Tuesday, November 17, 2020

In an ever more vanilla world, we’ve always had DAF, doing its thing, its own way. The XF 530 Euro 6 Super Space Cab is the latest dashing Dutchman, and we took a look at the first two here, hoping the DAF flame of independence still burns strong.

This month’s road test starts unlike any we’ve ever written before. It starts with a man sitting on a table. Odd as that may seem, it’s a metaphor for so much when you’re talking about the DAF product. The man in question was general sales manager for Southpac Richard Smart, and the table was the utility table that pulls out of the central dash console in the new XF 530 Euro 6. “You can see how well they’re built,” he said as he pulled the table out, sat on it, and tucked his legs up. Fair to say Richard’s not the biggest unit at 85kg, and as he said, you probably wouldn’t want to push things much further, but this was still a fully-grown man sitting on a pullout table in a truck. If you’ve read my DAF writings in the past, you’ll know I had a positive bonding experience driving an XF105.510 for a month some years back that’s always engendered a sense of enthusiasm when it comes to investigating the product further.

I’ve also made mention of my observation that the folks at DAF are their own people and have always done their own thing – they don’t necessarily hare off after the herd. That line of thought originates in the writing of European journos in the 80s and early 90s, Pat Kennett and co, in mastheads like TRUCK magazine. DAF’s individuality has also played a huge part in the brand securing a foothold in Aotearoa (see sidebar). As with all of us, much has changed in DAF’s world over the past quarter of a century, but there’s still an underlying individuality that ‘fingerprints’ DAF’s latest Euro 6 range as most definitely DAF. They don’t have to be big: the location of the control wheel for the central diagnostics screen on the dash, a proper table, an engine that’s happy being just over half a thousand horsepower. Small things yes, but these days, even if you’re half a step from the madding crowd, you’ll stand out.

Photo: Looking magnificent in Mokau.

Still hip, less square, loved by many
The previous XF105 was certainly a softening of the stark ‘squareness’ that was the original XF95, and the XF 530 Euro 6 is even a bigger jump into a more alluring and curvaceous aesthetic. There are few who would argue the 530 isn’t a pretty truck. The new grille takes a couple of minutes to adjust to: some might say the grille and the DAF badge pull the front down a tad too much, that’s probably more a CF thing than an XF. The XF seems well balanced in terms of appeal to man’s primal visual triggers. You see it, you like it, you want to drive it. Descriptively you could go on forever about the visual cues, suffice to say it’s a whole new animal: grille, flanks, guards, quarters, and glass. Softer looking, slipperier through the air, but still easily identifiable as a DAF. Launched at the Birmingham Show in 2017, ours is the latest and third evolution of the company’s Euro 6 platform that first appeared in Europe in 2013. Like some other OEMs, props to Southpac for getting them here before any local mandating of Euro 6. It’s environmentally responsible and shows a genuine interest in their customers’ bottom line, for the one thing operators are quickly learning about Euro 6 is it’s rewriting the book on fuel consumption, not just clean air. The DAF is no different, with new EAS (Exhaust Aftertreatment System), power and drivetrain improvements, a new climate control system, aerodynamics and electronic architecture all contributing to a potential 7% consumption improvement according to the company.

Oh, if you’re wondering why Birmingham was chosen as the V3 Euro 6’s launch site, it’s all about recognition of popularity. DAF in the UK is king! Tapping into our IToY connections, in the equal to or over 16 tonne market share, DAF secures a staggering 29.4% of the UK market. The only place they’re higher is of course The Netherlands at 31.8%, and the average across the EU-plus-three (England, Ireland, Wales) is 16.2%. Talking sales beyond the EU, in 2018 DAF sold one in every five trucks abroad to 77 different countries – outside Europe – a total of 9200 vehicles. So, DAF is big! Here in New Zealand, there have been Euro 6 evaluation units on the ground since February 2019, sorting out specification fineries and things like optimal gearing and AMT tuning. While that was going on, five master service technicians were trained, dealer service training was sorted with the help of two training engines sourced specifically for that purpose, some flash-as diagnostic laptops were bought, and a $1.1 million parts stock amassed. The real masterstroke though was the trainers’ partnership with TR Master Drive. Twenty-two trainers across 16 locations will facilitate a free 6- to 8-hour in-cab education for two drivers for every new Euro 6 sold, after which the drivers will receive an NZTA qualification. So, by the time New Zealand’s national Road Show for the truck’s launch set sail from Southpac’s Wiri HQ in February this year, all the ducks were well and truly lined up … and then we all went batty.

Photo: The DAF looks equally at home in the Ngahinapouri country side (top) or on the Waikato expressway. 

Now, where were we?
When we talked to Richard at Wiri in early June, the good news was enquiry was high and the order book strong. We were there for a sneaky peek at a truck that was one of a pair we were itching to get our hands on. Graham and Michelle Redington have purchased the first two XF 530 Euro 6 Super Space Cabs for a contract they have with Foodstuffs Ltd, serviced under their Northchill Ltd brand. One is a 6x4 tractor, and the other an 8x4, which incidently also holds the title of being the first XF 530 Euro 6 8x4 highway tractor with a Super Space Cab in the world. When the Redingtons asked if we’d be interested in featuring them, it was hard to contain our hysteria.

Photo: The DAF kicks up some spray, heading north at the entrance to the Awakino Gorge.

Jekyll and Hyde highway
We met driver Kaine Wood in Otorohanga for the first of two nights in the 8x4 with a MaxiCUBE quad reefer on-hook, doing Auckland – Mokau swaps. “Yeah, it’s a nice machine, easy place to spend a day,” said Kaine as the big Dutchman loafed away from the town, effortlessly collecting kilometres-per-hour without the occupants really being aware. Loaded with mixed grocery, Kaine said we were about 38 tonne all up, giving us a wonderful 10.3kW/tonne (13.8hp). Imagine an RFL driver of say 1971 having 13.8hp to the tonne? “It’s typical grocery,” said Kaine. “There’s one leg where we have to keep an eye on weight, most of the rest of the time it’s room that’s the issue more than weight.” Beyond the town limits and up to speed, we thought back to the test we did in an identically set up XF105 owned by Will Gundesen (New Zealand Trucking magazine July 2018). It was immediately apparent the Euro 6 seemed a markedly different beast in terms of ride and feel. The fourpoint mechanical and shock absorber cab suspension felt livelier, maybe softer, and the influence of the second steer on the ride seemed more apparent. The conundrum in it all was the roads. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the two years since we rode in the 105, the regional state highway network has devolved further toward an aluminium-barriered highway to hell. Maybe it wasn’t the new truck’s dynamics, maybe it’s the playing surface that caused a slight second steer kick and bit of bobbling. Lateral stability too didn’t appear quite as firm, although it was no issue, and remember, there’s a lot of cab north of the door’s top sill.

If there was ever a state highway with a Jekyll and Hyde persona it’s SH3. The northern section from Hamilton to New Plymouth has some of the North Island’s crappiest and patched narrow bits, horrible corners, Mt Messenger, and the other odd nasty pull in amongst it all – definitely Mr Hyde. East from New Plymouth, and it’s the good Dr Jekyll: flowing, rolling country, corners with more accommodating radiuses, and a surface that’s better overall than much of the country can boast. East it’s big Euro, Ecoroll country. So, the question was, had we got into a new truck for the first time on a shit road? If we had, it was doing exceedingly well considering the cab’s gargantuan size. Our question would be answered later that night, and again in a few days’ time. Back in the moment, Kaine was all over it though. If you read the sidebar you’ll see he restores one’s faith in the ability of talented youth to carry the industry forward. He has an unhurried, considered, and cautious approach to the road. From the ‘never let a chance go by’ department, the opportunity to jump behind the wheel came. A new-model XF 530 Euro 6 DAF. From the instant I was in place I was back six years to the 105, comfy-as, and happy to deliver the load to Mataura instead of Mokau if needed.

It felt new and swanky, yet familiar, the mark of great design. It was effortless keeping the DAF in its lane and the steering was direct; obviously the 8x4 helps there. Visibility was great, and that’s good news because it’s been achieved without the need for a huge ‘gorky’ looking windscreen. Thank goodness for that. The disc brakes were progressive, balanced, and induced confidence, while the TraXon AMT was lightning fast on the changes, and oh my goodness, does this setup like living in the bottom end of the tacho’s green zone or what? In A-Eco (Auto Economy), the MX-13 engine will drop right back to 1000rpm or fewer before a downshift is contemplated in the cog swapping department. A couple of times the desire for impetus saw me slapping the shifter just to get things going again. In A-Power things stay a little more lively, and of course there’s ‘M’ as an option. Dropping off the bottom of the Te Kuiti hill the combined engine and exhaust brake kept the combo well in check.

Photos: The MX-13 nestled between the rails.

It’s a three-stage setup delivering 30, 60, and 100% of engine braking, which equates to 1760Nm (1300lb/ft) at 1500rpm and 370kW (495hp) at 2100rpm in the top position. Graham had Southpac’s Brent Morris, a man described as ‘an absolute DAF guru’, rewire the engine brake so it worked off the actuators on the clutch and throttle, ‘like a Jacobs’. The DPA (Driver Performance Assistant) told me I’d done well, saving brakes, and gave me some ticks, something a person from my era needs to get used to. Obviously your primal reaction is defensive even though the news was good. The thing to get your head around is that the DPA and Seeing Machine bolted to the dash are there to preserve your life, and the truck’s life. The minute I thought about that, it became an incentive. The other thing is, if you learned to drive a truck prior to 2000, there’s a lot in your skillsets that are now obsolete, so letting the truck help teach you how get the most out of it is probably handy. Quirky anecdote time. Pedals in 2020 are a far cry from those of generations past. Where once there was a full-length brake pedal and a full-foot throttle plate to allow strategic heel-toe downshifts when needed, now they’re most commonly pendulums styled from a Toyota Corolla. ‘I’ve got this’, say today’s AMTs. Having said that, we still prefer an organ pedal layout in terms of biomechanical execution, and comfort.

Sensible over sensational
Heading home the truck was sitting at 41 tonne with a load of palletised product. We’d swapped with Steve Gunning in the other new DAF. It was the swap truck that night. Steve’s usual ride is a K200 Kenworth, but he was impressed with the DAF’s comfort and improved performance in the short time since he’d done a run in it last. Into the pitch black, and the LED lights on the LightFix cab bars overhead illuminated the world to a degree we’ve never witnessed. To say they turned night into day is completely inadequate really, as few days provide the brightness these do. If you were having a sneaky number two in the bush on the side of the road a kilometre ahead of the approaching DAF … well, it could be embarrassing. The top-lights on the cab proper enhance standard full-beam, the light bars obliterate all other contributions. With the chance for the truck to flex some more muscle we found ourselves back thinking about DAFisms, one being their desire not to get tied up in global power races. The new trucks top out at 390kW (530hp), a modest number in 2020, but here we are, at 41 tonne and still with 9.5kW/tonne (12.7hp). Burning less fuel is where low CO2 resides, and 13 litres displacement at sensible power settings is the perfect compromise between frugality, performance, and longevity. Under the floor is the latest incarnation of PACCAR’s MX-13 engine, a motor that’s been a star for them throughout its life and guises. A 12.9-litre common rail unit with a revamped variable geometry turbo that deploys ERG, SCR, and DPF to deliver Euro 6 emissions, and a tail pipe you could probably lick the inside of.

Photo: Blair climbs the hill heading out of New Plymouth. (Below) Cruising past Virginia Lake, Wanganui.

In this latest, slightly less throaty sounding incarnation, there are improved pistons, nozzles, compression ratio, engine parasitics (bits that hang off it like pumps etc.), and an improved exhaust manifold. It’s a low-revving supremo, with maximum torque of 2600Nm (1920lb/ft) delivered between 1000 and 1460rpm, and peak power of 390kW (530hp) at 1675rpm. At the point torque drops off the chart, power is at about 388kW (520hp). Behind the engine in the 8x4 is the ZF TraXon 16-speed AMT and in the 6x4 it’s the 12-speed. It’s a beautifully smooth modular and highly configurable transmission, with lightning shifts attributed in part to a pneumatic clutch actuator (New Zealand Trucking magazine, June 2020, Tech Topics). Kaine powered into the Mahoenui hill, a typical King Country pinch, and the DAF settled in 11th gear, 1500rpm, and 37kph, the place he says it really fights (right on the torque/power crossover). He intervenes in the gear selection department, choosing to shift or kick to keep momentum up. There are no gradual rolling approaches to hills here – it’s flat, and then you’re into them. Predictive Cruise Control is probably in the wings and that may be the elixir to intervention. If the truck could know to get a charge on it might hold momentum as it gets into climbing gear. “It loses too much ground, yeah. I just give it a tap and it tends to sit here.”

Obviously being a Euro 6 platform truck, don’t try and spec an XF 530 with a manual. Those crazy, hazy days of swapping your DAF’s sprockets yourself are gone. Finishing off the spec basics, the front axles in the 8x4 are DAF 163N at 7.1 tonne each on parabolic springs, stabiliser and shocks. At the rear, DAF SR1360T single reduction axles at 3.40:1 with diff and cross lock sit on 8-bag ECAS with stabiliser and shocks again, rated at 18 tonne. In the 6x4 the front axle has an 8.0 tonne rating, and the rear runs 3.40:1 on 21-tonne bags also. Brakes are disc, and the trucks run on 275/70 R22.5 rubber on Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels. Rolling on up back through Otorohanga we turned onto SH39 and aimed the big girl north toward the ‘Tron’. This road is a better surface for sure, narrow yes, but generally a more consistent surface. This was now the DAF ride we’d expected, and the cab sat as we remember its predecessor did, with little pitch and roll.

Photo: DAF, right at home. “Poi ... taku poi e!”

Sensational and sensible
A few days later we find ourselves with Blair Leslie in the 6x4 truck on his regular run from Palmerston North to New Plymouth and back. Oh, what different world. This is a run where everything the DAF has to give will be more accessible. Like SH39 the carriageway was not antagonistic to the cab’s desire to lavish us in luxury at a serene 66 to 67 decibels – about as rowdy as we could get either truck – and interestingly, it rode and cornered identical to the 8x4 on similar turf. Aside from emissions, the big step forward for DAF is its arrival on the front lines of safety. The trucks have Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Advanced Emergency Braking, Lane Departure, and Vehicle Stability Control. The great news in all this is there’s no option here either, meaning you can’t buy one without it all. Why? “We didn’t want safety to be an option,” said Richard. “If you sell a truck from stock you can’t retrofit these systems so we took the stance that every Euro 6 DAF would have every safety system available, including air bags, as standard across the range.” Can’t argue with that. Again, props to Southpac, and they appear to have forced the hand of others. Blair’s less of an interventionist than Kaine in the gear selection department, although his run lends itself to the AMT world as we said. “I tend to leave it in auto in town and pop it to manual out on the road sometimes, just to reduce the number of gears it’s changing.” One thing we noticed was the audible tones of skipping gears was greater in the 6x4, obviously just fewer cogs to choose from. In the 16-speed there are gears for Africa and the skips when they occur are harder to detect.

Of the two, Blair’s truck is doing best on the economy front, at 2.34kpl out of the box only 8000km into a long and happy life, versus the 8x4 sitting at just on 2.0kpl. Three things we’d say to that. One, the 8x4 is on its second driver already, so has had a couple of different styles no doubt. That was borne out further with Blair in his truck sitting on a 74% DPA score and the 8x4 registering 63%. Two, none of the drivers at the time of writing had received their training; that was booked in and coming soon after. Three, the 6x4’s run is often lighter, and it spends all its days on Dr Jekyll, not Mr Hyde (east SH3, not north). It’ll be well worth a check in about 10 months to see how things are going. Blair tows a MaxiCUBE quad reefer also, and having had previous form with a previous employer in the Dutch OEM’s lower cab offering, he’s as happy as a sandboy in the new XF ride. “Love it, just love it.” Having unloaded at PAK’nSAVE New Plymouth, the DAF heads east for home and we turn our attention to the other spectacular aspect of these two machines, presentation. Another two Northchill units showing immense thought and care in how they’ll look: both trucks with their LightFix bars, LED accessory lighting, colourcoded paint in Foodstuff’s yellow, towing brand-themed trailers. They’ve turned heads and lit up the interweb from the moment they were set free to earn a dollar. “The setup on both trucks was done by Aaron Headington’s team at Southpac who always do an outstanding job,” said Graham. “Likewise, Fleet Image in Te Rapa. The 8x4 came to New Zealand in Jamacan Blue for the roadshow, and was painted into Foodstuffs yellow later. You would swear it’s factory paint, it’s that good.” The Redingtons have done the right thing by not attempting to apply Australian- or US-cultured bling to a Euro, but instead, harking back to the DAF’s origins, presenting two trucks that would hold their own at the annual Truckstar festival in Assen.

Photo: Unloading in New Plymouth.

“We were particularly excited to work with Graham on these two new Euro 6 units,” said Richard. “They set up exceptionally high spec trucks which really suited the image and presence we wanted for these firsts for the New Zealand market.” Of course the question has to be asked of Graham, ‘Why DAF?’ “We’re longtime Southpac customers and I can’t fault them, for product or support,” said Graham. “They’re so accessible; even if we want to go and talk with Maarten [Durent, Southpac CEO] he’s right there and available. I deal with Steve Herring; we’ve had a long and great relationship with Steve and we’ve had a great run from challenging and enjoyable. our existing DAFs. These two are perfect for the work they’re doing.” Blair has a hand in glove look about his driving position already, and you’d think he was years into driving this truck, not weeks. The three hours home disappears and even outside watching the truck, the appearance of effortless accomplishment is apparent, too easy. Inside it’s a calm place in a crazy old world. “I’m looking forward to the training and seeing what I can really get out of it, and know what it can do,” said Blair. The comment from MAN’s Fredrick Zohm that modern trucks will soon have certified drivers (New Zealand Trucking magazine, June 20) echoed, and the NZTA certificate that comes with this truck’s training is a clear step in that direction. Blair’s got 2.34kpl on a 74% DPA score off his own bat. Again, what’s that going to look like in 10 months?

These first two DAF XF 530 Euro 6s are DAFs in every way, shape and form. Power and performance in 2020 is largely a given, and at over 7.5kW/tonne (10.0hp) regardless of load, they’ll go just fine, and you’ll not find a nicer, more comfortable machine. The reason Europe’s Big Seven are just that is because each has a DNA that marks them. DAFs are just such likeable, honest trucks. They’re not pretentious, like the exec who’s just ‘at home’ drinking with the boys. But that’s only part of this story. This is also about cleanliness, efficiency, and safety. Buying trucks nowadays is a long way from securing a mechanical horse for a commercial transport task. Trucks today speak to so much: the values and professionalism of those doing the cartage, of whoever’s name is on the side, and of those selling the truck. These two trucks speak volumes about every party involved. Like it or not, the time is coming where truck purchasing decisions based on safety systems, or lack of them, is going to be tested in court. When that happens, it’ll change the face of the industry. Southpac has absolutely done the right thing offering a no-compromise policy on safety tech, and in bringing Euro 6 to market prior to it being mandated. Northchill has done the right thing buying the safest and cleanest trucks it can for its drivers, customers, and wider community, and making them look the way they do demonstrates passion for an industry. And lastly, Foodstuffs, they’ll benefit from all of the above, the safety of the DAFs, the cleanliness of the emissions, and presentation of the brand. Where they have done the right thing, however, is belief in Kiwis. That local suppliers and operators, passionate family businesses, can deliver world-class results. They are the real stories here.

DAF’s presence in New Zealand became more than a quirky statistical outlier at the beginning of 1999 when the CF75 and 85 arrived as active models under the Trucks by PACCAR brand revamp, following PACCAR’s purchase of DAF in 1996. The acquisition meant the famous European could spread its wings to markets in far-off places, like ours. For a while they sat alongside the Foden Alpha in the lineup until Euro 4 signalled the Foden’s exit. Early on there was no big XF95 either; they didn’t turn up until 2000. Initially it was all about the rear end and sourcing double drive units that weren’t ‘severe duty’ tagged and so too heavy – remember 4x2 reigns in European line haul. But as an article at the time said, PACCAR’s parts bin fixed that, with Meritor and Kenworth’s AG suspension sliding right on in. The first proper test in New Zealand Trucking magazine (April 1999) was a CF85 logger brought by Stokes Transport Ltd in Waimauku, (supplied through Continental Heavy Commercials incidentally, not Southpac). The first XF95 test was Mainfreight contractor Ned Kelly in the Hawke’s Bay in the April 2001 issue. DAF’s story here has never been one of gradual acceptance. Speaking metaphorically, from the industry coalface at the time they turned up, it was a case of ‘Oh, there’s a DAF’ one day, and ‘there are DAFs everywhere’ the next. The truck’s popularity is a three-pronged thing from our observation. Firstly, the product offering at the time was bang-on.

Photo: DAF scaled the market share mountain in New Zealand thanks to local understanding and great support.

Kiwis can take a ‘bit’ of something new, but being a country of tiny businesses we dry-retch at 100% unknown. When the CF85 turned up it had a 315kW (430hp) 12.6-litre DAF motor, void of electronics – itself still largely a scary new world for everyone – yet able to comply with all this new weird Euro II emissions ‘rubbish’. It had a ZF transmission, mechanical rear suspension, single trim level, but with everything we loved about Euros, meaning comfy-as. So, power, simplicity, comfort – and it was Euro, and at just over twohundred ‘Gs’ plus GST for an 8x4, it was pitched right between the Japanese OEMs and much of its European competition. A clear case of ‘why pay that?’ on one side and ‘Just a few more pingas and you could be in Euro comfort’ on the other. It was even better for the XF when it turned up because south of the gearbox names like Meritor and KW were clearly visible on some bits, that had also found their way into the CF, as did Eaton Roadranger gearboxes. DAF had pretty much grabbed the market once held by the Fodens, ERFs, and S26 Scammells of the 80s and 90s – ‘the Euro to go, with the bits you know’. Prong two. Back-up. The key to ensuring the return of any chequebook is support. DAF wasn’t coming into a whole new world where agencies and dealers needed to be established. Understand you’re selling a fallible mechanical device, fill the parts bin, and fix them the instant they turn up, that is the key to every dealer success.

And third, growth. Apart from the GFC, DAF arrived as New Zealand was growing; there were expansion sales, not just conquests. Instead of replacing something else, operators could put one alongside something else, and then watch how it went. Looking at post-GFC numbers, many of the OEMs have maintained market share in a growth economy, which in itself equates to greater numbers, but the holy grail in times of growth is increasing market share, and that’s what DAF did. Based on NZTA NC data (trucks over 12 tonne), DAF has more than doubled its stake, from 3.1% in 2009 to 7.3% in 2019, peaking in 2018 at 8.9%. If you were looking for a casualty of DAF’s more recent success you’d have to point to Scania, who lost ground through much of that decade, which may explain some of the recent manoeuvrings in terms of their local structure. In an era where the lineup of trucks in the market is superb, and as we enter uncharted economic waters, it’s going to be a mouth-watering watch for the next five years at least. Oh … and both original trucks tested, the CF at Stokes and the XF of Ned Kelly’s, received high honours in the trucks of 10 years past in New Zealand Trucking magazine. In fact, Ned still had the XF at the time.

When it comes to cabs, big is definitely good, and DAF’s Super Space Cab is about where it’s at in terms of big. You never get sick of entering jumbo cabs; they always invoke a ‘Bloody hell’ moment, and the near elimination of engine tunnels in big cabovers just exacerbates the impact of the void. These are minimotorhomes. Standing on the 145mm ‘blip’ in the DAF’s floor, you’ve got 2105mm to the roof. The Northchill trucks have a single bunk, and they’ve come with fridge and microwave. Starting under the bunk from the right is a bottle holder and pull-out caddy, fridge, and storage bin. There’s under-bunk storage, some of it accessible via external doors. Three big lockers adorn the front overhead, with the microwave in the middle one, and it also has a slot underneath. There are vertical slots along the side walls also. The pull-out table resides in the central console, with swing-out cup holders beneath that and an oddments tray under that again. You might argue in the single bunk cab there’s potentially more locker space high up – Volvo FH style. Staying with the sleeper, the mattress is 150mm thick pocket-sprung, and there’s a reading light. Fit and finish is superb; possibly a little too much plastic high in the sleeper but then there’s a lot of wall to cover and it’s easy to clean. The cab is finished in ‘Exclusive’ trim, which is heavy wear plastics and brown vinyl, with silver accents. We think it looks great! The Northchill trucks have the silver fascia against the brown.

Hercules the wonder table, cup holders are underneath. Typical Euro, the door is huge, and access easy. Opening into the side locker is weirdly small … hard to figure that one.
The huge cab with oodles of headroom even for the tallest of
The fridge and storage drawers.

Front flap reveals what you can fill, but there’s nothing to check. It’ll tell you what to fill.

Overall it invokes our old chestnut usually reserved for big Euros – serviceable luxury. Both driver and passenger get air-suspended, heated, ventilated, and doublestitched leather thrones. The driving position is fantastic, with pretty good vision left and right in terms of seeing past the mirrors. We’ve certainly seen far worse. No issues with what you can see in the mirrors either. Back on the inside, there’s a binnacle/wrap combo where everything falls wonderfully to hand. Fascinating how the builder of some of the world’s ‘squarest’ trucks has always had curvy dashes. The binnacle follows modern tradition, with two main gauges (odometer and tachometer) and two support gauges (temp and fuel) above. The fuel gauge has a digital DEF silo beside it – neat. Under the odometer is a readout related to speed controls and under the tachometer, gear selection stuff. Central in the binnacle is the trip, load, driver and truck diagnostics – and raise the roof in celebration, the control for this is via a handy knob on the dash, meaning it stays still even if the steering wheel does not. Speaking of the wheel, its smarts control phone and volumes on the left, and all the cruise and speed management functions on the right. Moving down the steering column the left wand is assigned indicator, wipers, and dip, and the right is the manual shifter and auxiliary brake. To the right of the binnacle are the lights, and to the left the park brake. Around the wrap we go, and the Northchill trucks don’t have an infotainment unit, just a standard tuner. As usual there’s switchgear enginebrake switches as a result of Graham’s desire to have the system set up like a Jacob’s brake – you can still use them on the wand. There’s climate control, and DAF’s famous direction controller that looks like a wall heater control knob; they work great.

A crystal clear binnacle and lovely functional wrap. It works beautifully.

The switches are clustered in groups according to function, and interchangeable, meaning you can put them where you want. Switches for the interior light and other bits and pieces are on the end of the central console, and there’s more switches overhead of the driver, things like the top lights etc. The cab can be curtained off, and the sun visor is a huge one-piece blind across the entire windscreen. Access is a cinch, with great grab handles, four easy steps in, with a bit of a cascade. The doors are typical Euro, meaning colossal, ‘hang on’ in a stiff breeze. As we said above, the lockers are accessible through a somewhat smallish hatch we’d have to say. Why that is we’re not too sure. Around the front there are canny steps that pop out of the bumper and grille so you can get up and scrub the windscreen, and the one tie-over from its left-hand drive roots is the front flap release under the top step on the passenger side. Lift it up and all you can do is fill the coolant, oil, and washer; there’s no dipstick, it’ll let know.

There’s never been a tougher time to engender a sense of passion for our industry in younger people. For us in the north of 45 set, it was easy. Riding around with your heroes was part of everyday life for us. People we wanted to emulate, who we wanted to please. Just by being involved they taught us respect, work ethic, to enjoy the journey of life itself, and above all else, the lesson that you’ll get nowhere without people. Today however, it’s a tough row to hoe for the young ones. They have to find ways to do all of the above, pretty much on their own. So when you find a young driver, still to celebrate a quarter of a century on the planet, who’s polite, engaging, immaculately presented, understands the contribution worthwhile endeavour makes to society, well, you wish you could take a stem cell or 12 and clone them. Meet Kaine Wood, 24. “Normally I’m the floater, covering what needs to be covered. I’ve driven this a few times already, in fact I did the first load on it.

Photo: Kaine Wood switched to trucking when farming was in the doldrums. Farming’s loss is very much our gain.

Yeah, it’s pretty nice all right, you don’t know you’ve done it really. Not like the old 104 [Kenworth K104], Graham’s original truck. He’s still got it, and you do a run in that and you know you’ve been at work.” Kaine was raised in Papakura, his dad is a police officer and mum works at the physio clinic in Tuakau. He left Rosehill College at 16 and wanted to go farming. “It was when the bottom fell out of the dairy payout that buggered me,” he said. “My boss couldn’t afford to keep me on, so that was that.” Kaine thought a class 2 driver’s licence might be good to have in the job-seeking armoury, so he secured that first off. A friend driving at OTS Vehicle and Machinery Transport Specialists in Auckland suggested getting his licence and putting his name down there. “I’ve already got my licence,” said Kaine, so he did. Leison Howell from OTS contacted Kaine and offered a day out as shotgun to see if their line of work was for him. It was, and so he was taken on. “OTS was great to me and I gained a lot of experience in that job. I got my wheels, tracks and rollers, and classes 4 and 5. The work variation was huge. I remember one day blocking a whole street to retrieve a car that had rolled away when the driver had got out without putting the handbrake on,” he laughed. “It had gone through a fence, down a bank and ended up against a house.” Eighteen months on and it was to Craig Morris at Pukekohe Hiabs and his first foray into controlled temperature work.

“That was good too, it got me away on runs into the Bay of Plenty.” More experience gained, and an opportunity at Northchill Ltd saw a move on to a permanent role in bigger gear. Initially Kaine was on a set run into the Eastern Bay of Plenty, returning via Rotorua each day driving an FH Volvo. From there he progressed to a Taranaki daily return job, but that ended following a review of volumes by the customer. Since then he’s been on the floating work. “I know all the ‘Foodies’ runs and can jump into any of them pretty much. I’ve been here a little over a year and a half now and I love it, getting around and meeting people. I think I’ve found my thing.” ‘Found his thing’ he certainly appears to have done, and his approach to the work and his easygoing style in the truck speak volumes for this level-headed young operator. “Kaine’s a great young bloke, we really rate him,” said Graham. “He’s got a great attitude and future in the industry.” Suffice to say, farming’s loss is trucking’s gain.

Photo: Blair Leslie turned to trucks after panel beating and has found an industry that’s both challenging and enjoyable.

I’m a panel beater by trade, but after 16 years doing that I felt I wasn’t being challenged enough, so I went driving,” said Northchill’s Blair Leslie. “To people who reckon it’s easy and say dumb things like ‘just steering nowadays’, I say, ‘have a go! You won’t realise how skilled it is’.” Now there’s a sentiment industry promoters should seek the use of. What other gems were there? That the Seeing Machine was there to help, not hinder. Likewise, EROAD, and that he couldn’t see anything to get worked up over with either of them. “They’re there to help you, to see if you’re getting drowsy, or a tad too fast, that’s got to be a good thing. “Driving was always something I’d wanted to explore but never had the licences. That’s why I’ve told my son Lochie that once he’s got his car licence, start on your truck licences straight away. They’re such an asset to have.” This man appears to be a walking billboard for everything the industry’s been trying to tell pretty much everyone. Raised on a farm in Dannevirke, 39-year-old Blair has been full-time driving now for eight years. He‘s spent a lot of his working life in and around Palmerston North; the commute over the Saddle Road taking about 45 minutes. Once he decided to have a change from panel beating, he set about gaining his licences. His first stint behind the wheel was with Stonecold Distributors in Wellington, and he stayed there for five years before moving to Central Wool Transport – AWE McNicol.

“That was a great job my brother and I did for a season. We serviced a contract for the True Honey Company transporting hives. The work took you everywhere, a fantastic job. We went to the tip of North Cape, Golden Bay, I really enjoyed that.” From there it was to Gundy Transport Ltd in Palmerston North. Blair was there for seven months and gave it away on account of the six-day week roster, moving to Northchill’s operation in search of a bit better work/life balance. That was just under two years ago. “Yep, really good.” said Blair. “I like the Tuesday to Saturday roster, it suits me having Mondays off to get things done. The Redingtons are great to work for, they trust you do the job and keep in touch to make sure we’re all good down this end.” Son Lochie enjoys the trucks, but Blair said he’s just at an early crossroads of decisionmaking. “He’s just got his first car, he’s on the Palmerston North Youth Council, and enjoys photography and filming. He loves coming in the trucks, but there are plenty of options.” Now we know why Graham said Blair was great and positive bloke and that we’d enjoy our day out.

Additional safety: Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) including Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Advanced Emergency Braking (AEBS); Lane Departure Warning; Vehicle Stability Control; Auto-Slip Regulation (ASR); Hill Start Assist; Reverse Warning. Additional productivity: Driver Performance Assistant (DPA) – displayed; Eco-roll. Cab exterior: Super Space Cab with skylight, electrically controlled and heated mirrors. Four-point mechanical cab suspension. Galvanised steel bumper. LED headlights, daytime running lights and fog lights. Roofmounted air management with side skirts. Universal FMS connector. Cab interior: ‘Exclusive’ trim (Tan). Double-stitched high-backed leather heated and ventilated driver and passenger seat (driver arm rest). Leather steering wheel. Fridge and microwave. Under-bunk storage. Pocket sprung mattress (150mm thick). Automatic Temperature Control (ATC), residual heat pump. Pollen filter. Accessory power to roof console (1x12v, 12x24v). Bluetooth, AM/FM 6-speaker sound with connections for GSM and GPS. Hands-free phone with multipoint pairing. Option/Extras: LightFix roof and side skirt chrome light bars. Colour-coded diesel tanks, bumper, headlamp panel, lower cab step cover, air intake, door handle surrounds, mirror surrounds. Chromium plated door handles.

Huge thanks to Graham Redington for all his help putting this test together. Also Kaine Wood and Blair Leslie for letting us intrude on the day’s work. Everyone went out of their way to help. To Richard Smart and Steve Herring at Southpac for technical information and unfailing help, as always.