MAIN TEST - Hip to be square

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thanks to an impeccable run from an early XF95, DAF’s big cab offering still has a special place in a company where its US stablemate holds centre court. We jumped in with Gundy Transport Ltd driver Gary Ngatai to find out why he’s all smiles in a world surrounded by bugs.

Will Gundesen loves his Kenworths. He remembers as a kid he and his mate Andrew watching them rumble through Featherston in the Wairarapa and dream of a day when they would either drive or own one. Today, Andrew’s been to Aus and lived the dream, he’s home now and does contract fencing, keeping himself amused with an old tip truck. Will on the other hand has ended up owning more than one Kenworth under his Gundy Transport Ltd operation, servicing the needs of customer Foodstuffs New Zealand. But it’s not just the Kenworth brand that’s present in the immaculate Palmerston North-based operation, there’s also Kenworth’s PACCAR stablemate DAF. You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s not entirely surprising, but there’s more to the story. The DAF has earned its spot, not through corporate association, but through toil. A DAF XF95 was Will’s first brand new truck. A truck that had no idea it carried far more than merely a load on its back...and it delivered in every respect. Today that truck has done the thick end of two million kilometres with nothing to blot its copybook, having only ever had new turbos and an emissions upgrade beyond routine servicing. The ‘old girl’ as the fastidious Will affectionately calls her, played a significant role in standing Gundy Transport up. That truck rightfully earned the marque its seat at the company dinner table.


Photo: Rolling around to Americold to load for the run north.

So, we move to the latest DAF to enter service in the Gundesen fleet. There’s been a generation between the original XF95 and this month’s test truck. Will’s first foray into the world of the XF105 didn’t end with quite the same high honours the original 95 achieved. In this double-shifted fleet uptime is paramount and a life dogged by cooling pipe failures at inconvenient times proved annoying to say the least. It was made worse by a lack of hose compatibility between not just the previous truck, but also other contemporary models, meaning cannibalising the old or nearby to keep the rig rolling was never an option.

“It was frustrating. The core engine never missed a beat, it was the things hanging off it and plugged into it,” said Will. But Will’s a fair man and so the when the first 105 was traded on a Kenworth K108E having done close to a million kilometres, the DAF spot in the fleet was filled with this latest edition, the second XF105. But this time he’s taken out the full fleet maintenance package, just as a precaution.

“ The old girl was so reliable I didn’t bother with the first 105,” said Will. “ This time I’ve taken the option. It’s one of those things that if she goes as well as the old girl they ’ll be on a winner. But it ’s peace of mind. Having said that I can see things have changed with this one, things like braided cooling hoses, so she should be all good. They ’re a beautiful truck. You won’t get Gary out of it, I’ll tell you that.”

Follow the light
There’s no day shift and night shift at Gundy Transport, there’s just work. A truck entering the operation can expect little in the way of rest, working day and night for most of its life in the hands of two dedicated drivers. Annual kilometres hover around the 260,000 mark so as we said above, uptime is paramount. And owner Will is right in there amongst it, leading from the front, driving his fat cab K200 Kenworth on a day shift to the capital and back before it heads on its night run to Taranaki.

“ You have to keep on top of maintenance. You run the kilometres up so quick,” said Will. “Especially when you do your best to keep them nice. A truck or trailer can look sharp as and yet it’s well into its second mill. “I think one of the reasons we get such good runs out of the gear is it’s never cold.”

The DAF runs Palmerston North to Auckland completing three returns a week in the hands of trucking veteran Gary Ngatai. When it’s home, day driver Max Taylor will do a day run, having the truck back in time for Gary to reload and head north. Generally speaking it ’s a well-oiled machine, and there’s always the ‘old girl’ sitting in the wings ready to fill in the gaps when trucking does its thing, and maintenance requirements or operational quirks attempt to foil the plan. We meet Gary at Palmerston North on a mid-autumn afternoon. He’s had the call that there’s a ‘load and go’ at Americold cool stores. It’s going to be an early getaway, and even this late in the year light will be our friend until Mangaweka at least.

It’s a treat because so much of Gary’s driving life has been around controlled temperature line-haul work...meaning he’s been an owl. Spearing into the night behind a set of lights, bringing food to us all has been the norm for this man and as he said himself with a laugh, “It’s great when I get up or down country in the light. I can see what I’ve been driving past all this time.”

Gary whips the DAF into the dock, and in double-quick time he was back out and closing the doors. Climbing aboard the DAF it’s that old “OMG look at the room” sensation again, very Actros StreamSpace, Volvo Globetrotter-esque. They’re such a lovely place to be these jumbo Euros. There’s no surprise that drivers in the last third of their careers gravitate to them with a desire to be pampered at the risk of wide-eyed school kids not giving them the ‘toot-toot ’ signal from the footpath...actually, do they even do that now? Bags in, the DAF lifts off and pulls away from the kerb, gliding down the street to the first Give Way. We’re on our way, there’s a long, mostly dark, northbound track ahead.

You get what you pay for...you get lots & The end is nigh..

“The thing I really like about the Euros is the stuff that comes as standard,” said Will Gundesen. “The things that come with this as part of a package that you don’t get on the others, the fridge and all that stuff.”

Yes, if you’re given an XF105 to drive and you can find much to whinge about upon entering the good abode you’re just one of those people who would likely find fault with anything...... READ MORE

We do it our way
Some of the things that separate the big Dutch treat from its main competitors are power and displacement, and where it plateaus out in the range. Scania and Volvo have toyed with big numbers for years and ‘recently’ MAN got all excited and introduced their 15-litre 477kW (640hp) D38 variant down here. Even IVECO will throw a 417kW (560hp) at you as their high-end offering, albeit in 13-litre trim also, but DAF tops out at 375kW (510hp).

The significance of all this lays in the future, meaning the planet ’s rather than the brand’s. Regardless of any lingering nightmares you might have of the small displacement/high output motors of the 90s, like it or not, they ’re on their way back, and this time they won’t be going away. Burning less fuel and producing less CO2 is going to be the crux of emissions legislation moving forward and that ’s the realm of smaller motors. Having said that, as we stand at this juncture in history, with tech where it is, the 13-litre motor is probably best placed in a task-specific application. In most cases throwing modest displacement at a 58 tonne HPMV job in hair-raising country is best done with a fairly robust whole of life fleet maintenance programme tucked away in the bottom drawer.

But that ’s why we chose the Gundesen DAF for the main test. It’s ideally suited for this type of work. The big cab XF105 was born to whisk the driver and load along an overnight line haul route at GCMs in the mid-forty tonnes, and in that application there’s absolutely no need for any more power or a bigger horse.

Under the towering Super Space cab is the same PACCAR MX375 engine we encountered in the Waitomo Petroleum CF85 last year. It’s a 12.9-litre turbo intercooled unit and features PACCAR’s SMART fuel injection technology, essentially electronic hydraulic injectors. It utilises SCR as the means to achieve its Euro 5 emissions status, meaning DEF is required. It produces 375kW (510hp) from a paltry 1500 rpm through to 1900, and 2500Nm (1850lb/ft) from 1000 to 1400rpm. At the point the lines cross the engine’s producing a tad over 372kW (500hp). That ’s important to note. It’s obvious the MX is a torquey little number and to put it into context the 15.6-litre lung in the Stephenson Isuzu we tested a few months back carried a 395kW (530hp) badge but peak torque was lower at 2255Nm (1663lb/ft), and there was a far greater rift between the two at the crossover point. When torque departs the scene in the Isuzu power is hovering around the 310kW (420hp) mark. The upshot is - evidenced by the green band on the tach - the DAF enjoys life at lower engine speeds and although that means a more specific driving style to extract optimum results, it will most certainly deliver in terms of performance...and fuel economy. Behind the motor is the ZF AS Tronic 16-speed AMT gearbox with three stage Intarder. Under the frame rails up front are DAF’s 152N axles on parabolic springs with shock absorbers and in the rear a Meritor MT23-165 drive set with dual axle locks hang on PACCARs 8-bag air suspension.

Good Will Hauling

Like so many of us, 47-year-old Will Gundesen started life on a farm. They’re a great place for young people to be introduced to both farming – obviously – and mechanical things. Will had more than a passing interest in trucks and machinery from an early age and when farming didn’t prove viable on account of the family holding in Featherston being too small, it was always going to be something that internally combusts. READ MORE

There’s rumblings afoot
Rolling out through the Manawatu toward Bulls the DAF modus operandi is instantly apparent. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was something far more scary than a 13-litre lurking beneath your feet given the low-pitched growl and short shifts. It’s a completely unstressed sound and while we in the cab were enjoying the trip and the ambience, we were certainly not concerned that our friend under the floorboards had the life of a whipped slave.

The DAF and its dedicated 15.1m Maxi-CUBE reefer left the load point right on 43 tonne according to Gary, and that ’s about where life for the combination sits, maybe lower depending on the make-up of the load. It leaves plenty of wriggle room with the unit able to gross 44 tonne. That gives us a power/torque to weight ratio of 8.72kW/tonne (11.86hp) and 58Nm/tonne (43lb/ft). To put that into perspective a 458kW (615hp) X15 Cummins running at 50 tonne is about half a horsepower to the tonne better off, so Gary’s got plenty under the foot.


Photo: Everyone has their own unique way of doing things. It’s all about confidence. DAF’s never been afraid to stamp their own marque on the trucking scenery.

What makes the recipe a cake however, is the snappy shifts of the ZF AS Tronic AMT gearbox. A gearbox we’ve always had great respect for and a gearbox that ’s been the making of many a truck it ’s found its way into. The Waitomo DAF had a manual stirrer on board due to the finicky nature of rural fuel deliveries, but in this application you’d probably not bother. Stropping up and down the line on the same beat every night and day is certainly ‘the’ application for the AMT. Having said that, Gary’s taking an interventionist approach to the big climbs when they loom in the windscreen, choosing to hit the downshifts manually.

“It just seems to lose a bit too much impetus left in auto mode,” he said.

It ’ll be interesting to see how things pan out. At the time we jumped on board the DAF was a month old with only 17,000km under its treads and there was obviously a bit of freeing up to do.

New Zealand Trucking magazine editor Dave McCoid drove an XF105 a few years back relief driving on the Coromandel; it too was fitted with the ZF AS Tronic.

“I loved that truck and whole was a 9-axle refrigerated unit and had the ZF box. I couldn’t really fault it, although you’re not carrying the speed into climbs there, the country doesn’t allow it. There were only a couple of nasty little pinches where you needed to jump into the fray and intervene. The truck had a good chunk of ks under its belt too, so was well freed up. It ’s an interesting thing, the comparison. I think as the Gundesen machine loosens up she might come into her own, and live happily in auto on more of the trip.”

Having sampled the new Mercedes PowerShift-3 a few times recently you’d have to say the AS Tronic is no longer at the cutting edge, but we know its own successor, the TraXon, away, up MAN.

First up on the list heading north was Makohine Viaduct hill, which we blasted over in 12th gear at 42km/h and 1500rpm. A little further up the road though was the infamous Carters Hill, a nothing of a climb to the untrained eye although more than one old timer told us back in the day it was the steepest section of State Highway 1 northbound between Wellington and Auckland. Who knows, but it does sap the life out of most trucks albeit for a short time, in the same sort of way Tarawera does heading west on the NapierTaupo. Anyway, Carters was crested in 11th gear at 35km/h and again 1500rpm. So, the take home from that is nothing’s going to trouble the truck too much in this application. And that ’s reflected in the fuel consumption to date running at a 1.83kpl (5.16mpg) this early on. With a bit of freeing up and familiarity on Gary’s part that ’s only going to improve. Equipped with the top lights the DAF illuminates all before it, a very handy feature as the curtains came down on the day. At Waiouru, Gary swung the big yellow machine on to State Highway 49, and on to number 4 and the National Park rather than up the main drag. “ There’s roadworks right up through there to Atiamuri at the moment and it’s a pain. I’m also a bit cautious around the lake now too. There are some interesting speeds and lane-keeping going on, and the guys who don’t know the Park tend to keep away. That ’s great. Suits us older fellas.” Once upon a time the downside of good ‘spotties’ was the eye’s inability to adapt quickly when you dipped, but the modern marvels of halogen lighting outside the cab and anti-fatigue lights inside mean this a As we drifted north toward Raurimu the green light bar Gary’s installed on the dash lit up each time a truck passed in the other direction. To our unbridled joy Gary voiced his hatred for what he called the ‘death wink,’ the age-old truck driving habit of using the indicator as a social communications device.


Photo: One of the iconic spots on the run north up number one – hooking the right hander in the main street of Bulls. ‘Plateau here we come!’ 

“I can’t stand it. I reckon it’s been the cause of some carnage over the years. It’s a crazy, crazy thing to do. I love communicating with the brothers on the road, but it’s so easy to rig up a flasher without using the bloody indicators.” Dropping off the steep grade past Raurimu the truck’s descending control function held proceeds at a steady 75km/h. Gary sets the speed on the smart wheel and the truck makes use of all available stopping apparatus to manage the situation. Having the AS Tronic gearbox, the Gundesen machine comes with the ZF Intarder, a three-stage hydrodynamic secondary retarder system integrated into the gearbox providing a whopping 500kW (670hp) of stopping power. That gives the machine five layers of auxiliary braking including the exhaust and engine brake. On the one hand there’s no stopping the DAF, on the other hand there’s plenty!


Photo: Another day another dock. Now loading for home.

Both Waterfall Hill - in the King Country between Taumarunui and the Eight Mile Junction - and the Te Kuiti Hill had the DAF down to 10th gear at 35km/h and 1700rpm, and as we bobbled over the disgrace that is the northern flanks of the Te Kuiti Hill our attention turned to ride. Gary agreed with us that the roads are struggling as a result of HPMV traffic coinciding with a lack of spending on state highways in the provinces. The passage from Ohakune right through to Te Kuiti is not reflective of successive administrations apparently driven by safety as a key KPI. You’d think being such an enormous lump of cab, the DAF Super Space might be prone to wallowing, but oh how wrong you would be. This is one firm and stable hotel room. It’s a mechanically suspended cab and it shows...in a good way. We are not attempting to paint a negative here. The ride in the big DAF is great; firm and yet it soaks up the dross. Both driver and passenger get suspended seats and in terms of finishing things off, let ’s say that ’s a good thing. It’s a very different ride from say the new Actros, incomparable. The Benz is smoother, no question, but that ’s not decrying the big Dutchman. Put it this way, you can hunt the DAF around the joint and although there’s a hint of liveliness from time to time, the big shed has the situation sorted as the conversion in the cab just goes on, and we mean conversation. The angriest we could get the DAF was 67dB.

The mirrors are large, highly adjustable and heated, a great reflection, not just on what ’s aft, but on the level of standard kit in the 105.

As far as snazzy safety bits go the DAF’s exactly what you expect from a modern top Euro. There’s adaptive cruise, hill start assist; the brake set-up is front disc and rear drum – antilock, and there’s a load-sensing valve on the rear axle.

Gary 'Gadget' Ngatai

“That’s what some call me,” laughs Gary Ngatai. “I love it, they all make the job safer and technology’s there to be used isn’t it?”

Up from the auxiliary power output in the DAF is a wire to a splitter that allows Gary to run his mini Cape Kennedy control centre. There’s nothing that moves, talks, or monitors this truck that Gary doesn’t know about. READ MORE

Summary
Rolling on though friendlier topography we arrive at Otorohanga and it’s time to leap out and let Gary cruise up the last couple of hours to Auckland. If you look back through history, DAF have always been their own brand when it comes to things like output and innovation, and it appears that ’s still the way, even living under a multinational brolly with group technologies. They ’re still their own people. Where it all goes from here re power and displacement, who would know. Most of the pundits and boffins predict diesel hanging on in the line haul sector for a while yet. Will the second tsunami of small displacement/high horsepower engines fare better than their predecessors? Maybe a bit of hybrid help chucked in with your smaller displacement oil burner will mean nirvana’s just around the corner and everyone will look back and laugh at the big-boppers. One thing’s for sure, we’re all creating interesting history at the moment. Gary came off a Kenworth K108E to climb aboard the DAF and he’s driven Kenworths most of his life. So let ’s give him the last word, “Oh mate...you won’t get me out of this thing, I’m telling ya! It’s got enough power for what I do. My truck’s my second home, always has been. I spend half the week in here and this is just beautiful. I absolutely love it!”

"Call Mark"
Will deals with Southpac’s Mark O’Hara for fleet purchases. 

“He’s good to deal with, he’s really busy these days but he’ll always call back,” said Will. 
“Will is a good customer of mine and has been since about 2005,” said Mark. “He has purchased a few DAFs and Kenworths from me. 
“Will is a clean freak and always has his gear super shiny and all ‘blinged’ up with stainless and extra lights etc. Presentation of the gear is paramount to him and you can often find him and his drivers washing gear in the middle of the night. 
“Top bloke! Good gear!”