Hit the Ground Running

As one of the largest independently owned transport companies of its kind, Direct Freight Express reinforces the formidable national footprint it has forged with modern trucks from key supplier, Isuzu.

Thirty years is but a footnote in the histories of some nations.

On the contrary, for a privately owned company, it can contain family legacies of longevity and triumph.

Back in 1993, the year Direct Freight Express took flight, the country had entered something of a rebuilding phase.

The first signs of economic recovery from a recession then Prime Minister Paul Keating, who was re-elected that same year, insisted, assumptively, needed to happen, were at hand. But not before the Australian dollar had, by late January, slumped to its lowest level since early 1987, prompting international investors to abandon the currency which left the Reserve Bank to intervene as part of a rescue effort.

Sydney winning its bid to host the Olympic Games, however, promised a new decade of prosperity and for many businesses, this hope, helped propel them through a climate of economic uncertainty.

It was a volatile time to start a freight moving business. Direct Freight Express, nevertheless, hit the ground running.

The fledgling company navigated this embryonic period of its history courtesy of Founder and Managing Director, Joe Catania. By June of 1993, the company commenced with less than ten staff working across two locations in Mascot, Sydney and Reservoir, Melbourne with an Adelaide office opening little more than a week later. That same spirit of adventure and expansion continues to this day.

One of the new Isuzu FRRs out in Sydney.

Over the last ten years, the distribution network has been significantly enlarged. In just 2014 the company established new branches in Traralgon to service regional Victoria, Ballina in New South Wales and Darwin in the Northern Territory.

By 2017 its national depots numbered 43 adding new locations in Gosford and Bathurst in NSW. The opening of a $36 million facility in Keysborough, Victoria, in September that same year aimed, in part, to combat increased travel times and traffic across the greater Victorian metropolitan and regional areas. A Gold Coast depot, its newest site, brings the company’s current total number of locations nationwide to 62.

The truck fleet handles 120,000 individual pieces of freight each day. While Direct Freight Express has continued to evolve and adapt to the market’s demands over the years, one thing has remained the same – its trust in Isuzu.

The majority of its immense delivery fleet is manufactured by Isuzu, particularly across the FRR 107-210s, NRR 45-150s and NPR 75-190 ranges. Direct Freight Express’ FRRs are responsible for its bulk pallet work and larger bulk consignments, while the NNR and NPRs complete 95 per cent of its parcel deliveries to homes and shopping centres, carrying commercial, small-item quantity type of deliveries.

The Isuzu units, assigned Direct Freight Express’ short haul operations, typically travel within a tight radius of each depot. On average the bulk trucks clock up 120 kilometres daily while the parcel delivery vehicles travel to 115kms.

About 20 per cent of the total individual runs each day cover 250 kilometres. The fleet also runs a large prime mover fleet, mainly Kenworths, for its long haul assignments. When required, these same units can complete a route as far as Brisbane to Cairns, Sydney to Melbourne, or Brisbane to Sydney.

Jason Elliott.
Jason Elliott.

It’s the Isuzu units, nevertheless, that are counted on to perform the frenetic intrastate tasks for Direct Freight Express. Isuzu is not only impeccably suited to the freight profile of the business, but according to National Operations Manager, Jason Elliott, it has consistently outperformed other brands in the array of tasks asked of them.

“We find Isuzu to be a good, reliable brand,” he says. “They especially suit our operation as far as the space goes inside the vehicles and their weight tolerances. We have different units for whatever we need – we’ll have a lightweight body on the chassis, but we will also have 4.5-tonne ones that are registered and rated for 5.5- and 6.5-tonne payloads instead of the 4.5-tonne car license ones, where required.”

A typical Isuzu order by Direct Freight Express involves three truck bodies. The fleet gravitates towards either a hard side body with a roller door on the back, a curtainside with a side door, and either a tailgate or a full curtainside.

Elsewhere, specific pallet size is designated according to both application and environment. Direct Freight Express will go from the basic 4.5-tonne bodies to the larger 12-palleters – essentially from the smallest Isuzu can make to the biggest.

A consistency across the Isuzu brand, through aftermarket sales and support, and their ability to supply equipment has remained a major selling point according to Jason.

“The fact that for a long time they didn’t change their models a great deal, was conducive to buying the same type of trucks and parts,” he says. “We try to keep everything the same so we’re not carrying spare parts of everything – the less models, the less brands, the better. And Isuzu weren’t dramatically changing the models every year or every couple of years, which made it easier on us to expand the fleet.”

Expand it certainly has. The fleet now contains 1,277 Isuzu trucks. Direct Freight Express originally began purchasing Isuzus back in 1999 due to their top-tier position in the market. Isuzu’s ability to deliver on Direct Freight Express’ needs was evident as soon as the first trucks were put to work.

“After they were purchased and we started using them, we found that we got a very good operational life out of them,” Jason says. “We have very minimal breakdowns or issues with them, and they’re priced extremely well. So, I guess it was a combination of all of those factors which allowed us to say, ‘well, it’s working for us so why change?’”

Quite early on the fleet went from buying from Isuzu and other suppliers to dealing directly with North East Isuzu.

“We buy a lot of trucks every year, so it’s imperative to us that we have a dealer that is capable of supplying the cab chassis and the bodies that we need to be able to keep up with our growth,” Jason says. “Isuzu has been outstanding at supplying the equipment as is required and North East Isuzu prepares them to get them on the road. It’s a very consistent product and supply is great. Even through the difficult times with COVID, they were still managing to get vehicles to us.”

DFE driver Brendan Mani operates the truck tailgate.

Due to the fleet’s large presence in the transport industry and continual growth company-wide, it is vital that it has a dealer it can rely on. A primary reason Direct Freight Express opts for North East Isuzu comes down to it being both a dealer and a body manufacturer.

By supplying the cab chassis and building the body to go on the vehicles, it has become a one-stop shop for Direct Freight Express.

“We don’t have to deal with multiple people and then have different bodies,” Jason says. “Because of that, our trucks are consistently the same in terms of changes we’ve made as we’ve gone along as a company. Whereas, if you’re using dealerships, they will use different body manufacturers and different bodies. We don’t have that.”

Direct Freight Express’ latest order with Isuzu mainly consists of FRRs, with another 50 currently on order. Each unit houses Isuzu’s 4HK1-TC engine which produces 154kW of power at 2,400rpm and 726 Nm of torque at 1,600rpm. Also fitted is Isuzu’s six-speed, two-pedal automated manual transmission with a torque convertor. Cruise Control, driver and passenger airbags, anti-lock braking, anti-skid regulator and hill start aid also add to a long list of comfort and safety features within the FRR 107-210.

The vehicle also features the ISRI 6860 air suspension driver’s seat with pneumatic lumbar support and weight adjustment. The family behind Direct Freight Express prides itself on living up to being one of the most reliable and respected road freight services in Australia.

That also means staying true to its heritage. Part of that commitment involves providing its stakeholders today with the same family values the company was founded on 30 years ago. It’s not for mere promotional sloganeering either.

That same culture helps assert flexibility and consistent growth pathways in an ever-changing industry. The fleet, subsequently, can now cater for a much larger range of professional freight requirements.

These include its ‘book in freight’ service which ensures that all goods are delivered within timely arrangements and an express freight service – powered by the fleet’s linehaul vehicles, extensive company depots and agency facilities – which guarantees freight will arrive at the end destination in the shortest time possible.

Backing these services is an ongoing dedication to safety with regular investments in equipment decked out in safety features, such as EBS on trailers and autonomous systems for braking and distance monitoring on its prime movers.

With regard to monitoring, all of Direct Freight Express’ facilities are surveilled by CCTV cameras 24 hours a day and are surrounded by electric fencing. The fleet is also monitored via satellite tracking to allow the precise location of any truck to be viewed at any time.

Isuzu FRR.

Following each of the company’s various Isuzu purchases Jason has received nothing but positive feedback from drivers. This, he says, has made it easy for him to continue to purchase more Isuzus in the near future.

“The drivers all seem to enjoy driving them,” he says. “I don’t hear any negative feedback. Drivers don’t necessarily run over to tell you it’s wonderful, but they’re quick to come over and tell you when they’re not. And I haven’t had any of that.

“Overall, when it comes to warranty and the likes, it’s all supported by Isuzu Australia. I just find them a very professional and great organisation to deal with.”

Running a national operation like Direct Freight Express means fleet management must ensure the vehicles are always operating at the highest of standards. On this front, Isuzu’s reputation for reliability, according to Jason, perfectly aligns with the Direct Freight Express business model.

“It’s been a very long, profitable relationship for both parties,” Jason says. “I find them extremely good, especially if there’s been any small issues. They’re very responsive in finding the problem, fixing the trucks and getting them back working. I certainly can’t complain, and North East Isuzu is a huge part of that as well.”

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