ALAN JOHN­SON

WHEN YOU’VE BEEN IN­VOLVED IN THE AUSSIE OFF-ROAD SCENE FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, YOU’D THINK IT WOULD BE TIME TO SLOW DOWN. THAT’S NOT THE CASE FOR PIRANHA OFF ROAD’S FOUNDER, AL JOHN­SON.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents -

EV­ERY day is a big day. I start work around seven in the morn­ing, fin­ish work around six at night (or nine on Thurs­days) and I pretty much do every­thing from help­ing to de­sign new products, an­swer phones and tech­ni­cal sup­port en­quiries, and every­thing else that’s in­volved in run­ning a small busi­ness. It never stops.

Most of our staff has been with us for a long time. We don’t have too many young peo­ple – I think the youngest per­son in the build­ing is 31 – and most of the staff would be in their 50s and 60s. Ex­pe­ri­ence is very im­por­tant. In this in­dus­try a lot of peo­ple rely on what is on the com­puter screen as their to­tal knowl­edge base, whereas in our sit­u­a­tion we have a mas­sive knowl­edge base thanks to all the peo­ple here who have done the job for so many years. This makes it re­ally im­por­tant and ex­cep­tion­ally valu­able.

We’ve done some amaz­ingly mem­o­rable projects here. Last year we com­pleted our so­lar chal­lenge event, which was to build the first-ever so­lar­pow­ered elec­tric 4WD and cross the Simp­son Desert. So me and my mates Mark and Denny French [founders and for­mer own­ers of Marks 4WD Adap­tors] went out and built two cars, and last year we achieved that dream.

Af­ter prob­a­bly around four to five years of muck­ing around mak­ing it work, we fi­nally did it. So that was a huge achieve­ment – we’re very proud of that – and it’s a world record to cross a Cat­e­gory 1 desert, which is just amaz­ing. We went from Alka Seltzer Bore to Birdsville.

On an­other pro­ject last year we took a group of Suzukis from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s all the way from Bairns­dale, Vic­to­ria, to Cape York and back again, with peo­ple aged from young teenagers to blokes in their 70s. The other thing we do is work with Si­mon Christie on 4WD TV and Your 4x4, so we’re con­stantly out there do­ing stuff in the bush for the film­ing of those TV shows.

When you’re out in the bush you see things that work well, things that nearly work well but need im­prov­ing, and things that don’t even ex­ist. So go­ing and work­ing in the bush with 4WDS and other peo­ple’s ve­hi­cles, you get to see the short­com­ings and that helps to evolve or cre­ate new products.

In terms of longer-term work, the whole mar­ket is chang­ing. Once upon a time ve­hi­cles were very sim­ple – truck­based – but now ve­hi­cles are be­com­ing very car-based. What we’re try­ing to do is make our ve­hi­cles tougher, whereas in the early days we were try­ing to make our ve­hi­cles a bit softer – a bit more com­fort­able – so things like af­ter­mar­ket sus­pen­sion, bet­ter seats and more lights are im­por­tant.

In the chang­ing mar­ket, I can see my­self work­ing with those new ve­hi­cles to try and make them do what peo­ple need them to do in the Aus­tralian mar­ket­place.

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