Believe the Hype

Drivers for Tile Factory Outlet in Sydney are noticing serious improvements in productivity, safety and fatigue management with a pair of recently delivered UD Quon 8x4s.

Scarcity of supply during the recent era of lockdown economics has for importers foreshadowed dramatic rises in container prices — too dramatic for some.

Many wholesalers, subsequently, have chosen to scale back on orders for their product lines leaving them, at least in the short-term, at the mercy of the market and low on stock.

Tile Factory Outlet (TFO) was not one of these. Through shrewd planning the business, despite ocean freight fees soaring over the last 18 months, is sitting pretty having backed its direct-to-customer model.

As an importer/wholesaler, TFO eschews the showroom model allowing it to focus on stock levels even in an environment not particularly conducive to it.

Instead of buttoning down the hatches like many of its rival competitors have done, TFO was importing additional stock in spite of the prohibitive outlays.

There was, after all, a national housing boom underway.

Owners Len and Maria Franco, who source the latest quality tiles and natural stone coming direct from suppliers in Spain, Turkey, India, Italy and China, base their business in Smithfield near the Cumberland Highway, making it easily accessible by road for commercial vehicles of which they rely on several subcontractors to distribute their products around the greater metropolitan area of Sydney and beyond.

Since moving to the location in 2009 the business has evolved from what was essentially a clearance house to the largest single tile store in Australia.

For dispatching customer orders of ceramic and porcelain bathroom tiles as well as pavers for outdoor areas, a pair of new UD Quon 8x4s have been enlisted. John Perri, Secureload Sydney, is a veteran of the transport industry.

He purchased the UD Quon last November and the move has proven something of a revelation. A random encounter last year in the yard with a driver who suggested he consider UD persuaded him to take a closer look.

Up until that point John had mainly driven Hinos including many years as a driver trainer. As parts were always readily available, he had no reason to look beyond it.

“I only knew that brand,” he recalls. Following some deliberation John organised a test drive in a UD Quon. “After driving it and meeting the UD sales representative Craig Aller, I fell in love with the vehicle,” he recalls.

A self-described family man, John enjoys driving and knows his way around a truck. For 15 years he worked as a driver trainer and assessor at his father’s driving school.

That predated a stint at the Roads & Traffic Authority where he spent a majority of time as a heavy vehicle testing officer and clocked hundreds of hours training new drivers, at an affiliated training organisation, to become company drivers at the likes of Busways, Forest Coach Lines and Veolia.

When an opportunity presented itself through his father-in-law, Len Franco, to drive for TFO as a contractor, he jumped at it, purchasing an old Hino GH with a front mounted Palfinger crane.

It wasn’t long before business started to take off. Things changed again for John in 2021 when he was introduced to the UD Quon. He works as part of a team of drivers who are dispatched on customer deliveries by a central computer that generates the sale to each driver.

“When you decide you need your two pallets of tiles which is too heavy to move by car as it’s 300kg plus, one of us gets the allocation,” he says. “If we can’t do the job we’ve been allocated it goes to the next driver. We don’t have to advertise. We just have to be ambassadors and drive our trucks safely and deliver on time.”

Elevate Transport driver, David Pustaj, also provides contract services for TFO.

In March he seized an opportune moment and purchased a new UD Quon 8×4 upon John’s recommendation.

The UD CG420, like John’s, comes with a tray and Moffett mounted forklift. His delivery regime is similar, mainly around the urban precinct with the occasional foray into the Blue Mountains, Illawarra area or Central Coast. Previous to this vehicle David operated a crane truck.

The differences are pronounced. The 8×4 facilitates a major gain in payload.

Opting for a longer wheelbase of 5200mm makes it ideal for use in this application, whereby the truck, during deliveries, can be parked out on the street and the forklift is used for site access. No crane required. No idling. No worries.

The twin-steer with rear air suspension and parabolic leaf springs on the front axle ensure it glides over Sydney’s many new major motorways and is comfortable to drive on unsealed roads, an issue for commercial vehicle drivers following recent weather events.

“Most of the gravel roads in regional areas are now rutted after all the rain we’ve had,” says David. “The eight airbags on the Quon rear suspension make these trips much more comfortable than they probably should be. It feels like I’m sitting in my own Ford Ranger.”

High-tensile single skin steel has been applied in the chassis construction to help achieve the vehicle’s improved low tare weight. The 14-pallet tray holds a gross weight of 13.5 tonnes.

“With the extra payload I’m getting to more jobs,” he says. “That alone has made the UD a winner.”

In the previous truck David was limited to a six-speed manual transmission. Nor did he have any of the active safety features the UD is equipped with.

Traction control, Lane departure warning and pre-collision warning are three he appreciates navigating the city traffic.

“The UD, when it’s loaded, knows exactly what gear it needs to be in,” he says. “It’s as smooth as butter. On the freeway the pre-collision warning calculates the distance between me and cars in real-time as the radar adapts. There’s a lot to like about it.”

Approaching 5,000km David is nearing his first service. John, however, is already up to 35,000km having had more time to subject the vehicle to further scrutiny.

Another advantage of the 8×4 twin-steer bogie drive are the standard diff locks. A low centre of gravity is also a significant contributor to stabilising load sharing on the suspension system for the steer axles.

As the engine is off when John is using the forklift, he is not burning fuel. On the last truck John was accustomed to sitting at 1000rpm while the crane was in operation.

The tank on the UD is rarely topped up during the week and is proving, with the Moffett now employed on site, much more economical.

The average pallet of tiles weighs around 1.2 tonnes. That, for John’s UD Quon, equates to 12 pallets which he carries with peace of mind knowing he’s compliant within his axle weights.

John Perri.

Depending on the size of the storage at hand John can put between six to nine pallets in a customer’s garage.

He can charge a premium, too, as customers prefer the convenience and added security of knowing their tiles are inside their home.

“I can’t do that with a crane,” says John. “Now I’ve got more energy when it comes to the afternoon whereas with the old truck and set-up I would have been up and down on the swings, depending on times, in the heat and it leaves you exhausted.”

He adds, “I would never go back to a crane.”

The forklift has also eliminated the need to enter driveways in the truck so having more wheels on the UD Quon 8×4 is, by no means, an inconvenience.

The nature of the work means the transition between jobs tend to be shorter.

This does increase idle and traffic time, but John is on and off the M4 and M5 frequently which reduces allotted time spent in transition.

In the main part this is suburb-to-suburb commuting via one of the main arteries.

“I’m using around 36 litres per 100 hundred kilometres,” says John. “The AdBlue lasts a bit longer than a month depending on the scheduling of jobs and travel involved.”

Despite the higher bowser costs at the minute, the UD Quon is consuming around 1.7 litres of AdBlue per 100 kms. John considers it more than reasonable.

“It probably could do with a splitter in it or an extra six gears to make it even more economical,” he says. “But it’s a joy to drive. The technology in it and cab space are fantastic.”

The 8-litre UD Quon, according to John, functions as his own fatigue mitigation tool. He advances the 12-speed AMT transmission as a case in point.

“The ESCOT that I’m using leaves you still busy. You can’t treat it like an automatic. You can’t get lazy in it,” he says. “So you’re still active and challenged as a driver but at the right times. I think it probably helps with fatigue rather than just driving as an afterthought, foot on the accelerator, foot on the brake.

“You’re actually challenged at times to wake up and think about how are we going to approach this hill. Do I drop it back two gears? And so I like the ESCOT. That was what was sold to me. I could have gone Allison, but Craig suggested, for what I’m doing in the truck, the ESCOT was really going to suit the job.”

Because it is such a comfortable ride, John is not only more alert, but by the end of a hard day on the road, much more agreeable.

Proper fatigue management therefore means, at the very least, he has more time for customers.

“In the old truck by late afternoon I would be tired,” he says. “Hardly bubbly with time to talk to journalists.”