Running on Empty
Stockfeed and pet food supply specialist, Eastern Distributors was given an MX-13 PACCAR engine in a Kenworth T409 to evaluate, for a week. Four years later they haven’t looked back.
A long-standing relationship with PACCAR dealer Kenworth DAF Hallam prompted what would become an unlikely and advantageous decision by Eastern Distributors to take on a 13-litre MX PACCAR engine into its fleet of Kenworth trucks.
Based out of Dandenong South, the Victorian company supplies stockfeed and pet food supplies across most of the state.
According to director Joey Addamo, his previous experiences with a 24-volt truck were not memorable.
Although he was less than thrilled by the prospect, he reluctantly agreed to trial a Kenworth T409 with the MX engine suggested by dealer Daniel Crawford.
It would come with Kenworth backing and perform, he was assured, as well, if not better, than the three T409SAR models he was operating without incident. His best driver Trevor Green would be behind the wheel.
“Being it was smaller than a 16-litre truck and given our longer runs to Bairnsdale and Albury weekly in single trailer application it didn’t sound like such a bad idea,” Joey recalls.
“Knowing that it had the Kenworth support behind it I decided to trial it.”
As a one-way freight company running back from deliveries empty, Eastern Distributors had good reason to scrutinise the performance in fuel economy and highly touted torque, especially across the hilly terrain. Assigned a regular intrastate run on Monday to Albury and Tuesday to Bairnsdale it immediately impressed.
“We soon noticed it was a very responsive engine especially down low,” Joey says.
“On a lighter load the MX engine is noticeable for how it’s not reliant on having to drink fuel. It was a revelation and we haven’t looked back since.”
By the end of the week Trevor relayed his impressions of the demo Kenworth, equating the power and smooth ride with a Harley, as the gears clicked through with ease and the MX would keep pulling with gusto on each subsequent change. The initial doubts were soon proven unfounded.
“Trevor told me it was very good down low where it showed great torque and it also demonstrated the best fuel efficiencies he had seen on that particular run,” Joey says. “He’s been driving it a long time.”
Having a 13-litre engine that was unburdened by lack of payload made the drive smoother on the four-hour return journey.
“It had 500hp when you need it and yet it’s a lot smoother than the Cummins engine which doesn’t like being light. It always wants to be under load,” Joey says. “The MX doesn’t seem to worry at all.”
Having been with the business since it commenced operations, Joey says Trevor is now the sole driver of the Kenworth T409, which ranges from Sale to Shepparton on the intrastate task.
“He’s a great operator and one of the reasons is he’s very easy on the gear and he knows how to get the best out of the truck.”
In 2002 Joey with two other company directors purchased Eastern Distributors from the Tudor family who had resigned to sell it after 40 years at the helm.
His family until that point had been heavily involved in fruit and vegetable distribution. After about a year the new group had made it work, appreciating the greater power they had over wholesale products in which the shelf life was 12 months at a minimum.
“The waste you can control and you can control your buying,” Joey recalls.
“It’s much different to fruit and veg which is usually on harvest and reliant on time. We could see a lot of potential in the business and it kept growing.”
In the beginning they started out with a 12-pallet truck, working three to four days a week.
They have 47 staff. Earlier in the year the business moved into its new facility in Dandenong South.
The 7,500 sq. metre building sits on 28,000 metres of land with lots of room to expand. “Now we run eight trucks all day and night just about,” he says.
Eastern Distributors covers the entire state of Victoria traveling as far as Horsham and Warrnambool.
On rare occasions the company will farm out work to a subcontractor for a job across the border but for the most part it wants its own drivers engaged with the customers.
As a company that sells 6,500 lines of pet food and stock food it’s important for it to control as many aspects of the business as possible says Joey.
The high associated costs of operating commercial vehicles has given the company pause to consider other business models in which they ultimately sub contract the freight task to bigger fleets.
A trial run, however, suggested it would not work.
“The customers like that same driver and familiar face every week,” Joey says.
“To us freight is a necessary cost to our business given trucks are obviously not cheap to run but it’s also a convenience and that’s the way it should stay.”
He adds, “We’ve done the exercise a number of times and we can get a handful of subbies in to do the work but we don’t want to lose contact with our customers.”
As it has a number of sales representatives on the road, Eastern Distributors likes to stay in close contact with its customers.
That way a driver can relay feedback from a customer should they want to make suggestions on how to improve the service, share complaints and offer praise. Joey says his drivers need to be personable, clean-shaven and presentable at all times.
“The driver is the face of your company. He really is,” he says. “A lot of our customers have our drivers’ phone numbers so they know where they are. It might not be the most efficient way for us to do business having our own trucks but we like to have them because ultimately it helps us grow.”
Wholesale freight, according to Joey, might not be the biggest headache in his business but it certainly throws up some challenges.
Pet produce stores, for one, aren’t always easily accessible for heavy vehicles.
Very few contain a loading dock on site.
This requires many of his drivers to back in from the street, load from the side of the road or put the truck in forwards and turn it around inside the car park.
It’s not ideal for a semi-trailer but the Kenworth according to Joey has excellent vision enabling the driver to see right around the truck.
“There’s nothing obscured and the Kenworth T409 works well getting in and out of these locations,” he says.
“It’s a very versatile truck to manoeuvre. Because we deliver to stores we need a manoeuvrable truck.”
The first of the Kenworths Eastern Distributors purchased was a SAR following a cold call from Daniel Crawford. That was in 2011. Five trucks later and Joey says he’s still buying Kenworths from him.
“The support is great. I know everyone from service to parts to sales,” he says.
“I don’t want any aftermarket stuff. I want it serviced at the dealer and all genuine parts put back on it.
I don’t mind spending the money on them.
Our motto is whatever the trucks need they get. I can’t have any downtime. We can’t let the customers down as a delivery transport company. It’s happened in the past with some other trucks and that’s why we’ve gone to Kenworth.”
As far as fuel efficiencies go, Joey confirms the MX engine has been delivering outstanding numbers. It’s sitting, in terms of the latest fuel burn numbers, around 2.5 km per litre on average.
“You notice when you come out of inclines and roundabouts it just pulls itself out. It’s a clean motor. The 24-volt thing that I worried about initially, I have not encountered one problem. They’ve done that very well. I would have thought when they did the conversion and when you plug in trailers there would have been an issue. It’s streamlined itself. I’ve never had a hiccup with it. We’ve connected a couple of different trailers and we’ve had no dramas at all.”
Joey says, by way of morning ritual, all the trucks are started up together at the same time while the drivers get their coffee. The Cummins engines are loud.
“With the MX you wouldn’t even know it’s on. It looks like a Kenworth. But when you turn the key it doesn’t sound like a Kenworth. People look around and say the sound doesn’t match the look of the truck.”
The servicing of 30,000 kilometres also helps.
Despite the additional 10,000 on top of the previous arrangement Eastern Distributors was accustomed to for servicing, Joey likes the fact the business gets the trucks back every 30 instead of 20.
“It just helps with downtime,” he says. “When I order the next Kenworth it’ll have one of those MX engines in it.”