The DAF dimension
DAF! One of Europe’s most powerful players and on the global front, arguably Paccar’s greatest success story. Yet it’s a brand which has struggled for recognition almost from the day it rst appeared on the Australian market. Why? Many reasons, but more i
Paccar sharpens the assault to turn DAF’s potential into reality with the 510hp CF85
The road beyond Mansfield on the cusp of Victoria’s high country isn’t short of sharp pinches and tight turns.
Up here, big banger log trucks ply their trade on roads that demand respect and skill. It’s not an area you’d normally find a European cab-over towing a curtain-sided trailer.
Even so, DAF’s CF85 was making easy work of it. And why wouldn’t it!
This was, after all, the new 510hp (380kW) version of the versatile CF85 model and, maiden voyage or not, with a healthy 1850ft-lb (2508Nm) of torque pulsing through ZF’s slick 16-speed automated shifter, a gross weight around 32.5 tonnes was hardly enough to cause even a hint of sweat.
Inside the cab, life was calm. Smooth, quiet, comfortable, great vision, with handling and road manners equal to any in the business.
Early days, sure, but even with just a few hundred kilometres under its belt, this latest DAF derivative had already given plenty of indications that fi nesse and fervour would be cosy partners in an exercise covering more than 600km of wildly varying country through regional Victoria.
Yet right at this moment, on the other side of the cab, Rob Griffin seemed a tad anxious, eyes fixed on his phone, hoping the hills would
open at least enough to let a signal through. It was mid-afternoon in early April and sales figures for the year’s first quarter were due.
The numbers were important because, as general manager of DAF Trucks Australia for the past few years, he’d been carefully craft ing a new platform for the brand that has struggled for several decades to achieve much more than modest acceptance in the heavy- duty truck market. The last few years had been typical. In 2015, DAF notched an underwhelming 2.9 per cent of the heavy-duty category, and the same in 2016. But 2017 was promising something better in the wake of a concerted effort to target those market segments best suited to the Dutch truck, rather than taking a broad-brush approach.
A determined and occasionally dour individual, Rob Griffi n hasn’t always driven a desk. Far from it, and the evolution from mechanic to senior management has known its share of lumps and bumps with one brand or another.
Consequently, the real world is a constant companion, and recollections of tending to early DAF models with spanners in hand are deeply ingrained in the memory bank.
“No doubt about it, the brand got off to an ordinary start in this country,” he says with blunt certainty, recalling pre-Paccar days when Dutch principals saw Australia as just another market rather than a market with uniquely rugged requirements.
Even back then, it wasn’t hard to see what the main problem was. It was the people more than the product.
They were putting the truck into applications that just weren’t right for it, and they brought it here without any real testing, obviously thinking it could do anything other trucks were doing.
“It wasn’t a bad truck,” he insists. “In most cases it was just badly applied.”
STUCK IN THE MUD
But the mud of those formative years stuck hard and fast.
DAF first came to Australia in 1984 when the brand was still a Dutch company and, given the inane attitudes of the time, it was perhaps inevitable that DAF’s early reputation would suffer. Severely!
Eventually it all became too hard and, with bruised egos and battered wallets, the Dutch took their truck home.
However, in the big scheme of corporate calamities, DAF’s Australian adventure was made to look like a boy scout sleepover compared to the company’s dire European performance.
Joining forces with the beleaguered British company Leyland, the combined entity clawed its way ever closer to economic oblivion.
Yet just when it seemed fi nancial assailants were warming up to deliver the fi nal blow, along came Kenworth and Peterbilt parent Paccar.
Recognising an immense opportunity to not only join the European truck market but, vitally, to acquire a company that made its own engines, in 1996 Paccar paid
“Paccar didn’t just buy a European truck brand, it bought an engine maker”
US$ 540 million for the Dutch company and followed that in 1998 by taking control of Leyland’s operations.
Despite the sceptics – and there were plenty of them – it was an inspired move by Paccar, and one that eff ectively turned the tables on its European rivals.
Daimler and Volvo, for example, had already bought and fought their way into vast swathes of the US truck market, so what better way to level the intercontinental playing field than buy into European markets with DAF?
All Paccar had to do was turn DAF from an economic basket case into a profitable performer with significant prospects for corporate expansion.
Of course, it was easier said than done given the depth of DAF’s dilemmas, but as subsequent years would show, Paccar’s established management skills and economic smarts were entirely capable of doing exactly that – turning the otherwise defeated DAF into a European powerhouse.
As the saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding’, and these days DAF’s success is unquestionable. A market leader in some of the continent’s most competitive countries, its performance is perhaps far beyond even Paccar’s most optimistic projections.
In the hugely crowded UK market, for instance, DAF in 2016 continued its 22- year domination of the commercial vehicle sector with a thumping 30.1 per cent of the market above six tonnes.
At this point it’s worth noting that all DAF right-hand drive trucks – including those built for Australia and New Zealand – come from Paccar’s Leyland Trucks assembly plant, further highlighting the wisdom of buying the once troubled Leyland facility despite the early heckles of competitors and commentators alike.
The story is much the same across all of Europe, where DAF’s share of the market above 16 tonnes last year climbed to more than 15 per cent. Last year alone DAF registered almost 47,000 trucks in Europe. So what’s the key to DAF’s modern success? Well, there are many contributing factors, not least the fact that with an extensive range of light-, medium- and heavy-duty models it is able to meet the needs of most operators while absorbing the ebbs and fl ows of different market segments.
Another great strength, at least in the UK, according to several sources, is a dealer network consisting entirely of entrepreneurial independent outlets (much like Paccar’s outlets
Assets. Easy access in and out of the cab ranks with good manoeuvrability, light tare weight and driver comfort as inherent DAF attributes Opposite:
True believer. DAF Trucks Australia general manager Rob Griffin. “We’re bringing the right truck at the right price into the right applications, and we’ll continue to do that in the manner Paccar is renowned for”