Australian Linehaul Services has entrusted Penske Commercial Vehicles to provide it with the same commercial vehicles and turbo engines that it requires to run parcels and general freight on an unrelenting schedule for its blue chip clientele for more than 25 years.
Western Star trucks and the Detroit DD15 engines that power them have been something of constant for freight runner, Australian Linehaul Services, since the company was conceived by Steve Mangin as a Dandenong-based interstate operation in 2005. The uncommon practice of continuing with the same gear for so long is perhaps testament to the symbiotic relationship the company shares with Penske Commercial Vehicles.
After all this time it has held firm in the belief that it receives the best equipment, built for purpose, with which to perform its tasks. Having found its legs with the Western Star 4800FXB model trucks for its relentless interstate schedule carting parcel freight and other goods for the likes of Border Express, Australia Post and Baby Bunting, the company has purchased in total 50 of these vehicles over the years.
At present it operates 29 of the Detroit-powered trucks into most of the major metropolitan centres of Australia. In poker terms, you could say Australian Linehaul Services is all-in on Western Star.
National Operations Manager, Scott Campbell, has long been “Detroit mad” to use his phrase. It was the robustness of the DD15 14.8-litre 560hp engine that prompted him to recommend it as a product to his boss Steve, when he suggested adding trucks to the 13 sets of trailers they started out with. Four were soon purchased.
That recommendation has proven prophetic to the degree the company has been unwavering its support for the Penske brands ever since. Having such a blanket commitment to the same products year-in, year-out, has made it easier, according to Scott, for roadside servicing and driver training given the technical familiarity it encourages across the mid-size company.
“We’ve tried to keep it the same for a few reasons. Should a driver call up, stopped on the highway, to say they have a problem we can talk him through it,” he says. “The response from headquarters is standard across the board. For us it reduces critical downtime. Nine times out of ten we can tell him how to fix it right there on the side of the road. The trucks are all exactly the same in that regard. Oil filters are the same cost. Air filters are the same cost. It makes life, from an operational standpoint, simple so to speak.”
While this kind of commitment speaks to the reliability of the products, having the same equipment also provides for a suppleness in sharing intelligence and information that helps remove the headache of ill-timed and unscheduled servicing. The Western Star trucks have a reputation of being a tough truck and according to Scott they certainly live up to it.
“This is about as robust a vehicle you could hope for. While they look the part it’s not just an aesthetic thing. It’s very much spec’d for Australian conditions. I can’t fault the ruggedness of the trucks.”
Visually, the snub-nose bonnet, dual vertical exhaust with polished stainless steel exhaust shield, chromed stack and setback Meritor forward axle, doesn’t hurt.
At the depot in Melbourne there are Western Stars parked up that have done close to two million kilometres. That sort of mileage is even more impressive when Australian Linehaul Services makes it known that it has not even considered rebuilding any of these trucks. Some of the trucks have just ticked over 1.3 million kilometres. Scott attributes this to the quality of the Detroit engine.
“Not to cast aspersions on the other engine that we can buy for the Western Star 4800FXB but some of the commercial vehicles here have eclipsed a million kilometres on original turbo,” he says. “We can only achieve that on a Detroit engine.”
Brand loyalty does not go unrewarded. In this case Australian Linehaul Services receives unparalleled access to Penske’s support network, which has been first class to date.
Dealership Patterson Cheney Keysborough, where the company purchases its vehicles, will if they don’t have a part in stock, take it off a new truck sitting on the lot.
“That’s the level of service that they give us. They don’t tell us the part is not available. They get one of their mechanics to get it off another truck,” says Scott. “We don’t often get told tomorrow or next week. It’s usually ‘we’ll see you in 45 minutes.’”
Two of the mechanics at Australian Linehaul Services have undergone technical training where they were treated to a week-long course on the Detroit DD15 engine technology.
“We’ve bought 50 trucks all paired with the same engine,” Scott says. “If there’s any technical issues we have no trouble calling Penske’s Altona North branch and they’ll answer our questions, no drama, right away. They provide us with a priority service. There’s none of this we’ll call you back. They get a mechanic to investigate and they’re responding with a fix soon after on that same call.”
If there’s one indulgence he could entertain it would be to equip the Western Stars with a Detroit 8V92 engine to really get them “cracking” as Scott puts it.
Australian Linehaul Services runs the trucks to 40,000 kms between major scheduled servicing.
They get a grease check-over every 10,000 kilometres. On site there is three mechanics, a truck washer and tyre fitter, Scott’s son Jake, who he calls a general roustabout. In 2017 he joined the team and roadside tyre expenses have dropped dramatically ever since. Australian Linehaul Services has been aligned with Michelin for the past five years, using their tyres exclusively on all of its moveable assets. Since Jake was trained by Michelin to fit, rotate and balance the tyres Craig says a monthly tyre bill of $10,000 has been reduced to $1500 and lower. Every tyre gets capped twice before it is phased out of the cycle.
Each truck completes about 250,000 kilometres a year. As a significant fleet of DD15s, Australian Linehaul Services are used as a test bed by Penske when it services the Western Stars. Between the heaviest trucks and those hauling lighter loads the fleet averages a respectable 1.89 kilometre per litre economy rating.
The company will soon start a program in which they will select ten of their trucks for rebuild. It will involve an in-chassis overhaul, new turbo, air-compressor and installing new heads. The trucks are then sent to Bayswater Diff Service where the Eaton gearboxes and diffs are evaluated. Penske, says Scott, is offering a very competitive price.
The fleet is split into dedicated daily transit routes. Six vehicles in total work Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne, with another three trucks permanently assigned the Melbourne to Brisbane run. The remainder of the fleet is ad hoc, pending customer demand. These are alternated between Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane from the main Melbourne depot. Australian Linehaul Services works on long term contracts, preferably, with blue-chip customers. These include, in addition to those already mentioned, VISY Logistics, Star Track, Deliver Group, Aqua Products and TIC.
A subdued retail climate previous to the holidays is unlikely to affect the business like it might some other operations banking on a big Christmas period. In the current meandering economic climate, the flood of demand that begins in November, only really arrived two weeks prior to the Christmas break according to Scott.
“We didn’t really have a busy season as we usually call it. For the last three months it’s been a feast one day and the next day will be famine,” he says. “We’re steady across the board. Our customers, generally, load us all year round.”
Depth of field matters. As a result, Australian Linehaul Services mitigates the seasonal boom or bust trend prevalent in the goods and services industries. Despite this, Scott was approached, per usual, by prospective clients looking for one-off freight fulfilments ahead of Christmas who ask him to name his price. He knocks them back.
“The clients who load me every day, all year around, if they want extra trucks then they get them first. The business was established to operate under that model from the very start.”
Customer loyalty, in accordance with this model, is reciprocated.
“We try to deal with blue chip customers where possible,” Scott says. “All we can offer them is service. We can’t offer them anything else. That’s what we try to do. That’s what we actually work really hard at.”
In amassing such a singular Western Star fleet, the business offers a rebuke to those transport companies that try and be all things to everyone. Here is a company who says we do one thing for our customers and we do it well.