MAIN TEST - Go East and conquer

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hyundai’s Xcient drew thousands of inquisitive and interested pokers and prodders at The EXPO 2017. Now in the hands of owner Randall Transport Services, it’s raising eyebrows on one of our most formidable trucking tracks.

In a platform-festooned world it’s a rarity to have a whole new truck make landfall. When Hyundai New Zealand’s national truck manager Grant Doull asked us if we’d like to go to the Hawke’s Bay and see how the Xcient was going, we couldn’t get to the ute quick enough. Here was a truly intriguing machine, and word on the street was it had found a home on a daily freight run between Napier and Gisborne. Having confidence in your Hwarang (ancient Korean warrior – with class) is one thing; throwing him into a real scrap for survival straight off the bat is another. But that’s the level of confidence Corey Randall, proprietor of Randall Transport Services (RTS) in Napier, had in the beast from the East following a 35,000km trail they were running for Hyundai New Zealand. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation when the chance of purchasing the truck came about.

The road to the rough country
The Hyundai brand and suite of products managed to obvert the painful journey of acceptance many OEMs have on arrival in Aotearoa. Considering its relatively short-lived history here, Hyundai today is associated with quality of build and reliability, be it their cars, SUVs, LD trucks, or front-end loaders. You name it, the feedback is always positive. A clever and polished marketing strategy helps keeps that reputation real in the minds of punters as they also press upon us how much time, effort and resource the company puts into ongoing development and frontier technology. The sheer size of the parent company is hard to comprehend and we won’t go into great detail here, suffice to say if you wanted to own a small car, big car, SUV, light truck, heavy truck, a bus, a loader, a digger, a ship, or a submarine, you need only visit your local Hyundai dealer…and even then we’ve not scratched the surface.

Photo: Tanga quietly thunders through the Cricklewood region.

Hyundai’s foray into the local truck market has until now been focused on the lighter-duty side of things. Back in November 2015 we took a little HD75 for a spin and at the time felt there was a bit of refinement required to bring cohesion to the truck. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and later this year the company will bring a whole new range of medium-duty maulers to the market...we wait with bated breath. Anyone attending The EXPO 2017 witnessed Hyundai upping its presence in the HD truck market significantly. There, front and centre, was an Xcient P520 QZ, the company’s big high cab linehaul offering. It presented as something entirely new and unrelatable in terms of offerings from an eastern OEM. Its huge cab looked and felt for all intents and purposes European, as did its power train. There was no oversized docile lump under these floorboards, instead a mid 12-litre Euro 5 that produced bulls-eye numbers for a fleet linehaul operation.

However, for all the interest, the truck wasn’t a launch vehicle but a test vehicle, brought here for evaluation and data collection in preparation for potential entry into the market sometime hence. In fact, the response at that very event was part of the evaluation. What would people think? What would the interest be?

“Interest in all events has been strong and people are very positive. I think they see something new, yet familiar. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said ‘Hyundai make great cars, I bet these will be great too’,” said Grant. Its path immediately after the show comprised media drives, and field trials within target applications. When PBT contractor Corey Randall won a tender for RTS to provide a daily freight service from Napier to Gisborne, the Hyundai – still painted in its EXPO metallic grey livery – had just ended a trial period in his business. Corey had a night swap contract ex Napier to Palmerston North, a run he’d done since establishing his business about two years ago, and the Hyundai had been working away on that job. In 35,000km of trial the big Korean hadn’t missed a beat, and anyone gracing its lush in-cab environs didn’t appear at all keen to leave. With the need to put wheels on the Gisborne run immediately, Corey called Grant and asked if he could buy the Xcient.

“It wasn’t on the plan to sell it right then, but we had a talk and did a deal. We still wanted data from the truck; it was the only one running here at that stage and I thought it would be a great job on which to prove its mettle,” said Grant. And so that’s how the Xcient found its way to Gisborne… and back, every day, carting freight on one of our most unforgiving sections of state highway. If you believe in your truck, meaning really believe, then there’s no better road to subject it to.

Photo: The daily freight terminal routine. If they only knew what it took to get their ‘stuff’ to them.

Chalk and…chalk
Driver of the Xcient is Tanga Walsh, a 35-year trucking vet, and Gisborne born and bred. You’d think a truck from an Asian OEM wouldn’t be well suited to a Gisborne truckie in terms of ‘vibe’. After all, the Asian ‘thing’ is always perceived as detail oriented, serious, purposeful, and process driven, yet Tanga’s so laid back he almost has no need for mirrors. But no, it’s a beautiful union. The boy from the East is perfectly bonded to his machine from the East. The Hyundai glides along in silence, Tanga chatting to the truckies coming the other way about road conditions and enjoying the scenery as he breathes in the ionised air his best Korean buddy’s climate system provides him with. “Oh, I love it. It’s a really good machine. It’s only 520 but it goes bloody well. I drove the FM before this, and I’d take this. It’s really stylish. “People would call me up at the start and say ‘Is that a Volvo?’ ‘Nah mate, it’s a Hyundai’. ‘A wha? No way?’ Na mate. This’ll do.”

Day runner
In the world of PBT freight Tanga’s life is special in ways other than the uniqueness of the machine he drives. His is one of the few daytime linehaul jobs in the company, loading in the Napier terminal each morning around 6.30am and heading off with a stop in Wairoa before ending in Gisborne. Once clear he loads whatever there is to come home and heads off. It’s a five-days-a-week job and one that ticks all the boxes in his work-life balance; meeting people, making customers happy, getting home every night, and racing or working on his stockcar on the weekend.

We meet Tanga in the PBT Napier depot on a Monday morning, the first day in our two-day Hyundai adventure. The truck looks spectacular and there’s the feeling that it can at last call New Zealand home, resplendent in one of the nation’s most recognisable and well-known trucking liveries. “I’ve got to say a special thanks to Dave Cowan and his team in Hastings who painted the Hyundai and trailers,” said Corey. As is often the case, freight is a fickle thing and there’s only 18 tonne to head north, giving us an all-up weight of just 37.5 tonne or thereabouts. Luckily on day two we were mid-40s. As it happened, Tanga had loaded the truck on Sunday afternoon and so we were able to escape the growing frenzy that is a freight terminal in the 6am to 7.30am window.

Power to earn
The Xcient’s proprietary D6CE52 12.4-litre 6-cylinder is a Euro 5 via SCR unit. It’s a single overhead cam direct injection jobbie and adds yet another contender in the white-hot 13-litre marketplace. Output is on a par with the rest of the peloton, the engine producing 388kW (520hp) at 1700rpm and 2500Nm (1850lb/ft) at 1200rpm. With the way the unit is set up for a gross of 46 tonne, that equates to a maximum potential workload of 11.3hp/tonne, well above the magic 10 mark. Even at 50MAX it’s still 10.4hp/tonne. Boffins will tell you that’s a worthless yardstick, and not necessary to effectively pull a 50 tonne gross load on our roads, but the best counter we’d suggest for that argument is for them to go and drive for five years. When you come from an era when a 400 Cummins Big Cam was ‘the gear’ and at 44 tonne the power to weight was 9.1hp/tonne, arguing the case for 10hp/tonne seems hypocritical. But times have moved on, the traffic flow is quicker (Hillman Avengers and Vauxhall Crestas are thin on the ground in 2019), the loads are bigger, and consumers less patient and less tolerant.

Photo: The 12.4-litre Hyundai looking quite at home.
All the daily checks are through the front flap and that’s been about it so far.

Behind the engine is a familiar and well-loved face, the ZF AS Tronic 12-speed AMT transmission. Although available with the retarder, the Xcient didn’t have that option. Familiarity is gone again after that. Up front is a Hyundai Reverse Elliot ‘I’ beam front axle, rated at 6.5 tonnes, on tapered parabolic springs and shocks. Rearward is a DYMOS (affiliate company of Hyundai Motors Group) R178HT tandem axle set at 3.273:1 with diff and cross-lock rated at 26 tonne, on proprietary 4-bag air suspension with scales. The truck has disc brakes with EBS and ABS, and electronic stability control, as well as modern AMT drivetrain coolness like eco-roll, Anti Slip Regulation, and hill start assist. In a fleet setting you’d be hard pressed to find a better spec for on-highway running at 50MAX and under. On the lower profile tyres the rear axle ratio is probably a little low, and that may have shown up in the fuel numbers when the truck was running the higher speed gig to Palmerston North at night. Cruising at 90kp/h the Hyundai was ticking along at 1500rpm, probably a hair too ‘spinny’ for a modern truck. Fuel burn at that time was 1.97kpl, and you’d expect 2.00kpl to have been achievable in that work profile regardless of the presence of the Saddle Road. We think longer legs and more familiarisation with the eco-roll would crack the magic number easily. To put that into perspective, the consumption on the Gisborne run has only increased to 1.87kpl, which would indicate the gearing has less of an impact, as the total time spent at open road speeds can be counted in single minutes almost. In fact, in this work, the gearing’s a helpmate. And as for the eco-roll? Forget that for 99.8% of your day.

Up the torture track
Every region has its challenging roads, but some have corridors known the length and breadth of our wee nation for their ability to inflict maximum pain on a truck. State Highway 2 north of Napier would be one such rutted, slumped, hideous strip of broken bitumen ribbon. Its hidden treasures are instantly apparent by observing the calibre of kit operators attack it with. American, Scandinavian, and European marques, highly specced for durability and reliability. Looking more closely at the Hyundai’s set-up, the same applies – although it’s not immediately evident. “One of the things I liked about the truck was the beefy chassis and cross-membering,” said Corey. “It may not be the lightest but it’s a bloody chunky piece of kit. And that’s why we run the 6-axle B-train also. It’s not set up for HPMV; we don’t need it. We run at 46 tonne max, but it’s the stability we’re after. The whole thing’s on disc brakes right through too. It’s the only way on that road.” The Xcient has a GVM of 31,700kg and GCM of 70,000kg, and as is always the case the proof is in the pudding. So far in 75,000km of operation on the Gisborne run, the truck has continued on with its theme of being utterly reliable. “Not one warning light, buzzer, nothing,” said Tanga. “It’s had its two scheduled services. You just get in, turn the key, and go.”

The expressway out toward Bay View is a tease considering what starts just past the Pan Pac mill up ahead. The Hyundai lopes long with in-cab noise in the 68 to 69dB range. The games begin at Tangoio and the start of the Devil’s Elbow section. The road narrows and starts finding its way through the gullies and low speed corners. There’s a constant stream of first round loggers coming toward us and Tanga plots his path in the tight spots via the CB. It’s a handy habit seen in certain areas of the country and not so much in others. You’ll find place calling common on the Coromandel but rare on the Takaka Hill. There’s nothing more reassuring than knowing a huge grille is lurking behind the outcrop you’re rounding. “The guys who won’t call irritate me,” says Tanga. “Places like the pinch around the leg on the Mohaka Viaduct are bloody tight for two trucks. What’s it take to let someone know you’re there?”

The Hyundai affords a great view and mirrors are well placed. Interestingly the A pillar blind spot issue is less of a problem, not just because extreme traffic and intersections aren’t a big part of Tanga’s day, but due also to the fact there’s a heavy rake on the Xcient’s A pillars. Side-on the truck looks like an extreme Actros profile and it is impactful from the driver’s seat. Scania NTG wrapped the screen and Hyundai raked the hell out of the A pillar. The battle against blind spots rages on in the modern, uber-safe trucks. The climbs, like the corners, come thick and fast. Up the Devil’s Elbow and White Pine section the lowest and slowest things got to was 9th at 1500rpm and 40kp/h, exactly the same further up the track on the Morere Hill. On day two with the load on the engine at around 44 tonne, both hills were clipped in 8th at 1500rpm and 35kp/h. It became apparent on both days that 1500rpm was the sweet spot for the engine. There’s a noticeable disinterest on the part of the Hyundai’s mid-range burning in leaving that rev, and it will hang on tenaciously.

Photos: The view from the office window can be both challenging and magnificent.

Looking around the noticeably squeak-free internal environment, the big sleeper cab seems a massive overkill for a day runner of about 10 to 11 hours duration. But as is the case with truckers, there’s method in the madness. The Hyundai forms part of a small, young fleet, so it may need to leap into one of the other jobs on its return home, like local sideloader work, or the Palmerston North run should one of the other trucks need cover. And then there’s ‘that road’ again. “Anything can happen on this road…anything,” says Tanga. “Slips and prangs, you can find yourself cast waiting for the road to open. There’s no real other way around unless it was going to be closed for days. Mate, I’d rather lay out on the bed instead of sitting upright here. It’ll get used, don’t you worry.” A big grin and a thumbs-up follow. Tanga pulled into the drop-off point in Wairoa and unloaded the town’s freight at local firm Drager CL & Sons, who will complete the final leg to the end customer. Tanga has a great rapport with all his customers and as is often the case, the truck driver is the face of the company he represents. North of Wairoa things get easier, with large expanses of open plain skirting the sea before the last big obstacles, the Morere Hill and the Whareratas. Tanga steers the Hyundai through the higher speed sweeping bends, its steering manners impeccable, as are the brakes; mind you nothing else would be acceptable given the all-disc anchor set.

Photo: It looks all very business-like but this is one chilled out cab. It takes a lifetime to make trucking look this relaxed.

The north side of the Whareratas is a long, steady, winding descent with some low speed corners midway down, strategically placed to provide the ultimate seat-sucking experience for the inexperienced or foolhardy. Right from the start of the trip the Hyundai’s two-stage auxiliary brake seemed effective; with Tanga barely needing to tap the brakes on the descents. Stage one is an exhaust brake and two an exhaust and engine brake combo. Retardation power numbers weren’t available, but the hold back was the equal of competitors in the class we’ve sampled sporting the same set-up. Tanga may know the road like the back of his hand, but once again we’re talking about a man who learned to go downhill properly. The holdback was certainly effective and hugely apparent, but so was the descending speed. The truck didn’t have the optional retarder, but you know where we sit on that argument. In this country, ending up in a big heap at the bottom of a ravine is easier done than said. As is often the case, we saw big trucks on descents at speeds that meant homework wouldn’t be an issue for any poor kids who happened to get on the wrong school bus that day.

Sit, but don’t hang on
The first thing we thought when we saw the Xcient in the freight shed was ‘what on earth will this cab do on that road’, and ‘will we be seasick, achy, feeling the old sciatica, or all three’ by the time we get to Gizzy. Oh, how wrong we were. The Xcient’s party trick is most definitely its ride. Standing 3.65m high it’s a huge shed to punt around. Sitting on a 4-airbag, shock and roll bar system, the truck is magically firm through the corners, very DAF XF105. It has that Euro feel through the ruts and bumps, absorbing and insulating, and an American stiffness in the corners, probably attributable to the lateral shock absorbers in the cab’s rear mounts and some hefty anti-roll bars. Neither was it a ‘pitcher’. There was no sign at all of fore/aft bobble. On arrival at the destination, after 212km of endless corners, climbs and descents, it was a case of step out and walk away, look back and shake your head at the ride you’ve just had in that expanse of a cab. If you want a reference point on life in the Hyundai’s cab, then think about a truck that sounds like a Volvo and rides like a DAF, and you’ll be in the ball park. Although it’s a definite tip of the hat to the Korean engineers in terms of ride, it’s once again an equally big salute to the man from Gisborne at the helm. We’re sure in the wrong hands and hunted like buggery, we may have got out giddy and sore; physics will take over eventually, but driven well, this was a most impressive show. “I come home on a Friday and it feels like I’ve done nothing,” said Tanga.

Photo: An iconic piece of New Zealand scenery forms the backdrop to a truck that may well become part of the landscape itself.

Arriving into a market like ours with a new heavy-duty truck is a big punt. We’re a discerning market, strong on opinion and low on conquest sales. But Hyundai isn’t your average peddler of product; it’s a brand with an X factor. They seem to be able to make anything and make it well, in their own way. The buzz around the Xcient’s presence at the EXPO two and half years ago wasn’t one of disdain and scorn, it was intrigue and inquisitive investigation. It was full of pointing and discussions themed around ‘Shit, if it’s as good as their other stuff…’ Then there was the look. The size and interior. The fit and finish. The space and comfort. If Hyundai launch an all-out assault on the market, then some of the more traditional players will be more than nervous. Would you rather stay in a cube hotel or a lovely homestay?

But what about reliability? Yes, it’s still early days, but 75,000km on the Gisborne road with not so much as a warning light; and neither driver nor owner would swap it. We know their cars are reliable, we know their loaders and diggers are. We’re sure their ships are, and who’d buy an unreliable submarine? It goes well, and there are few trucks in this genre we’ve enjoyed being in more, certainly from an aches and pain point of view. That leaves only one thing. Support. The ultimate truckselling KPI. Based on everything else they sell successfully, who’d bet against them being able to support this product? In fact, they probably make the spanners, grease-guns, hose clips, zip ties, filters…


The grand – heated – hotel Hyundai
An Asian truck cab with the build quality of a European? Not hard to find nowadays. An Asian truck cab with the build quality, space, and ambience of a European? Well, up until recently we’d have replied with something like, ‘Hmmm, tall order’. We can get you build quality and ambience, or space without the ambience and build quality in all fairness. But, as we said, that was until recently. Enter the scene the Hyundai Xcient QZ. Golly! What a machine. Like nothing else we’ve ever seen out of the East, but certainly a lot like many things we’ve seen from Hyundai. Looks-wise it’s sleek, swept back, and we would say slippery through the air. Asians can have a nasty habit of designing horribly ugly trucks (you’d have to say the little Hyundai HD75 was beaten with an ugly stick) but whoever put pen to cab design paper and came up with the Xcient was having a great day.

Photo: Binnacle is clear and follows the modern convention.

Aside from some chunkiness around the lower jowls when viewed from side-on – it’s a handsome hunk of truck. Moving indoors. If you own a Hyundai Santa Fe, then take a moment to go out and sit in it. Look around, take it in. In terms of ambience, quality, and workmanship, now you’ll pretty much know what the Xcient is like inside. It’s a tall 4-step entry cab that’s on a par with anything Europe can come up with in terms of ingress and egress. There are A and B pillar handles and you’re up and in before you know it, naturally bearing your weight on your feet as you ascend or descend.

Inside it’s a gargantuan cavity with 1.89m of clear front to back headspace when standing on the 190mm tunnel running down the 2.3m long and 2.49m wide cab. While your UD, Fuso, and Isuzu drivers are whiling away the hours on a rainy cold night jammed either side of the central locker expanse, the Xcient driver could quite happily be doing his kettle squats to the instructor’s cues emanating through the sound system. Once you’re done with the exercise routine you can sit in the passenger seat and finish the paperwork on a fold-out desk – shades of Actros. There are huge lockers front and overhead, mirrored on the back wall above the 800mm-wide bed. Under the bunk there’s pull-out storage that includes a fridge and a warmer. The inside ‘stuff stashing’ facilities are rounded out with caddies and cup holders in the dash, storage slots over and in the doors as well as on the sleeper side walls, plus a crafty wee pull-out glovebox under the wrapped section of the dash. Outside on the sleeper flanks there are two big external lockers.

Photos: It’s a whole new world…literally. Well appointed and manufactured, the Hyundai has space and storage to burn. The dash and wrap in a single flowing line.

Suffice to say, if your driver likes to shop in their 10 hours off, you could have a tare issue on your hands. Ducking back to the bed for a moment, it has a reading lamp and remote for various in-cab functions – mood lighting, stereo volume etc. In terms of fit and finish the truck was exemplary, nothing rattled, banged or moved; and don’t forget, this cab’s been going to Gisborne and back every day now for 75,000km. The dash and floor are in dark tones and the walls and ceiling in a light fawn. Heavy vinyl, rubber, and plastics make up the materials catalogue, and Tanga had laid down some extra protection in the high-traffic areas. It’s just what good drivers do. To the business end, it’s a relaxed position in the driver’s fully adjustable – heated – air ride driver’s seat. The steering wheel – also heated – adjusts for height and rake so there’s no issue getting it right for anyone. Window and lock controls are on the doorsills, and looking out the mirrors are superb – again, heated – and electrically adjustable. The dash is car-like, with the binnacle and wrap encompassed in a single fluid installation. It’s a well-finished, classy look. Front and centre are two main gauges for speed and revs, and two half rounds for fuel and temp in the lower section of the central data screen separating the two main dials.

Photo:  Magnificent entry with all your weight on the feet.

You can choose what you want to look at on the telematics screen via the menu selection on the smart wheel’s righthand buttons and toggles. The menu comprises three clear headings: gauges, drive information, or diagnostics. Down to the driver’s right are the headlight and cab work light switches. The wrap houses the usual park control, switchgear, infotainment, and climate controls. It even has an ioniser to eliminate smells and clear the air of allergenic nasties. Good grief! Everything falls beautifully to hand and is clear and easily understood. As we said, the menu selection is on the right-hand side of the smart wheel along with the cruise controls. On the left is the phone and entertainment management. Both of the smart wheel button panels are made of the grey plastic common to Hyundai dashes and are really the only areas of the cab showing rub-wear from use. The left steering column wand takes care of indicator, dip, wipers, and windscreen washer (just like the ‘everything’ wand on a KW), and the right wand is the ‘Fat Controller’ for the ZF and engine-brake. Above the driver are coms and more switchgear, including the button for the electric sun visors. Outside and out front the grille lifts to reveal the daily checks, and there’s a fold-down step to allow the glass expanse to be washed. There’s underrun protection flanking the tractor - that doesn’t look hideous funnily enough – with steps incorporated to get to couplers. If the quiz question were ‘summarise the Xcient QZ cab in one sentence’, the answer would have to be ‘A live-in cab from the East that raises the bar considerably’. It confounds the brain to think you’re sitting in a cab whose origins are Asian.
The space! Oh the space.

Where to from here?
“For us at Hyundai New Zealand it’s more a question of ‘why not?’ We are New Zealand owned and operated, we are passionate about our business and we are passionate about bringing great Hyundai truck product to Kiwi operators,” said Grant Doull. Hyundai’s growth aspirations have seen the Xcient, traditionally a left-hand drive truck, appear in right-hand drive variant. There’s a plethora of new product on the horizon and that includes an expanded Xcient range. Currently there are three evaluation trucks in the country, all 6x4s although there’s a rigid coming, and an 8x4 planned sometime down the track. Any rollout will be planned, staged, and supported. Hyundai New Zealand has no intention to launch a range of trucks to market it can’t support. The next official model launch will be the automatic version of the Mighty, followed by a new mid-duty truck range in the near future. For those wanting an Xcient the wait will be a tad longer with the full range expected to roll out sometime in 2020, so register your interest now.

No place like home
If you grow up in the Hawke’s Bay you’d be hard to please if you didn’t consider yourself among the planet’s truly blessed. Climate, lifestyle, and a bounty of fresh food, the Bay has it all. It’s certainly one of those places you’d always plan to come back to once you gave the rest of what the planet had to offer a once-over. That was exactly the case with Corey Randall. Although born and raised in Wellington with parents Dave and Brenda and his two sisters, Corey finished high school in the Hawke’s Bay. Corey’s father Dave was an owner-driver and so trucks were always part of his life growing up, and Corey was always an enthusiastic co-pilot when he was able. Once Taradale High School was done, he attended university in Palmerston North where he gained a business degree. Out of university he worked for a year before setting off on his own career in transport with Road Star, based in Auckland and working in sales and management. With three years under his belt it was off to see the world, and a three-year stint in London with girlfriend Mel. The two eventually wed and have been together for 22 years. “I ended up working for Crown Relocations over there, and Mel was working with Allied Pickford. That proved interesting at times,” laughs Corey. Returning home around 2005, Corey took an advertised position at Peter Baker Transport in the fledgling container operation in Auckland. Over the next 11 or so years Corey helped grow the division from three trucks to a fleet of 23.

Photo: Corey Randall, growing a young business with wife Mel. There’s no shortage of energy, endeavour, or desire.

“It was exciting work and I enjoyed helping grow the business. Because Auckland’s container scene is twentyfour- seven, the phone can go any time of the day or night. I didn’t mind, but it can be hard on the family.” It was always their intention to return to the Hawke’s Bay when the time was right, and about 18 months ago a number of stars were starting to align. A commercial opportunity within the PBT business was becoming apparent, Corey was around 40 years of age, and children Tommy and Nina were of an age where a move to the Bay would allow them to enjoy the lifestyle that growing up in the region provided. “When I hit 40 I decided I needed to do something for myself. I set some goals and off we went.” PBT had by then established container operations in Mt Maunganui, New Plymouth, and Wellington, with Napier being serviced out of Palmerston North. Not having a presence on the ground in the Hawke’s Bay wasn’t ideal, so Corey bought a truck off Palmerston North-based PBT contractor Gavin Stewart, formed RTS (Randall Transport Services), and got stuck in. Putting their core competencies – business, sales, teamwork, and good old fashioned hard work – to good use, he and Mel have grown the business to four trucks: the Hyundai, an FM Volvo, and two Freightliners. Anchor work consists of the two PBT contracts, container devanning and delivery, as well as tipping container discharge work for a growing client base. “It’s a tough game and often those who aren’t in it or born into it find it hard. For me it’s a service business. Transport is a service business. A lot of people forget that, but understanding it really is the key to it all.”

Photo: Tanga may get to knock off but the Hyundai doesn’t. Corey whips a few ‘cans’ here and there as the sun sets.

Winning at life
Who better to put on a Gisborne freight run than one of the region’s sons? “This truck was made for the Gizzy run,” laughs Tanga Walsh. “Its number plate even says ‘KUZ’” Spend a day in the cab with this chilled-out, stockcarracing, career trucker and you’ll think you’ve been at a detox, life reset, values prioritising, retreat. For free! “This window washing step is awesome, and the front access flap is great!”

We agreed, safe, easy access to the windscreen and all the daily checks right there in front of you. But no, Tanga’s not talking about any of that carry-on. “Look, you put the window wash step down and the access flap up, and it’s awesome for your half-hour break! You can sit in the sun but the front flap is like a sunshade, churr. I hate having my break in the truck. You gotta get out. This is perfect.” A lesson in value-add. As the two of us sat there mulling life over, we learned the windscreen step on the Xcient is not only a great tool, it’s good for 200kg at least! Tanga (60) has been a trucker his whole life. One of 14 kids (10 brothers and three sisters), his dad Gavin was a bus driver. Following a short work stint in Gisborne post-school years, young Tanga headed south to Hawke’s Bay where his driving really got started, carting produce for Barry Brothers. TK Bedfords, Dodges, and Isuzus formed the mainstay of the trucking hardware in those days. “It’s amazing how far trucks have come. It’s the only job I’ve had in my life, trucking. I’ve been in it over 35 years now, and I just love it, eh. Meeting people and delivering the freight to my customers. That’s all I’ve ever done, general freight.

Photo: Everything a man needs for a half-hour break. A seat and a sunshade! Tanga Walsh style. (We’ve never featured the front access check in this way before.)

“I don’t play my music much, sorry, I just like to cruise along and chill out. It’s all about not getting worked up; if you’re late you’re late, you know? You won’t make it up by rushing.” You soon start to get an understanding why he’s the perfect man for this road. Following Barry Brothers, Tanga spread his wings and took work at NZL driving an Isuzu GigaMAX on flat-deck work out of Napier. That got him farther afield, exploring the highways and byways of the nation, expanding his skillset and perfecting his craft. From there it was more linehaul and more freight, this time the chilled variety for Hall’s Group where he worked for more than eight years, at which point he decided a break from linehaul was needed. That prompted the move to the blue and white of Peter Baker Ltd just under a decade ago, working for contractor Gavin Stewart on the Napier to Palmerston North night swap. Eighteen months ago he moved with his FM Volvo across to Corey’s business after the establishment of the container business in Napier, and when the opportunity came up last year to do the Gisborne freight run, he took that.

“I like it, it gives me contact with home and the people up there again. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to live in Gizzy, but I like being connected, you know? It’s good to be connected. “It’s a tough road, one of the country’s real challenging ones I reckon, but it’s all about sharing. It’s not just for trucks, it’s everyone’s.” Tanga lives in Napier with partner Lisa and outside of work his passion is stockcars. He runs a Honda Prelude with a VTEC H22A Red Top motor in the production saloon category, and he’s not just there to make up the numbers. In this year’s National Grand Prix held in Gisborne, he took out second in the production saloons from a field of 40. “Mate, I was so excited! I can’t tell you. My daughter Hannah helps me and she had to do a lot of the packing up, I was buuuggerrred! And then the celebration. Oh, mate!” Tanga throws his head back in laughter. “I love it, eh. Gives me a break from the trucks. I love nothing more than going out, doing some races and coming into the clubhouse and enjoying a couple of beers.

“North Island champs in Huntly on 30 November, mate, I’ll be there! Come over, come over.” Tanga Walsh, a lovely bloke whose Gizzy approach to the mental and emotional side of truck driving is needed in the industry by the bucketful. Another professional well north of 50 who knows the craft inside out, making the difficult and challenging look incredibly easy, surrounded by satisfied, engaged customers, and a more than happy boss. One of a generation of sorcerers who were denied their apprentices. Corey Randall summed it up magnificently. “Tanga? He just turns up and does it, eh.”