King Pin

An extensive resume across engineering, production, operations and the aftermarket has primed Damian Smethurst for his latest role at PACCAR Australia.

Damian Smethurst assumed the role of PACCAR Australia Managing Director in May 2023.

Prime Mover: What’s been your journey prior to becoming Managing Director?
Damian Smethurst:
I was at IVECO originally out of university and saw a pretty cool graduate program ad for Kenworth and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I’ve been at PACCAR for 26 years. I’m a manufacturing engineer by qualification and I spent the first ten years of my career in materials and supervising the factory floor and getting to understand the manufacturing side of the business. That’s also where I started to learn to work with and manage people. I became the plant manager in 2007 just as emissions changes drove a huge surge in demand. We had an American running the plant at that stage and he received the call back home and gave me the reins. We had massive orders and we got to 20 new trucks a day by the end of that year. Still to this day I think of that year as my most stressful and also my most rewarding.

PM: What happened next?
DS:
The next five or six years I was the factory’s Operations Director and it’s still fair to say the factory is my first love. I then went into engineering and product development and spent the next seven years as Chief Engineer leading the engineering team through various product programs including starting with the tail-end of the K200, followed by the T610, T410 and the T360. Then another move to aftermarket as PACCAR Parts Australia General Manager as well as responsibility for the dealership in Laverton. That role gave me a different perspective on the business and lots more exposure to customers and dealers. I was over there for the last five years before getting the tap for this role back in May last year.

PM: Has your progress through those various roles helped in providing a good understanding of the PACCAR products?
DS: It has helped having a broad understanding of the product, customers and dealers, and also the suppliers. I really do value my time in the aftermarket gaining an understanding from a parts and service perspective of what’s required to keep trucks on the road and operational, and factors such as uptime and availability of parts and service support.

PM: Coming off a record year in 2023 how to you see the next couple of years in relation to the industry in general and PACCAR in particular?
DS:
It’s hard to see the market dipping too far and I certainly don’t foresee any cliffs. It’s always been cyclical, but always in an upward trajectory. When I started, we were doing three trucks a day, we’re at 20 a day now.

PM: Does that strong demand put too much pressure on supply?
DS: To a point. We’ve got a fairly solid back-order list, which we need to keep reducing. We don’t like our customers having to wait too long for their trucks, so we and our dealer network are working hard every day to be as responsive as we can to what is unquestionably record demand.

PM: Is there a requirement for additional manufacturing capacity in order to achieve that?
DS: No doubt. We could be doing 30 trucks a day and perhaps still not meet the current demand. We’ve got some restrictions in a few areas of the plant and I’m hoping to help remove those bottle necks.

PM: Has the closure of the IVECO plant affected PACCAR’s suppliers much?
DS: Not really. Ten or 15 years ago we encouraged many of our local suppliers to broaden their customer base and obviously IVECO was a part of that. I’m disappointed to see them stop local manufacturing because I think it was good for our customers that our local suppliers could utilise a secondary customer with IVECO. More of their eggs are in the PACCAR basket now. We’ve tried to open our doors where possible to some of their employees.

PM: As a local manufacturer what are the challenges and advantages?
DS: For both brands the advantage has always been just having local knowledge and insight into local applications and customer requirements and that doesn’t change whether it’s Kenworth or DAF. Kenworth has built its reputation on that and we feel that having our core engineering team here, and the ability to design locally, has been fundamental. The manufacturing site here provides a huge advantage and we are really proud of the fact we have remained here and plan to remain here for many years into the future. But if you clean sheeted and started again, it may be difficult to get enough capital to make the investment. We are so fortunate others had the nous to open this facility in 1971 and continue to invest in it.

PM: Is that because we’re isolated or is it just the costs of manufacturing are too high here?
DS: I think all those things. We are a long way away and that does increase the cost base, and the volume is relatively low on a global scale. We are the smallest PACCAR plant and will always be that, but we work hard to ensure our products offer our customers value.

PM: Kenworth is renowned for being such a strong brand. Is that something that has been conscious or is it just something that the market has come up with as things have progressed?
DS: We’ve been here for 50 years and have got a lot of runs on the board and that reputation is well earned. We do invest in the product and the support of the product. That’s what builds the reputation rather than anything we’ve tried to generate.

PM: The DAF XG+ is expected to be a game -changer for DAF. Will it have an impact on Kenworth?
DS: I don’t believe so. The beauty of having DAF and Kenworth is that there is very little overlap in terms of application. They appeal to different types of customers. The XG+ is going to be able to stretch its legs a little bit in terms of engine capacity and become an option for a lot more fleets. DAF is an amazingly engineered product, and what we are doing is taking the best cab that we believe is available on the market and pairing it with an appropriate engine that can push it into the upper echelon of the heavy-duty segment. We don’t believe at all that it will compete with Kenworth.

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