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

Australian Transport News - - CONTENTS - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

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

Above:

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”

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