The ongoing quest for improved safety and fuel efficiency in trucks over the last decade has seen a European drift. Some operators who traditionally favoured US brands moving to European marques. Paul Matthei visited just such an operator, SRT Logistics, on the Apple Isle.
Jim Miller, Executive Director of Statewide Refrigerated Transport (SRT) Logistics, one of Tasmania’s three largest truck operators, is a die-hard Caterpillar fan who is not afraid to declare he’d still be buying Caterpillar-powered Freightliner Argosys if this was a viable or, indeed, possible option.
Headquartered in Hobart, SRT Logistics was started in December 1988 by Jim and a partner, with the initial work consisting of carcass meat haulage around the Hobart region. The business steadily expanded over the ensuing seven years to include general freight and warehousing as well as frozen and chilled food distribution. In 1995, the partnership was dissolved, with Jim retaining the temperature-controlled component of the business.
“At that stage we had interstate dry freight and refrigerated work for the abattoirs and had started doing work for the pre-cursor to Woolworths here, Purity Supermarkets,” Jim explains. “I chose to keep the fridge work because I figured you’re better off if you have a niche.
“In those days the Thermo King fridge plants were pretty basic so you could do most of the maintenance yourself, which we did, except for the refrigerant. As time went on, we put on Nigel Froud as fleet manager and started another company – Temperature Solutions Tasmania – to do the fridge maintenance. There are three full-time employees in that business now, and we do our own work as well as fridge and air-conditioning work for other companies including Toll Group, Fresh Freight and MTT buses.”
Today, the company is one of the three largest distribution companies on the Apple Isle, with four depots: Launceston, Hobart, Devonport and Melbourne. It services around 400 different customers in any given week, and has its own full-time workplace health and safety (WHS) officer and driver trainer among a staff of over 250 people. The company currently runs 175 trailers and 100 trucks varying from seven-tonners through to B-doubles.
New Engine Choice
Jim is one of many Australian operators who were deeply shocked and disappointed by the sudden withdrawal of Cat from the on-highway truck engine business around a decade ago.
This decision, it seems, was a result of Cat seeing the writing on the wall, in terms of the enormous capital investment that would be required to keep its engines meeting increasingly stringent emissions regulations into the future. Obviously, the sums didn’t add up and Cat executives made the much-maligned decision to walk away from what had for many years been a profitable adjunct to its core earthmoving and industrial machinery business.
Yet for Jim Miller, this is only part of the reason why he sees European prime movers – in this case Scanias – as the right vehicles for his operation moving forward. The other part is the safety features that large companies demand in their contractors’ trucks in order to meet rigorous WHS requirements.
“With all the big companies like Woolies and Coles, you need to tick all the boxes,” Jim explains. “It doesn’t matter to them if you can’t, but you just don’t get the job.
“Personally, I would rather have a fleet of US trucks with Cat motors, but you can’t buy them now, and also US trucks don’t have all the bells and whistles in them, still. So you’re back to European trucks.”
He clarifies that while he’s all in favour of the safety features in modern trucks, it’s the terrific reliability and durability combined with faultless service and backup from the local Cat dealer over many years that fostered his favour for the yellow engine.
“Sometimes what you like is what you’ve been brought up with and are familiar with, rather than what you should have,” Jim reflects with a chuckle.
Testament to Jim’s faith in the product, SRT Logistics still runs some eight Cat-powered Argosys that are close to 10 years old, with between two and 2.5 million clicks on the clock. Most of these will be phased out over the next five years.
While acknowledging his nostalgic connection to Cat engines, Jim is a realist with a steely determination to succeed at whatever he turns his hand to. And succeeding in the cutthroat world of road transport means having the best people and utilising the best equipment available.
This brings us to where Scania fits into the equation. There are currently 37 Scanias, both prime mover and body trucks, in the fleet: 20 R560s, nine G480s, four P310s, three P320s and a single P360.