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.
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.