MAIN TEST - A new sun rising

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Think of the national truck fleet as the All Blacks and you could say UD has added a whole new player and position to the team. A much anticipated and hugely important truck to the industry, that for many will add significant midnight oil to the lamp when agonising over fleet replacements.

Welcome to the main test this month. If we’re discounting alternative power sources and remain focused on diesel for the time being, it’s one of the most significant tests of the decade. In terms of heavy truck product ex the Land of the Rising Sun, UD has blown the market apart with the introduction of the new QUON (meaning ‘the eternal flow of time’ in Japanese).

There have been Volvo bits and pieces sneaking into the UD product for a while, but the new QUON is the first, unashamedly trumpeted from the mountain top, platform HD truck, and in producing it they’ve essentially created a new market segment, and for a short time at least, it’s all theirs. As we said in the intro, they’ve added a ‘flock’ to the All Black forward pack, or a ‘full five-eighths’ to the back line. There’s never been a Japanese truck like it, dripping with standard safety and performance enhancements previously reserved for products further up the Volvo Group food chain, things like disc brakes, intelligent cruise and braking systems, stability controls, lane departure warning, and even fatigue management if you want it. But let’s face it, creating a new player and a new position is all well and good, but the question then becomes…


Relevance?
Answer. Huge, on so many fronts. I remember the media in late 2015 scrambling around the then Volvo Group Australia (VGA) UD vice president, Jon McLean, firing a volley of direct questions on the dumping of the 13-litre GE13TD motor in the company’s HD trucks. Of course, the strategy was well in hand and on a beautiful spring morning almost three years later the final answer appeared from behind a large roller door in Christchurch’s industrial Hornby – the metaphor of spring’s relevance as a new beginning certainly wasn’t lost in the moment. There in front of us was Charter Transport’s gleaming new QUON GW 26 460. Testing a new QUON in Charter livery is about as good as it gets. Aside from the presentation, the Volvo Group brands play an integral part in the company’s success. Looking at a new truck in a company with brand history is fantastic, doing it in a company with group history helps piece so many more parts of the puzzle together. Charter understand exactly where and how to make the Volvo Group products play to their strengths…and in this sense ‘their’ means both parties.

With the new QUON the stereotypical definition of a Japanese truck is no more. It’s reset the bar in terms of safety,comfort, build, economy, and arguably performance per cubic centimetre. And that’s just as well, because aside from the fact the traditional Japanese brands no longer have the local Asian truck sector all to themselves, compliance may well start to make life a little interesting for some OEMs in general. Understandably, how the trucking industry functions in Japan has a huge influence on cab design. When asked the cab design question in Japan earlier in the year, Fuso designers told us sleeper cabs aren’t a big thing, likewise cross-cab movement, and drivers tend to wait at ports and unloading points with the seat reclined and feet up on the dash or centre consoles. Market size means we tend to get what they want; therefore the bunks are ‘rest’ squabs, and it’s handy to fill in the abyss between driver and passenger with a plethora of storage lockers set at a height that’s really comfortable when your feet are up. However, the Japanese condition is not apparently the ubiquitous Asian situation.

One of the things that stood out in last year’s Sinotruk test was the sleeper size and the room Noel Aitken had to move around the cab, and although it’s still largely a phantom on the home front, the Hyundai Xcient certainly gives us an indication on how our ole mate in Korea likes to ride – and it ain’t cramped. On the compliance tangent, it’s only a matter of time before we see a WorkSafe investigation that questions the buying rationale of someone who chose a truck that lacked certain safety features, when equivalent or close money could have purchased something that ‘may’ have avoided whatever it is they’re investigating. In the new QUON, you’ll rest easy knowing you took all reasonable steps when doling out the good shekel.

With those two considerations on board, the engine and gearbox are also interesting in terms of relevance. The 11-litre engine is a beacon to the future in many on-highway applications, and search to your heart’s content, you won’t find the manual option when specifying the transmission in your new ride; it’s ESCOT-VI AMT all the way. With the platform truck they’ve also tapped into fleet maintenance with a new level of enthusiasm, making best use of the parental punch, as well as allaying any niggles customers might have at this juncture in history committing to an 11-litre boiler as their front of house act.
Volvo currently has 700,000 connected trucks around the globe, so contributing to and tapping into that ever increasing IP can only be good for customers and product development going forward. So, back to Christchurch on a spring morning where we’re about to breast the step plates of the beautiful new, top of the line Charter GW 26 460 QUON tractor and B-train.


Perfect pitch
Driver of the Charter machine is Dave Connor. He’s a perfect placement, an avid truck enthusiast who also has considerable management experience across a breadth of industries. He knows about things like outlay, return on money, productivity, and all that stuff. We jump on board and start our first journey of the day, south along the straights of the vast south Canterbury Plains. We’re towing a brand spanking new TMC 6-axle B-train loaded with high-cube low-weight product for North Otago. Payload on the truck wouldn’t exceed 8 tonne, meaning the all up weight was somewhere in the 28 tonne vicinity. Obviously, the burden on the QUON was nothing, and we made exceptional time as we glided along in traffic. “The cruise is amazing,” said Dave. “I have followed trucks cruising at 90 from Timaru and never touched a pedal all the way through to Ashburton where I had to stop at the lights; it just slowed down and then took off again. You get accustomed to it quickly.”

Of course your initial thoughts are what sort of a load is that to test the truck with, but in the context of the machine’s best fit for purpose, it’s the perfect start to a varied day. As we stand the 343kW (460hp) GH11 engine is Top of the Pops in the new range, with that bastion of Kiwi carriage the 8x4 yet to appear on centre stage. But that’s okay because not only is ‘Freddy-four paws’ close, placement of this machine strategically in the market is also going to be key to its success, and nine axles at 54 tonne day in and day out on the Arthurs Pass or Napier-Taupo Road may not be its happiest of homes over a 10-year working life. That said, on a set route in places like the Canterbury Plains, it’s likely it’ll happily work away for years in 50MAX territory. Alternatively, you could do what Charter do, and give it a broad mix of work with a proportion of lighter and full weight, metro and line haul tasks, across a mix of topography, the Jack of all trades approach. Again, that will likely end with all being well with the world come life’s end. Big, consistently heavy line haul grinds, where the driver also needs slightly more of a home away from home? Well, that’s probably more the realm of the UD’s bigger Swedish siblings in the company’s red and white livery.


Photo: The GW 25-460 looks smart in the Charter livery.

QUON in 60 seconds
Under the forward control cab is the GH11TD460PS 10.8- litre 6-cylinder engine. It’s an SCR motor that features a variable geometry turbocharger, as well as both common rail and unit injectors. There have also been changes to the shape of the combustion chamber. The result is an engine that exceeds Japanese heavy vehicle fuel economy standards by 5% and complies with their tough PPNLT (Post-Post New Long-Term) emissions requirements, meaning it’s cleaner than Euro 6.
The engine produces 338kW (460hp PS) at 1800rpm and 2,200Nm (1623lb/ft) at 1200rpm. Let’s investigate more closely. There’s a healthy 2,100Nm (1549lb/ft) at 1000rpm, rising to the peak at 1200rpm and then tapering away to 2,000Nm (1475lb/ft) at 1600rpm. Looking back to what’s happening with power, at peak torque (1200rpm) that’s sitting on 275kW (375hp PS), and at the point power and torque cross, power is a hair off its 338kW (460hp PS) peak, with torque about 1850Nm (1364lb/ft). You might say the top torque is comparable with last month’s Cursor 13 or MX, but in the GH11 it’s definitely a peak, a moment in time at 1200rpm; there’s no flat span. The point being you’re best to leave the optimisation to electronics and fancy tuned transmissions – another reason there’s no manual. Before we scrutinise it against the only contemporary engine that’s a fair comparison, let’s just remind ourselves of our recent past.

Punching big loads around the joint with small displacement engines is nothing new or revolutionary. Companies were built on the back of Mack’s Maxidynes, Thermodynes and E6 motors, and 3176 and C12 Cats as well as Cummins M11s were also great servants to a good number of punters (we won’t say all). Looking back to a test of a Car Haulaways’ MC Mack in 1987, the Mack E6’s peak power was 261kW (350hp) at 1900rpm, and 1,553Nm (1131 lb/ ft) at 1400rpm. In 1995 an E7 in 12-litre trim was under the microscope, this time in a Chemical Cleaning CH. Peak power was 338kW (454hp) at 1800rpm, and torque was 2115Nm (1560lb/ft) at 1250rpm. It’s a fascinating walk through time. It shows the rise of the electronic intervention – the MC would have been microprocessor-free, while the 12-litre E7 certainly wasn’t. However, neither bulldog had any flatulence issues, what came out the exhaust was the price you (we) paid for grunt. How things have changed.

So, the takeaways are one, haven’t we done amazing things with engines, curbing their parameters and tidying up the atmosphere, yet still able to advance performance; and two, don’t get too hung up with what you can and can’t do with 11-odd litres, it’s all been done before – very successfully, albeit well under 50 tonne (most of the time). Of course in terms of a contemporary comparison it’s best to look at an engine that is yet to arrive. The UD’s unique position will be short-lived. Mid next year Japan’s second, truly platform-based safety enhanced HDT will turn up in the form of the new Fuso. Their initial arrivals will also sport a modest engine block in the form of Daimler’s 10.7-litre OM 470, the biggest of which delivers – you guessed it – 338kW (460hp PS) at 1600rpm and 2,200Nm (1623lb/ft) at 1200rpm. The UD comes with disc brakes; the Fuso won’t at this stage, but Fuso have a 13-litre in the wings...Oh let the games begin! Behind the GH11TD is the latest ESCOT-VI 12-speed AMT. It’s the UD tuned and configured I-Shift. Like its platform sibling it’s a beautiful piece of kit and there’s no doubt the shift speeds and ability to optimise the smaller engine’s tighter sweet spot helps produce an on-road performance that belies what the paper alone conveys. Out back UD RTS2370A axles at 4.13:1 sit on 8-bag electronically controlled air suspension rated at 21,000kg (There is a leaf option at 18,000kg). Front suspension comprises parabolic leaf and shock absorbers. Brakes on the UD are disc as standard with EBS. Auxiliary braking comprises a four-stage exhaust/compression brake combo (EEB).


Photo: Highly manoeuvrable around the city, and able out on the black-top. The QUON is the Jack of all trades.

No loss of identity
The great thing about the new QUON is it’s still very much a UD. In 2016 we drove a previous model QUON truck and dog on one of the legs of the Volvo Group around Australia road show. We said then that it was a fun truck to drive and gave off an air of enthusiasm, wanting to chase off up the road after the big boys if that makes sense…okay, so you have to be a truck person, some feel lazy and others excited…never mind. The new truck has retained all its ‘UD-ness’. The light, airy and inviting interior, combined with the chirpy free-spinning GH11 instantly gives you an ‘I wonder if I can get another load in’ enthusiasm. Carrying over their own style in such a markedly different truck from its predecessor gives a sense of identity, that they know who they are and what they’re trying to do, and that’s a great thing. Again, that style and placement fits magnificently with the Charter culture, and their interpretation of the truck’s placement.


Photo: Never a dull moment for Dave.

Here, there, and everywhere
Travelling along the engine note contributes a lot to the feel in the cab. With the drop to 11 litres you lose that deep earthy note that the 13-litre seems able to carry over from the big burners. It’s a higher pitched, more lively note. Dave said his first twenty-odd thousand kilometres have been issue-free, and it’s a completely different truck from his two previous rides, a 420hp GW 26 420 QUON and before that the 13-litre 470 GW 26 470. “This one just feels like it wants to go, especially on hills,” said Dave. “It has a real tenacity and wants to pull harder. It’s a completely different feeling truck to the other two. I take it out of Eco mode and use Power on the climbs. It just gives those few more revs you need to keep momentum. A couple of weeks ago I was on the Kilmog at 39 tonne, and it romped up there between 35 and 40km/h. Another recent load out of Nelson in the low 40 tonnes it climbed up Spooners and Hope Saddle in 7th and 8th and pulled away no trouble at all. It would outperform both the other trucks, not just the 420. Generally speaking it’s 10 to 20km/h up on the 420.”


Photo: Dave Connor enjoys the variety in work that comes with driving the QUON.

The truck’s work profile is as varied as it gets and can see Dave carting around town, or in all points of the lower land. Trailer swaps are a part of most days as the jobs are ticked off the operations list. “There’s no typical day on this truck, and that suits me. Curtains, flat-decks, trombones, in dimension, out of dimension, line haul, rural or metro, the variation makes the job challenging and interesting.”

As we roll along at 90km/h with the engine ticking over at 1500rpm, Dave pointed out that the Canterbury Plains wasn’t the best place to make the most of the ESCOT Roll function, UD’s I-Roll equivalent, where the truck rolls along in neutral when conditions allow in order to optimise fuel consumption. When these systems first appeared, they did more than raise eyebrows; now they’re just another thing modern trucks do. It’s a brave new world. “It is much better off-road too. Some of our work involves paddocks and it really can be horrendous. This QUON gets in further before requiring a tow, and has a better chance of getting out once empty. It has much better traction.” Apart from the normal traction aids, that’ll be in part down to the clutch optimisation function on the ESCOT-VI. Depressing and releasing the throttle allows the driver to rock out of situations that would have once required those other traction aids called tractors, diggers, graders, and strops. Back up the road with a pick-up or two along the way, it was into Charter’s classy Sockburn depot for a trailer swap onto a flat-deck super-quad and a load of steel that would see the unit now grossing in the high 30 tonne region. The remote air suspension control makes the job of adjusting the truck to the next trailer’s king-pin a cinch, and Dave pointed out that the UD had a neat little holder for the remote, something the Volvos didn’t have.

This time we’re on heavy metro and the ESCOT-VI comes into its own motoring around the busy city. Modern AMTs allow the driver to concentrate on those with whom he shares the road, and in that regard protecting the asset against the actions of others has never been harder. Because of its genealogy the ESCOT-VI is a beautiful piece of kit, with smooth changes, and it dances around the gears as required. It would have been one of the easiest to follow from a user perspective too, if you were chucked in the truck cold and had to do something. R, N, D, and M pretty much explain themselves and there’s a +/- on the right-hand flank of the shifter. If you can’t piece that together then some other worthwhile occupation might be your calling. Having said that, imagine a situation arising where you’re thrust into a bang up-to-date modern truck if you’ve not driven one before. If UD’s Traffic Eye, safe brake blending, hill-hold, and lane departure were all on you’d be forgiven for thinking it needed some sort of spiritual cleansing. Yes, the old days are gone, and new drivers in today’s latest gigs certainly need to be subjected to that 21st century joy...an induction.

It’s not easy switching from B-train to self-steering superquad to fixed tri-axle semis, but Dave’s used to whatever he’s seeing in the mirror and adapts instantly. The steel unloaded, it was back to the yard, and an empty box was delivered to a container park. From there it was through the hole in the hill to Lyttelton and on with a 24 tonne 20-footer for delivery in the city.

The UD is an extremely nimble and capable truck for heavy metro work with an exceptional lock, and as good as the disc brakes are out on the road, they’re potentially more valuable an asset on this city work. Touching again on the UD traits carried over to the new truck is the ride. It’s a firmish ride in the cab, at times you might even lean towards ‘lively’. Comfortable and contemporary it most definitely is, but there’s no mistaking what surface the truck’s rolling over. It suits us fine. It’s a US cabover sort of affair in feel, definitely not a Japanese version of a Volvo ride, and again, although now part of a platform, the UD is still its own truck. Handling wise there are no grumbles, the forward control cabs always have an initial ‘understeery’ sensation or feel the true COEs don’t, but it’s without fault. Once you’ve been there for 10 seconds it’s home.


Safety and the centrepieces of strong relationships
Talking about protecting the asset and its inhabitant(s); once upon a time it was up to the driver to look after themselves and their truck. More and more nowadays drivers have a helpmate, being the truck itself, and the QUON is right at the cutting edge when it comes to being the Tonto to your Kemosabe. We’ve talked about Traffic Eye cruise and braking, disc brakes, but there’s also safe brake blending, lane departure warning, UDSC (UD Stability Control), hill-hold, and as we said, a fatigue management option. Let’s touch on a couple. The UDSC feature for air suspended models automatically adjusts the suspension if the lateral loading on the truck is out of whack in order to maintain handling integrity.
The safe brake blending is an interesting one also. The heavier the load and the more pressure applied to the brake pedal, the greater the level of input from the truck, blending the brakes and four-stage retardation, dissipating energy and relieving impetus as smoothly as possible. It starts with the application of the exhaust brake, adding downshifts to increase the revs and compressive resistance, and progresses through to compression brake engagement and further downshifts if required. The intent is to optimise the input of auxiliary brakes, so reducing wear on the service brakes. It’s a great system when you’re actually driving it, smooth and effective. The sum of all the driver aids makes the truck more than just a tool and says something about the philosophical position of the company that bought it, and the value they place in the people they employ as well as the product carted. That can only be a good thing in the eyes of reputable customers looking to engage their services.
Likewise, Charter Transport has a long-standing relationship with local sales and service firm Commercial Vehicle Centre. It’s an association that dates back to the early 90s when the previous owners of Charters purchased a new Nissan Diesel truck. “Over the last 10 years that the current owners have owned Charter Transport, CVC have enjoyed being closely associated with the company as it has evolved into an expanding, well branded and immaculately presented fleet of transport equipment and people,” said Rick McIntosh, branch manager, truck sales, CVC Ltd.


Making work easy
Back at the yard and Charter Transport general manager Dean Middleton appeared. “What do you think?” The whirlwind that is a day in the life of Dave Connor left you with any number of answers, but aside from the calm capability of the operator, the overwhelming take home from the day was the suitability of the tool to the task. Everything on this machine contributes to making a day more productive; the intelligent cruise and braking, stability correction, blended stopping, the responsiveness of the GH11, the transmission’s speed of change and smoothness, cab access, and general ease of operation. Combine all that with a switched on enthusiastic operations cell, and it’s a recipe for happiness in every branch of the business’s relationship tree. A sure-fire indication that specification is on point is always fuel consumption and in this area the UD’s keeping its Swedish stable buddies honest. Bearing in mind the stop/start, uphill and down dale nature of the Charter business, the truck is returning 2.32kpl (6.54mpg). Putting that into context there’s a 2018 FH Volvo bought around the same time and doing pretty much the same work as the UD, currently sitting on 2.08kpl (5.87mpg), and a 2015 FM on 2.18kpl (6.15mpg). Best in the HD fleet at the time of the test was a QUON GW 26 420 at 2.48kpl (6.99mpg).

As far as service intervals go, UD Trucks New Zealand general manager John Gerbich said they can be tailored to suit the work (understandable), but he said in an application that was heavy metro and line haul you could expect 30,000km, and if it tended towards more line haul, 40,000km.


Summary
There’s no question Japan’s long reign in the southern oceans as the ‘Asian option’ has ended, and redefining their point of difference is important. With the assistance of their Swedish parent, UD has done a super job of announcing that point of difference in the new QUON, at the same time retaining all that makes them ‘them’. Elevated in class, style, and fit-out, the cab is still very much a ‘Rising Sun’ special, however mother Volvo’s magic wand on the underside has resulted in a machine that, played to its strengths, is immensely capable and forward focused. Like Australia, UD Trucks New Zealand may well find a plethora of new relationships to nurture.

MORE MAIN TEST READS BELOW..

Renovating the house

The new QUON has a whole new cab and if you knew nothing whatsoever about the corporate connection you’d be forgiven for thinking the guy who did the new FH and FM Volvos also did the QUON. There’s the same expansive bland style of grille that gives you a ‘Crikey’ moment when you first see it. One thing the previous model had in spades was looks. It was a great looking machine, so let’s just say the new truck gives the purveyors of bling and pigment more of a blank canvas with which to express their talents. Thankfully, Charter’s livery and embellishments lend themselves to any machine and the new addition is a striking example of what can be achieved. It’s not always about going nuts with the cheque account. Inside the new QUON takes its operator to a whole new class of cabin. It’s a forward control unit and so there’s a bit of company in the cab. Being Japanese it’s still festooned with a central island of cross-cab lockers – although it’s more open and airy than the Fuso HD Euro – and the bunk’s true calling in life is probably more bag storage than the Delta state. When talking ergonomics and class, the driver sits in a smart cockpit that screams Euro influence.


Photos: The GH11TD460PS is easy to get to in its nest under the QUON cab. Daily checks under the front flap. It’s more reassuring having a truck you can actually check the vitals on…if you’re a child of that era.

The I-Shift look-alike EXCOT-VI shifter sits nicely to hand in a tower, and there’s a lovely flowing wrap in the dash. In front of the driver is a swish binnacle housing two gauges with six outputs and a bunch of warning lights. There are more lights outside the gauges as well as the now familiar trip and truck metrics on a central screen. Amongst the usual menu items is UD’s Nenpi Coach (Nenpi – sounds patronising initially but calm down and stop being so defensive, it means fuel mileage), telling the driver how they’re going and offering tips on doing better. In the wrap there’s a media and navigation station, switches, air conditioning/heating, and comms back to base.


Photos: The dash is a marked improvement on the old. All mod cons with more of a classy mellower Euro twist on a traditional Japanese theme.

The four-spoke smart tiller continues the classy looks. The upper left spoke houses Traffic Eye cruise controls, and ECO-off, and on the right, menu navigation. Left wand on the column is wipers, hazard, and auxiliary brakes, and the right, indicators and lights. Seating position is snug but there’s been a huge effort in the design room to accommodate bigger examples of the species. Throughout history some of our big-boppers have not looked entirely at home in Japanese trucks, with a knee either side of the steering wheel, but you won’t find that in the UD. Dave’s a tall, slender fellow and he fits just fine, with plenty of room and a steering column that adjusts for telescope and rake. In fact, he said the stiff neck that plagued him in the 420 QUON has gone completely in the new truck. On the quirky front, the adjuster for the comprehensive mirror set-up is on the left of the dash almost behind the steering wheel. ‘Why not on the door?’ we hear you say. This is Japan people – the ashtray has that space. Epic! If you’ve been there you’ll understand entirely. Back to mirrors themselves, they’re well placed and plentiful, although like all the modern examples, just double check at intersections. If you’ve read our previous UD sojourns you’ll know we’ve always rated the fit and finish highly in the UD product. The fit is as good as ever, and the visual finish a marked step up again. The colour tones are more mellow, and there are nicer materials. There’d be nothing wrong at all with spending a day leaping in and out of this cab. Speaking of which, big grab handles and a beautifully cascaded three-step entry get top marks.


Photos: Access is superb for rapid entry and exit and the steps beautifully designed.

As we’ve said there seems to be no end of storage and there’s even a thermal drawer next to Dave for the drink. There’s a big centrally mounted overhead locker and they’ve carried over an improved version of the handy-as-heck folder slots above the driver. The foolscap clip folder goes in a treat, never moves, and is in a grab-and-go position the minute you need to alight from the confines.
We’ve covered off ride elsewhere. As for sound insulation, the meter was bobbing around the 70dB mark, slightly more if working up a sweat, less if cruising. That certainly isn’t in the realms of the whispering Jacks we’ve been in, but definitely acceptable nonetheless. The new cab meets all the trick impact and strength requirements (ECE-R29 for the prop heads) and has FUPS (Front Underrun Protection System). The driver gets an air seat with endless adjustment and the whole thing is sitting on fourpoint air, with shocks. Daily checks are under the front flap.

Early signs
At the time of the official New Zealand media and customer drive day in July this year there were four new QUONs operating, several nearing completion, and forward orders of 84. As at the end of August forward orders numbered 134. “The interest in these new trucks has been great and the order intake to date has exceeded our own forecasts,” said UD Trucks New Zealand general manager John Gerbich . Speaking at the annual Volvo Group Australia media conference last month, Mark Strambi, VP for UD Trucks Australasia, said the new QUON was attracting significant interest from buyers who had not previously engaged with the UD brand.
“This is the safest Japanese truck in terms of technology, available on the market today. We are loud and proud about the QUON.” Volvo Group Global president and CEO Martin Lundstedt said at the same conference that bringing products into the platform meant the benefits of future advancements could be more readily shared across the portfolio of products. Amen to that. It’s all pretty positive stuff if you’re a backer of the UD brand.

A Charter in every way
Charter Transport Ltd is more than just a company where people turn up to work. There’s an inclusiveness, engagement, enthusiasm and energy apparent in every company position – there’s a culture. It’s a people first, can-do, service oriented, quality focused philosophy that the company owners and their management team have propagated throughout the organisation. Meet general manager and 25-year veteran Dean Middleton, and instantly you’re buying into the red and white world. “There’s no us versus them in our company structure. The bloke washing the trucks is no more or less important than I am; we just have our own roles within the company to focus on. To have a genuinely great culture everyone needs to feel part of something.

We believe we’ve managed to achieve that for many years now.” His words are not spin, put on to impress, there’s a genuineness and sincerity in his communication and evidence is everywhere you look, from the fleet presentation, to the ultra-smart company HQ in Sockburn, to the branded clothes and gear bags, to the two huge roasts being cooked on the BBQ for the staff as another week draws to an end. There are regular company outings and a culture of inclusiveness that extends beyond the gates with close relationships fostered with business partners on both sides of the ledger.


Photo: Charter Transport general manager Dean Middleton. The company works hard on creating something its people feel a part of.

Bringing everyone into the fold is very much a company thing. Walk around the yard and the “G’days”, “How are ya?”, “Are you right there?”, “Who were you after?” tell you it all. There are two full-time driver trainers and licensing assessors who bring the team through the licensing system – Dave Connor being a prime example – and all management have Class 5 licences, able to down tools and leap aboard. “Our philosophy is to say ‘yes’ and make our customer’s challenge our challenge. The ‘how’ comes after the phone is put down,” says Dean. “We would bring on new customers, often as their secondary provider, having been told their regular carrier was too busy. In many cases it wasn’t long before we were the primary provider.”

But you can only service a customer if you’ve got something to turn up in, and so maintaining supplier relationships is equally important to the company. As we said previously, the Charter, Commercial Vehicle Centre (CVC) relationship goes back a long way. “CVC have been the South Island agent for a very good product for a long time, however it’s the exceptional overall service and the fact they stand behind the product that is equally as impressive. The entire process from speccing through to ordering and receival is seamless thanks to local CVC branch manager Rick McIntosh. Workshop manager at CVC Richard Swift takes care of our repairs and maintenance, continually working with us to minimise downtime.”
Today the fleet stands at seven Volvos and 31 UDs. Dean sums up the fleet situation: “UDs have been an excellent fit within our evolving fleet requirements and we believe they are the best Japanese truck on the market. Historically a large portion of our work was within the greater Canterbury area and 30,000 kilometres per year for one of our units was the norm. In recent years we have diversified somewhat and while metro work is still a large portion of what we do, our line haul work has grown exponentially, and our larger fleet now averages between 60 and 100,000 kilometres per year. We find the UDs to be versatile and suited to both the local and longer distance work. This has been enhanced even further with the Volvo group technology in the more recent models.”

Joining the game in the second half
Dave Connor was a relative latecomer to the truck driving game. Charter Transport is his first driving job, having signed on in 2013 following a lengthy career in both the hospitality and tourism sectors. Dave grew up in Dunedin and many school holidays were spent with his uncle, Percy Holder, who operated Macraes Transport, a two-truck rural carrying operation based in East Otago. He remembers big days in the passenger’s seat of a 187kW (250hp) Cummins powered ERF 5MW carting two loads of lambs per day to freezing works at both Timaru and Oamaru. Unfortunately, Percy passed away when David was 16 and the transport business was sold. During this era, he acquired a camera and maintained an interest in the industry by photographing trucks around the region. A selection of these images appeared in August 1987’s issue of New Zealand Trucking magazine.


Photos: From his uncle Percy’s ERF to the latest UD. Dave Connor’s enthusiasm for trucks goes back a long way.

His desire to experience life behind the wheel went on the back-burner while he indulged in one of his passions, playing senior level football before he headed offshore to do his OE. Much of the 1990s was spent in the United Kingdom working a variety of jobs as well as travelling. Upon returning to New Zealand he started work with motorhome company Pacific Horizon, in what was to become a 13-year career. When Dave started, the fleet numbered around 60 vehicles and the job involved everything from reservations and customer service to vehicle grooming and maintenance. At the end of his tenure, he held the role of national fleet manager, a position which involved looking after the fleet, which had grown to in excess of 350 vehicles. 2013 saw Pacific Horizon exit the motorhome industry and as a result Dave was made redundant. His interest in photographing trucks led to a conversation with Charter Transport general manager Dean Middleton regarding his current employment situation, and soon after, freshly armed with a Class 2 licence, he joined the team, starting off on metro work in a 4x2 Nissan Diesel. “Just for a few months to help out over the busy summer period,” Dean said.

Now after notching up five years with Charter, Dave has had the opportunity to experience several facets of the transport industry, from metro delivery and truck-mounted crane work, to line haul with both curtainsider units and flat-decks. He thoroughly enjoys the mix of both local work and long-distance work that the UD undertakes and speaks highly of the Charter Transport ‘culture’ that resonates throughout the company. “They really look after you,” said Dave.