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.
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.
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.
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