BIG STAR’S NO SHOW

The de­ci­sion by Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles to not ex­hibit at the 2017 Bris­bane Truck Show has sur­prised many and stirred deep emo­tions and dis­ap­point­ment in oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly West­ern Star sup­port­ers.

Owner Driver - - News - Steve Brooks writes

I HAVE a mate, be­lieve it or not. A good mate. He is a man whose ex­pe­ri­ence and for­ti­tude I re­spect, whose loy­alty and hu­mil­ity I ad­mire, whose ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment I com­mend, whose opin­ions I trust, and ad­vice I some­times seek.

I won’t men­tion his name be­cause he wouldn’t be com­fort­able with the ex­po­sure or per­haps the no­to­ri­ety but, when it comes to trucks, he has been among the most loyal ad­vo­cates of one par­tic­u­lar brand I have ever come across.

That brand is West­ern Star and, since 1983, the year the Cana­dian off­shoot of the failed White Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion first came to Aus­tralia, ev­ery new truck bought by the fam­ily busi­ness has been a Star. All 15 of them, all Cum­min­spow­ered, and, like clockwork, a new truck ev­ery two years.

Tough, proud and old school in his mind­set and ways, ol’ mate con­sid­ers it right and proper that the loy­alty and sup­port of West­ern Star and Cum­mins to his busi­ness over the past three decades should be re­paid in kind.

His al­le­giance goes back a long way and is per­haps best typ­i­fied by a cou­ple of old and stun­ningly re­stored Whites sit­ting in the shed. As he puts it, the death of White sim­ply opened the door to the birth of West­ern Star in our part of the world, and for that he is un­de­ni­ably sat­is­fied.

What’s more, his long ex­pe­ri­ence and ad­vo­cacy of the brand has cer­tainly had a wide-rang­ing in­flu­ence, with more than a few close friends and busi­ness as­so­ciates watch­ing the per­for­mance of his Stars, ask­ing his opin­ions and, in sev­eral cases, buy­ing nu­mer­ous West­ern Stars of their own. Word gets around.

Yet de­spite his loy­alty and pas­sion for the brand, the last few years have been marked by dis­ap­point­ment and in­creas­ing dis­il­lu­sion at the per­for­mance of West­ern Star. Not the phys­i­cal per­for­mance of the trucks, but the con­sis­tent and per­plex­ing diminu­tion of Star’s mar­ket pres­ence un­der the Penske ban­ner.

He is, of course, not alone. There are many who have watched and won­dered at the steep slide of West­ern Star sales since the 2013 ac­qui­si­tion of the Bris­bane-based Transpa­cific Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cle Group – West­ern Star, MAN trucks and buses, and refuse spe­cial­ist Den­nis Ea­gle – by bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man and mo­tor rac­ing mogul Roger Penske.

For West­ern Star par­tic­u­larly, the de­scent has seemed as fast as some of Penske’s race cars. From a bul­let per­former in 2012, hold­ing third slot on the heavy-duty grid be­hind in­dus­try front-run­ners Ken­worth and Volvo, West­ern Star now lan­guishes at the back of the pack with less than 4 per cent of the heavy-duty sec­tor.

But while he’s con­cerned and even con­founded by West­ern Star’s slip down the chart, it’s noth­ing com­pared to his fierce an­i­mos­ity for the re­cent de­ci­sion by Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles to not ex­hibit at the 2017 Bris­bane Truck Show.

To call it plain and sim­ple, he’s filthy on it. Livid in fact, and the words ex­press­ing his dis­plea­sure and dis­may cer­tainly aren’t suit­able for print. In a nut­shell, he sees it as a be­trayal of both the brand and the like-minded peo­ple who come to­gether from far-flung cor­ners of Aus­tralia and over­seas for a bi­en­nial boost of pride and pa­tron­age.

Given such pas­sion, it be­comes easy to un­der­stand his feel­ings. And, again, he’s cer­tainly not alone in won­der­ing why Star would opt out of Aus­tralia’s high­est­pro­file truck­ing event at a time when the brand’s sales and mar­ket strength are strug­gling for as­cen­dancy. Nor has Penske’s high-pro­file sup­port of V8 car rac­ing gone un­no­ticed by those crit­i­cal of the de­ci­sion to desert Bris­bane.

Bris­bane is, af­ter all, West­ern Star’s home turf. A great deal of ef­fort, en­ergy and, yes, ex­pense has tra­di­tion­ally gone into not only pre­sent­ing the brand in its right­ful role as a premier player on the Aus­tralian mar­ket, but also prof­fer­ing pride in the own­ers, driv­ers and, in­deed, fam­i­lies who make the trip to Bris­bane ev­ery two years.

Over the years, you’ve only had to stand back and watch the streams of

vis­i­tors to the Star stand to ap­pre­ci­ate the brand’s pow­er­ful in­flu­ence in Bris­bane; an in­flu­ence that cer­tainly had a flow-on ben­e­fit for West­ern Star’s cab-over stable­mate MAN and its san­i­ta­tion side­kick Den­nis Ea­gle.

CROWD PULLER

Strangely, the Penske de­ci­sion also comes at a time when the com­pany has the new MAN TGX D38 model to pro­mote. Strange in­deed!

As for the ex­pense and value of the ex­er­cise, West­ern Star sources over many years have con­sis­tently con­firmed that while pay­back can be dif­fi­cult to quan­tify, the un­der­ly­ing em­pha­sis at Bris­bane has been as much about sell­ing trucks as about show­ing trucks, with the in­evitabil­ity that show trucks are strongly sought by buy­ers.

As one se­nior Star man told me a few years back, sell­ing one truck off the show stand went a long way to­wards cov­er­ing the cost of ex­hibit­ing.

Not only that, but along with Ken­worth and Mack, West­ern Star has al­ways been one of the ma­jor crowd pullers at Bris­bane, par­tic­u­larly when it came to big Yank con­ven­tion­als. In 2017, though, Ken­worth and Mack will have the big end of the bon­neted busi­ness largely to them­selves and, while ex­ec­u­tives at both brands have ex­pressed sur­prise at the Penske de­ci­sion to forego Bris­bane, they’re cer­tainly not un­happy about it ei­ther.

As a Mack man qui­etly re­marked re­cently: “It’s hard to un­der­stand their [Penske’s] rea­son­ing, but no way would we miss Bris­bane. It’s the one event that brings a huge amount of peo­ple into one place from all over Aus­tralia, New Zealand, PNG, and even the States and Europe.”

The Penske de­ci­sion will, how­ever, mark the first time in the 33 years since West­ern Star ap­peared on the Aus­tralian mar­ket that it will not be an ex­hibitor at the coun­try’s big­gest, bright­est, best-at­tended and best­pub­li­cised truck­ing event.

An event that is, with­out ques­tion, the glit­ter­ing show­case of all that is good and great in the prod­ucts serv­ing Aus­tralia’s vast truck­ing in­dus­try. It’s where trucks, trail­ers, en­gines, gear­boxes, diffs and all the sundry sup­port prod­ucts come to­gether to at­tract the at­ten­tion of truck own­ers and driv­ers in their tens of thou­sands.

And that’s the thing about Bris­bane. It’s not just for the own­ers of trucks. It’s about the driv­ers, the me­chan­ics and ser­vice peo­ple, and the mums and kids who, in one form or an­other, can have a ma­jor bear­ing on buy­ing de­ci­sions.

MAR­KET­ING STRAT­EGY?

Con­versely, a state­ment from Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles says the com­pany won’t be at the Bris­bane Truck Show be­cause, “We have de­cided to take a more di­rect and strate­gic ap­proach in en­gag­ing our cus­tomers as part of a re-en­er­gised mar­ket­ing strat­egy in 2017.

“Through­out 2016,” says Kim­ber­ley Rud­dock, gen­eral man­ager of mar­ket­ing at Penske Trans­porta­tion Group In­ter­na­tional, “we have heav­ily in­vested in di­rect-to-cus­tomer events held both cen­trally and through our re­tail net­work, which have proven to be very suc­cess­ful for us. This ap­proach is also in keep­ing with Penske’s cus­tomer-first ethos.”

The suc­cess and the ethos, how­ever, cer­tainly aren’t show­ing up in West­ern Star sales stats or strik­ing a par­tic­u­larly pos­i­tive chord with sec­tions of Star’s cus­tomer base.

Ac­cord­ing to ol’ mate and a cou­ple of his close as­so­ciates who also hap­pen to own a few West­ern Stars, ‘cus­tomer en­gage­ment’ cer­tainly hasn’t been ev­i­dent over the past three years.

Or­di­nar­ily, that wouldn’t worry him be­cause he al­ways knew he’d catch up with Star’s peo­ple at the Bris­bane Truck Show. But not this time.

Iron­i­cally, the Bris­bane show comes ev­ery two years at a time when he usu­ally starts think­ing about buy­ing an­other new truck. So, an­other West­ern Star? He took a while to an­swer, and the words didn’t come eas­ily. “Prob­a­bly not. Not now.”

So much for strat­egy.

of the ma­jor “West­ern Star has al­ways been one crowd pullers at Bris­bane”

Flash­back! Bris­bane Truck Show 2011 and West­ern Star’s stun­ningly pre­sented R.M. Wil­liams spe­cial was a huge crowd-puller

Stun­ning Star. A shot from the days when the Bris­bane Truck Show was held at the ‘Ekka’ show­ground. Truck show time has been a ma­jor event for West­ern Star and its loyal sup­port­ers, but tra­di­tion ends in 2017

The Penske stand at­tracted plenty of in­ter­est at the 2015 Bris­bane Truck Show. Ri­vals will ben­e­fit from its ab­sence in 2017

Roger Penske and Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing leg­end Dick John­son at the re­cent launch of MAN’s TGX D38 flag­ship. Mo­tor rac­ing is Penske’s pas­sion. And it shows

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