and Australia they’re fine, but here there’s a potential for too much ‘wheel chasing’ as we call it. You have to be able to find what you want without a second guess while traversing places like the Coromandel, East Cape, and Whangamoas, and in that respect we’re definitely a ‘wand’ country rather than a ‘wheel’.

 

Access to the insanely high cab is a miracle in design.
Certainly one
of the easiest trucks to get in and out of.
Even the full width cab has a
noticeable cascade on the
steps yet wants for nothing in regard to interior
space.

Prodigious external storage on both sides,
including an additional heated locker on the left.

Somewhere to look when you board. You can’t check anything as such;
the truck will tell you 
when, what, where, and how much.

As for the beautiful wrapped – albeit typically German austere – dash, in the centre between the four gauges (speed, RPM, fuel, DEF) is a digital display, which in concert with steering wheel buttons and toggles is where the bulk of the show is run from. Along the top of the read-out are Chapters – Trucking, Odometer/ Eco, Alarm/Audio System Information, Gauges, and Settings; and within each chapter are pages, in which you do what you need to do. There’s a favourite set-up mode so the truck knows what you like.

The left wand is the home of wipers, indicators and beam adjustment, and on the right is the gear lever wand. Auto or manual on the end button, forward and back mode via a barrel switch in the centre, paddle up and paddle down for manual shifts, and for engine brake pull it towards you.

Daily checks are done via the dash now. The outside storage lockers are prodigious and there’s even one on the left under the main side locker connected to the heat from the engine and able to dry the raincoat and gloves.

From our perspective we think Mercedes-Benz asked this question at the outset of the design phase for this cab: ‘If you walk into a Mercedes-Benz car dealer and buy one of our cars, what would you expect to drive out?’ That we think was the brief for the new cab, because that’s what’s been delivered.

Prestige by name
Having a truck with extended service intervals is one thing, figuring out how best to support the entire unit is another. Aside from Prestige’s ‘A service’ programme mentioned above, they’ve also taken the initiative and created a programme that aligns a finished unit with the core attributes of the truck. Product support manager Steve Blackie explains:“I liaise with body and trailer builders and supply Mercedes-Benz certified componentry, things like plugs and fittings that meet the longevity expectations that come with the chassis. That way the reliability of all that surrounds the core product should be there. The service interval applies to the whole thing in other words.”

Part of the Prestige Commercial Vehicles Mercedes-Benz team, Steve Blackie (left) is responsible for product support, and Theo Ferreria (right) is brand manager. Both men have formidable knowledge of a product they have total belief in.

Another feature on the new range that’s proving a hit with customers is the onboard PSM or Programmable Special Module. “The module essentially allows a plug and play electronic interface between the truck and attachments/ equipment a customer fits to the vehicle. Anything from a PTO, to a crane to the tail door on a bulk unit can easily be made to communicate with its host truck,” said Steve.

CPT
It doesn’t get any more Canterbury than Mike Cowens, Richard Bell, and their baby coming up 13 years of age, Canterbury Plains Transport, or CPT.

Although both men converse daily, Mike’s the front man on the day-to-day trucking business. From the hamlet of Cust, Mike’s career started with Rapid Transport driving a 1418 Benz on general freight around the region. From there he graduated to an Isuzu stock unit of 240hp and eventually on to a 370hp Isuzu before landing a 3350 Foden with a 350 Cummins. Interestingly, he never really bonded with the Foden in the same way he did with the Isuzus.

CPT co-owner Mike Cowens. His infectious enthusiasm for rural cartage
in the South Island rubs off in all parts of the business.

Mike moved on to operations in 1998, and when Rapid was sold in 2005 he got itchy feet and felt the need to put his experience and knowledge to use for himself. At that time, Richard Bell, a local and well respected farmer, was looking to expand the two-truck transport operation he’d established under the RWB Transport banner a couple of years previously. The ducks were lining up as they say, and Richard offered Mike the opportunity to come on board. But that’s not where the synchronicity ends. At the same time local Mercedes-Benz salesman Gerald Stanley found himself with two 8x4 Actros trucks surplus to requirements following the cancellation of an order. Mike couldn’t believe his ears following a call enquiring about a truck purchase.

“I said, ‘I’ll take them both!’ I didn’t know how the hell I’d pay for them,” laughs the energetic and good-natured Cowens, “But that’s what happened. We renamed it CPT, kept the livery and the rest’s history.”

So in one fell swoop, Richard expanded his operation, Mike got into business, and Gerald sold his trucks! The world’s a beautiful place.

Today CPT run 11 trucks – seven Mercedes-Benz, three Scanias, and a Hino. All bar the Hino, a drop- side truck and bulk trailer, are on permanent stock work. When quizzed on the Scanias’ arrival, Mike points to a time when Mercedes-Benz couldn’t supply the right truck and gearbox combination and there was a Scania available ex-showroom.

“They’ve been good trucks to us, but we’ve had a simply outstanding run from the Mercedes-Benz. In our years of operation we’ve only done two engines and one gearbox. That’s not bad considering the miles we do and where we go.

“We used to run them out to 600- odd thousand kilometres but in past few years we’ve rolled that out to 1 to 1.2m kilometres. It just didn’t make sense flicking them on at that age. The earning potential left was far more than the trade-in difference. And look at these things now! Four years and 800,000km warranty on the driveline. And Theo at Prestige is great, I like dealing with Theo.”

Two brands synonymous with each other in Godzone.

The CPT operation is a typical, resourceful Kiwi enterprise with no extravagant overheads. It has trucks located in Rangiora, Amberley and Ashburton. Mike said they’ve settled on Domett trailers and Delta crates as their preferred options and have recently finished an upgrade programme on much of the trailing gear to bring it up to 9-axle spec.

“We don’t run into the North Island,” said Mike. “We keep it local and focus on looking after our local customers.”

There’s no doubting the energy that exists in this lively business. There’s a buzz that flowed through from Mike’s dining table and on to Luke in the cab of the Arocs. Maybe it’s just what Mike intimated in 2009. Get the right gear and everything else takes care of itself.

Arocs?
New Zealand was built on ingenuity, adaption and ‘pluckiness’, and that’s just what it’s taken to get the new Mercedes-Benz range to our fair land in 8x4 rigid trim. As gargantuan and festooned with model options as the mighty world of Mercedes-Benz is, finding an 8x4 rigid Actros for those weirdos down at the Long White Cloud initially sent the search engine on the truck spec’ing software into a spin. Choose ‘Arocs’ at the start of your selection process however, and there-she-be, an 8x4 rigid – Boom! The problem was, though, the Arocs isn’t intended to be your long haul, lightweight highway cruiser. This is a truck that’s built for either turning off the black-top onto the rougher stuff, muddling around in construction sites, or staying on the highway with anything from an earthmover to some component from the heart of a nuclear power station weighing in the hundreds of tonnes jammed up its jacksey. It’s why the grille bars on the Arocs have those little appendages along their length. They’re teeth, intended to frighten any load into submission as the truck approaches.

The minor issue tends to be around tare, as the Arocs is built ultra-strong and therefore a wee bit heavy for highway work, worsened by the fact that tare has never been a strong Mercedes-Benz selling point. That’s where Kiwi ingenuity comes to the fore.

Initially the plan was for Mercedes-Benz Germany to undertake a development and sign-off path for the Actros, so 8x4 rigids could be specified. In the meantime, the Arocs would be offered with a few pre-delivery tweaks and adaptions to make them better suited to line haul highway life. However, lead times on the delivery for the 8x4 Actros have been pushed further and further out, so the current thinking, according to Theo Ferreira, brand manager at Prestige Commercial Vehicles in Christchurch, is to just increase the highway spec options list available on the 8x4 Arocs; things like hypoid diffs, and driver’s side airbag, advanced safety package, etc. That has two major benefits. One, the customer gets the best of both worlds in respect to longevity, durability, and application, and two, those pesky Kiwis who still think rigid and dog combos are where it’s at will stop ringing Australia and the motherland asking ‘How far away is that bloody truck mate?’

There’s North and South, but then there’s East and West
The mainland’s a funny old piece of dirt. If you’re running up or down either coast it’s not too bad relief-wise. The run from Cheviot to south of Oamaru on the east is as docile a stretch of driving as you’ll find in New Zealand, and taking seasonal implications out of the conversation, the remainder of the track north of Cheviot and south of Oamaru has a few lumps and tricky bits but nothing that should trip many up.

Likewise, the West Coast isn’t overly demanding as long as the sea’s in view. Swing the tiller toward the great central wall however, and things get real...rapidly, with big climbs, steep grades, narrow lane widths, lots of corners, and slippery road surfaces beaten into submission by good old ‘Mother N’.

CPT run their trucks South Island-wide and so mechanical specification is all about the bigger picture rather than the flat-as-a-pancake region of domicile. So, like the Ranui Haulage 2663 Actros we tested in August last year, the first of three new Arocs 8x4s coming to CPT was chosen from the top of the Mercedes-Benz tree.

Under the flattest of flat-floored cabs is the magnificent ‘Blue Efficiency’ OM473 15.6-litre engine. It’s a straight-six unit with impressive performance credentials of 469kW (630hp) at 1600rpm and 3000Nm (2213lb/ft) of torque at 1100rpm. But there’s a little more in all that than meets the eye as 2500Nm (1845lb/ft) of that torque figure is available from 800rpm. Remember that’s the absolute peak torque figure for the 2009 truck. The torque curve is flat from 1000 to 1400rpm but in all reality the entire pulling power of the engine is available from 900rpm. At 1400rpm, where torque begins to check out, the motor’s producing about 415kW (556hp); again greater than the peak power of the 2009 truck.

In terms of cleanliness it’s been a big decade too. The 2009 truck was a Euro 3 (shock horror, yuck, how did we all survive), although the Euro 4 was right on the doorstep and pre-orders of that engine were making the ordering of a second truck identical to the test unit a bit of a challenge. The new Arocs is a Euro 6 and that’s certainly the opposite from last time in that CPT is ahead of the game. The Euro 6 rating comes via EGR, SCR, and DPF.

The engine features the X-Pulse fuel injection system where individual cylinders have injection pressures tailored to current operating requirements, a patented asymmetric turbocharger that does away with the need for variable pitch veins. In addition there’s turbo compounding in the form of a second turbo downstream of the main unit that makes use of exhaust gas temperature maintained after the gas has flowed through the exhaust gas turbocharger, and transfers power direct to the engine’s gear drive via a shaft and hydrodynamic clutch set up. It’s this unit that’s responsible for much of the engine’s eager response and frugal appetite for fossil fuel.

Rear of the engine is the PowerShift 3 12-speed AMT with EcoRoll, an improved version of the one that was making its debut in the 2009 truck. The PowerShift 3 has a 20% improvement in shift times over its predecessor, and if changes were difficult to detect in 2009, they’re almost an illusion now. Although different shift maps are available to tailor the truck to a specific application, Prestige Commercial Vehicles product support manager Steve Blackie said as yet they haven’t needed to do that.

Transmitting the power to the road is one of the key places the Arocs differs from its highway breed sibling. The CPT truck has two Mercedes-Benz H7 13,000kg rated, planetary hub reduction rear axles with full diff and cross locks. The second unit will also have the ‘hubbys’ but unit three will be the first of the new breed of Arocs equipped with the hypoid drive axles found as standard fare in the Actros. The rear suspension is the Mercedes 8-bag air with stabiliser bar and shock absorbers. Up front are proprietary front axles rated at 7,500kg and mounted on tapered parabolic leaf springs with shock absorbers and stabiliser bar. Although the Arocs options are now far more closely aligned to the Actros, the heftier Arocs crossmembers remain. Chassis mods were one of the real features of the new range when it was launched, with an increased chassis width and a stiffer tail section, improving both stability and handling characteristics. It’s interesting to note another Arocs /Actros quirk is the front axle on the Arocs being 100mm rear of the front axle position on the Actros. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when calculating lengths, etc.

Warranty on the new truck is two-year bumper-to-bumper, and four-year or 800,000km on the driveline. There’s a full and comprehensive service package available with the trucks, but unlike the Ranui operation that went with the full monty Complete Care package, Mike and CPT co-owner Richard Bell have decided not to.

“I can’t see the benefit in the outlay,” said Mike. “When you look at the run we’ve had from the product over the years, it’s just not worth it for us. I mean look at the standard warranty.” The Arocs is on an 80,000km service interval (140,000km in some European applications), something many Kiwi operators will take a little getting used to.

“It’s something that requires a little management,” said Steve Blackie. “The truck’s one thing, but trailers, particularly their brakes, require a service every 20,000km. We’re bringing them in at 20 for what we call an ‘A’ service and that allows us to do a visual on the truck at the same time, and look for any chafing etc. There’s only a few grease nipples on the entire truck.”

From great stock
Luke Henderson could not be a more fitting operator for the new CPT Mercedes-Benz 3263 Arocs, having been born and bred in the centre of the Canterbury plains, in Dunsandel.

Talking with Luke you soon realise that the diesel was running through his veins from an early age. His vivid memories of playing with trucks in the sandpit at Dunsandel School with two of his best mates is testament to this. This school yard pastime and boyhood dream would later lead to all three school buddies running down the road together in Scania stock units for Eddie and Sandra Swain.

Luke Henderson living the dream he had as a boy. The world needs more people who genuinely love what they do to earn their money.

Luke and the 3263 at Frog Rock, northbound.

It is fair to say that the diesel was injected into Luke’s veins, having a father in the industry who drove bulk a unit for Ellesmere Transport. Luke started out after school and in the holidays riding shotgun in early 1418 Mercedes Benzs, G88 and N10 Volvos, and an International S Line with a 444 Cummins fitted. His first memory of driving a truck was a G88 Volvo in the paddocks picking up hay bales. “I was only about eight years old and had to push the seat right back so I could stand behind the wheel and still reach the pedals,” said Luke with a laugh.

Although Luke had all the passion, and exposure to the transport industry while growing up, he didn’t go driving immediately after finishing high school. Like a lot of us Luke was faced with all manner of negative feedback regarding truck driving as a profession and was steered away from it. He spent his first 13 years in the workforce farming on the Canterbury Plains. Eventually the call of the road dragged him away from his farm duties and he got his first start as a driver with Ellesmere Transport Co Ltd.

Luke spent four years with Ellesmere, and although his father was driving bulk units there, Luke was straight into a livestock unit as that had always been a part of the boyhood dream. After driving a 460hp Mercedes-Benz, followed by a 540hp one, an opportunity presented itself to Luke via the parents of one of his school buddies to drive for E. D. Swain Ltd on livestock at the helm of a brand new R620 Scania.

“They were great times with a lot of laughs,” said Luke. “The opportunity to run down the road with your two best mates from school in the one fleet was an immense amount of fun, living the dream.” It was then a call out of the blue from CPT based on a conversation some years earlier about possibly working for them that brought a job offer his way. Luke’s first year with CPT has been spent at the wheel of an older 3254 Mercedes-Benz Actros which he has handed back to take control of the new 3263 Arocs.

Talking with Luke about the new truck he is quick to bestow praise upon the big Benz and how smooth it is in the ride he and his four-legged passengers receive. However, as we have seen before, livestock drivers that have a solid farming background instinctively have a genuine concern for their cargo and this is reflected in their fluidly smooth driving style; Luke is no exception to this rule. The other passenger who is enjoying the comfort of the Arocs is Luke’s eldest son Jake. At just three years of age, Jake is already jumping into the cab whenever possible. After a recent trip with Luke carting a load of hoggets, young Jake proceeded to go to preschool and much to the horror and despair of his classmates told them that woolly sheep became lamb chops for the BBQ and little piggies were turned into bacon. It seems to us that the apple has not fallen too far from the tree and a new generation of livestock driver is coming up through the ranks. Rest assured young Jake has an exceptional teacher.

There’s North and South, but then there’s East and West The mainland’s a funny old piece of dirt. If you’re running up or down either coast it’s not too bad relief-wise. The run from Cheviot to south of Oamaru on the east is as docile a stretch of driving as you’ll find in New Zealand, and taking seasonal implications out of the conversation, the remainder of the track north of Cheviot and south of Oamaru has a few lumps and tricky bits but nothing that should trip many up. Likewise, the West Coast isn’t overly demanding as long as the sea’s in view.
Swing the tiller toward the great central wall however, and
things get real...rapidly, with big climbs, steep grades, narrow lane widths, lots of corners, and slippery road surfaces beaten
into submission by good old ‘Mother N’.

CPT run their trucks South Island-wide and so mechanical specification is all about the bigger picture rather than the flat- as-a-pancake region of domicile. So, like the Ranui Haulage 2663 Actros we tested in August last year, the first of three new Arocs 8x4s coming to CPT was chosen from the top of the Mercedes-Benz tree.

Under the flattest of flat-floored cabs is the magnificent ‘Blue Efficiency’ OM473 15.6-litre engine. It’s a straight- six unit with impressive performance credentials of 469kW (630hp) at 1600rpm and 3000Nm (2213lb/ft) of torque at 1100rpm. But there’s a little more in all that than meets the eye as 2500Nm (1845lb/ft) of that torque figure is available from 800rpm. Remember that’s the absolute peak torque figure for the 2009 truck. The torque curve is flat from 1000 to 1400rpm but in all reality the entire pulling power of the engine is available from 900rpm. At 1400rpm, where torque begins to check out, the motor’s producing about 415kW (556hp); again greater than the peak power of the 2009 truck.

In terms of cleanliness it’s been a big decade too. The 2009 truck was a Euro 3 (shock horror, yuck, how did we all survive), although the Euro 4 was right on the doorstep and pre-orders of that engine were making the ordering of a second truck identical to the test unit a bit of a challenge. The new Arocs is a Euro 6 and that’s certainly the opposite from last time in that CPT is ahead of the game. The Euro 6 rating comes via EGR, SCR, and DPF.

The engine features the X-Pulse fuel injection system where individual cylinders have injection pressures tailored to current operating requirements, a patented asymmetric turbocharger that does away with the need for variable pitch veins. In addition there’s turbo compounding in the form of a second turbo downstream of the main unit that makes use of exhaust gas temperature maintained after the gas has flowed through the exhaust gas turbocharger, and transfers power direct to the engine’s gear drive via a shaft and hydrodynamic clutch set up. It’s this unit that’s responsible for much of the engine’s eager response and frugal appetite for fossil fuel.

Rear of the engine is the PowerShift 3 12-speed AMT with EcoRoll, an improved version of the one that was making its debut in the 2009 truck. The PowerShift 3 has a 20% improvement in shift times over its predecessor, and if changes were difficult to detect in 2009, they’re almost an illusion now. Although different shift maps are available to tailor the truck to a specific application, Prestige Commercial Vehicles product support manager Steve Blackie said as yet they haven’t needed to do that.

Transmitting the power to the road is one of the key places the Arocs differs from its highway breed sibling. The CPT truck has two Mercedes-Benz H7 13,000kg rated, planetary hub reduction rear axles with full diff and cross locks. The second unit will also have the ‘hubbys’ but unit three will be the first of the new breed of Arocs equipped with the hypoid drive axles found as standard fare in the Actros. The rear suspension is the Mercedes 8-bag air with stabiliser bar and shock absorbers. Up front are proprietary front axles rated at 7,500kg and mounted on tapered parabolic leaf springs with shock absorbers and stabiliser bar. Although the Arocs options are now far more closely aligned to the Actros, the heftier Arocs crossmembers remain. Chassis mods were one of the real features of the new range when it was launched, with an increased chassis width and a stiffer tail section, improving both stability and handling characteristics. It’s interesting to note another Arocs /Actros quirk is the front axle on the Arocs being 100mm rear of the front axle position on the Actros. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when calculating lengths, etc.

Warranty on the new truck is two-year bumper-to-bumper, and four-year or 800,000km on the driveline. There’s a full and comprehensive service package available with the trucks, but unlike the Ranui operation that went with the full monty Complete Care package, Mike and CPT co-owner Richard Bell have decided not to.

“I can’t see the benefit in the outlay,” said Mike. “When you look at the run we’ve had from the product over the years, it’s just not worth it for us. I mean look at the standard warranty.”

The Arocs is on an 80,000km service interval (140,000km in some European applications), something many Kiwi operators will take a little getting used to.

“It’s something that requires a little management,” said Steve Blackie. “The truck’s one thing, but trailers, particularly their brakes, require a service every 20,000km. We’re bringing them in at 20 for what we call an ‘A’ service and that allows us to do a visual on the truck at the same time, and look for any chafing etc. There’s only a few grease nipples on the entire truck.”

Enough to make trucks of old go ‘wobbly’ at the wheels with fear and trepidation.

Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you
Had they been able to, there wouldn’t have been too many trucks that would have sung the great fur traders’ ode to themselves as they pulled their load toward the Lewis Pass and beyond, but for the general populous of big modern gear, the topography is merely an inconvenience.

We met Luke and the 3263 just on dawn in the Mt Somers region of Canterbury. As it was nine years ago, we were loading ewes for the Alliance works in Stoke, 389 to be exact, a load that would have the Arocs right on its 50MAX limitation. Luke’s a seasoned stockman and had the unit loaded in well under the hour, and the Arocs departed and accelerated off like a ute towing a trailer. The chase was on!

Mike Cowens said that the tare’s a bit high on the first truck, tipping the scales at 14,800kg with fuel, driver, and crates, and 25,500kg for the entire 9-axle combination, giving a payload of 24,500kg. “That’s about 400kg more than I’d like it but I’ll live with it when the longevity and reliability is taken into account,” he said. “Having said that, we are looking to trim the future ones up a bit.”

Monocoque crates on the second and third units and hypoid diffs on the third unit will help remove some excess fat.

Luke runs the unit in auto and cruise for much of the day. The steepest pinch on the Hope Saddle saw 7th gear at 1300rpm and 27km/h with the majority taken in 8th at 1500rpm and 38km/h. Although the cruise control and engine brake are connected, allowing the truck to sort out the descents, deciding on gear and ferocity of engine braking, Luke’s grassroots beginnings see him preferring to take over and adhere to proven principles he’s comfortable with, opting for a gear or two under the ascending speed, so avoiding the possibility of any ‘moments’. After all, as clever as the big Benz might be, it can’t accommodate the lunacy that might be happening just around the next bend.

While we’re talking safety, the Arocs comes with all you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz of 2018 in the form of predictive cruise control, electronic disc brakes, all with the integrated Telligent braking feature that encompasses ABS and ASR.

The 2009 truck was equipped with a Voith retarder, a feature that Mike extolled the virtues of on that test. Pre-release Mercedes-Benz made much of the new engine’s in-house three-stage engine brake, saying in 99% of situations it will be more than adequate. So far that’s proven to be the case, with 475kW (633hp) of retardation available in stage three. Considering the nature of the landscape between Canterbury and Nelson and a maximum gross weight, there were precious few dabs on the brake pedal.

Clearing Nelson, it was an overnight stop before loading 39 highly excitable, rising steers out of the region, bound for North Canterbury. The load grossed the truck out at well under capacity and posed no issue whatsoever on the run home.

In the 2009 test we noted the interior environment was quiet and the ride smooth. The new machines take that sentiment to the next level with a whisper quiet interior that hovers around 57dB at cruise, albeit with enough engine note to keep you in touch with goings on below, not having to rely entirely on soulless gauges.

As we’ve said before, the art of cab ride dynamics is something modern man has nailed. The electronically managed four-airbag and shock absorber set-up in the Arocs whisks the driver and passenger along in a near perfect state by today’s standards. Ride through the corners is firm, stable and communicative, incredible when you think all told there’s 13 bags of air between the driver’s arse and the bitumen.

Talking consumption for a moment, it appears the economy claims of Mercedes-Benz as a result of the compound turbo set-up on the OM473 are once again bearing fruit. Readers will remember the two Ranui Haulage units were running at 2.0kpl out of the box at maximum loading. Because the load factor on stock is slightly more fickle, Mike reports a consumption figure on the new truck north of 2.3kpl!

“It’s early days but the consumption is bloody outstanding. I think everyone’s surprised.”

At 23m, 9 axles, and 50 tonne, there’s a whole lot of imposing truck in the Arocs. One thing that hasn’t changed in the past 40 or so years is the access to farm loading ramps and that was clearly evident at the unloading point in Amberley. Luke’s lineage, coolness and skills came to the fore getting big blue through the gates and into position. Everything counts as they say, and the long wet grass, soft paddocks, an enormous barge of a trailer with its tri-axle set aft thwarted the Mercedes’ last efforts to back into the ramp even with the ‘crosseys’ in. It’s no slight on the tractive ability of the truck. We thought it did outstandingly well even getting into the gate from the long grass on the road verge. The trailer was emptied via the portable ramp at which point the unit easily backed up the last 15m to the main ramp.

Farm access ways that don’t have a milk tanker implementation have not kept pace with bigger trucks.

Two things we did notice through the entire mission was the steering lock on the unit and the usability of AMT. The 5150mm wheelbase (German spec; in NZ lingo it’ll be 5825mm), means the turning circle was not an issue, and being able to flick from forward to reverse while trying to get the truck and trolley through the farm-sized gate off a narrow gravel road must have truly been a blessing for Luke.

The farmer’s best friend
The Arocs’ ability as a truck is without question, but the benefits from all this power and tech reach far beyond what may have driven the initial purchase decisions, and could well bear fruit over time in the form of a much enlarged debtors ledger.

Firstly, the set-up. With the help of Theo and Steve the suspension on the CPT Arocs has been set up with a low ride option specifically targeting stock units, but as Steve noted, attracting the interest of the cube obsessed freight fraternity also. Resetting ride heights and reconfiguring front spacers results in a chassis height just behind the gearbox of 950mm on 275/70 rubber, a saving of 100mm over normal, making Mercedes the industry leader here. The implications on crate design in the drive to eliminate back rub on stock are significant.

The big Benz’s smoothness rubs off on the passengers in the rear, with sleep a common pastime. The truck’s attributes have real payoffs in terms of animal welfare.

Second is the way the truck performs in relation to the load. While it’s easy to wax lyrical on the environment the truck provides for its human occupants, watching the 3263 drift smoothly and effortlessly through the rises and falls, twists and curves of the Lewis Pass and Shenandoahs brought home immediately – and visually – the effect on the occupants rear of the cab. It’s something that Luke’s also noticed.

“The stock are in amazing nick when they reach their destination,” he said as we released the steers into the paddock in North Canterbury. “Take these young fellas we brought back. They were a lively bunch when they went on but usually after four or five hours in the truck there’s a little bit of wind gone from the sails. But these fellas haven’t lost their spark atall. Likewise, the sheep yesterday. I had to wake a heap of them up, and that’s been a common thing even in the short time I’ve been on this unit.”

So what next?
Again we walk away from the new Mercedes range mightily impressed. From Mike Cowens’ and Richard Bell’s perspectives it totally reinforces their preference for the brand and the reasons why that preference exists. Performance, technology, and time will tell, but there’s no reason why these trucks should be any less reliable than all the others the company has owned. Luke’s driven a lot of trucks but he’s the first to say he wouldn’t drive anything else but one of these now.

The question it leaves is again, how much better does it get? As we are now, with predictions that in the not too distant future we’ll have 100,000lb/ft of torque available from the engine’s first revolution through to the last, we may be on the cusp of a new frontier and about to rewrite the entire book on land-based transport. Roll on the next CPT test a decade from now!