Leaps & Bounds

Five new Western Star X-Series trucks have entered operations for well-known Wollongong trucking business Ross Transport.
Western Star 48X.

In just the last six months Ross Transport has added five new Western Star X-Series prime mover and tipper combinations.

As a loyal customer to the Western Star brand, Ross Transport has since 1988, when the company was broadening its footprint, purchased nearly 40 different Western Stars, all new aside from one.

Now that the latest X-Series range from the brand has been introduced into Australia, it’s no surprise Ross Transport were one of the first fleets in line for a major delivery, which as so happens is headlined by a Western Star 48X with a new Detroit DD16 driveline.

Ross Transport, par for the course, have adorned the cab and tipper sides of this truck and dog combination in popular cartoon characters — this time from the kids show Bluey — to much acclaim from the general public.

It’s still too soon to talk fuel economy numbers from the new DD16, which produces up to 600hp and 2,050 lbs.ft on a truck developed specifically for the Australian market, Alan is nonetheless impressed.

“It’s difficult to make judgements after the first month as the drivers get better acquainted with the truck,” says Alan Ross, Ross Transport Owner. “It’s very different to the DD15.”

Getting into a new version of the Western Star, as is often the case on some of the new truck platforms, can be intimidating.

The transition from the old Western Star to the new one has been very good so far according to Alan who describes the new driveline as “very driver friendly” in comparison.

“I’m feeling very confident that they’re going to be a great truck,” he says. “Boy, does it hang on unbelievably.”

Given the mountainous terrain of its home base, Ross Transport would make for an ideal test subject for evaluating the product in an environment with a degree of difficulty.

“We’re in Wollongong and everywhere out of here is a big hill and some of the trucks are climbing up and down a lot of times a day,” he says. “With the other engine we use, it only got to a ratio of 4:11.”

Two of the latest generation Detroit DD13 Western Star 48X trucks are fast making a big impression with the team with the fuel burn results looking most promising.

“The guys in the DD13s love them,” says Alan. “They’ve had to get used to the electronics which is a noticeable upgrade from the previous range. I haven’t had a truck on fuel economy like these DD13s since the old MBE days before EGR.”

Western Star 48X ‘Bluey’ truck and dog.

According to Alan, one of the new DD13 Western Stars is going at 2.5 kilometres per litre and the other is 2.3.

“My MBEs used to work on about 2.4 but they had nowhere near as much horsepower as these new DD13s,” adds Alan.

At present the Detroit DD13 48Xs are carrying 57 tonnes in the truck and dog division. The big gains, however, have been noticeable in the Southern Steel jobs trekking from Illawarra to Sydney, Canberra, and Moruya.

These trucks average between 15 and 18 tonnes in payload. On this job the Bluey DD16 regularly handles 38 tonnes carrying steel. That’s one of their biggest payloads in the application.

“The Kenworth Legend is getting 37.6 tonnes while the new Western Star is averaging 38.5,” says Alan. “That’s an improvement in payload close to 1.3 tonnes.”

For Alan this is a return to previous Freightliner weights.

“The aluminium cab and overall design including the hood, air intake system, cab, frame rails and chassis has lifted up our productivity,” he says. “If you get the right driver in the truck the results speak for themselves.”

The ability of some drivers can make all the difference when it comes to making gains in productivity, if only incrementally. But Alan finds attitude is where it all starts.

“I won’t say all my drivers are perfect with great attitudes, but I would tell you 90 per cent of them are great people,” he says.

“But it takes all types especially in this industry.”

On the technology front, Ross Transport has just installed MTData telematics in 60 of the trucks in the fleet.

In-cab the prime movers are equipped with two rear-facing cameras and one forward-facing camera. Alan, however, is reluctant to introduce driver monitoring cameras.

“If we do have to go down that path in the cabin, I would try to put it behind the driver so as not to be so invasive,” he says.

“The main reason why we would do it is to reduce the incidents of phone use. That will be why the Seeing Eye cameras get introduced here.”

One of the new X-Series Western Stars used for Southern Steel.

In the meantime, Alan is embarking on an around Australia road trip. His first impulse is to install the Guardian technology in his car for the length of the journey to experience it firsthand.

“If I can put one in my car and I can handle it than I can say to a driver they’re not that bad,” he says. “I haven’t had a problem yet with my drivers but sometimes you shouldn’t wait for the problem.”

One of the DD13 Western Stars, with the automated manual Detroit DT12 transmission, is being used as a stepping stone for drivers new to the industry at Ross Transport.

It will serve as part of a gradual transition process from medium rigid trucks to prime movers.

“Coming out of COVID we found it really hard to find drivers again,” says Alan. “There were a few trucks parked up here and it meant we couldn’t supply our customers.”

In response, Ross Transport advertised for drivers with the enticement that it would pay for the licence providing the prospective driver agreed to stay 12 months.

Only two prospects from the whole process opted out. Alan credits Tru with coming up with the idea.

“We train all our own employees now. It’s only way that we can successfully do this to meet our own requirements,” he says.

“What’s more it’s a good idea to make the process less scary and easier for some of them.”

Alan, for his part, is no fan of automatic transmissions given the initial financial outlay.

The business, after all, runs a top-notch workshop where manual gearboxes and engines are often rebuilt. The animating principle here is to get the most out of equipment.

It’s not uncommon that the Western Stars and Kenworths are run for 15 years.

The Freightliners are turned over every five. The fleet, at similar intervals, will introduce commemorative units.

For the 45th anniversary celebration, Ross Transport commissioned new maroon, gun metal grey and magenta prime movers. The magenta Kenworth made a splash, especially on social media, where the fleet maintains a routine presence.

“I’ve probably got the most varied and multiple coloured truck fleet in the country,” says Alan.

The ‘Bluey’ features the new Detroit DD16 driveline.

That’s a claim he can back up. Many of the truck and dog combinations, depending on the OEM, feature iconic cartoon characters, superheroes and other figures from popular culture brandished on the cabs and sides of the tippers.

Raising funds for families affected by life threatening medical conditions, the Illawarra Convoy Free Family Fun Day is the largest truck and motorbike convoy in the country. Ross Transport has been an event sponsor for many years.

This is where its comic book inspired truck combinations first originated.

The Convoy raises up to $2.5 million thanks, in part, to the efforts of local businesses like Ross Transport.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Convoy.

The new ‘Bluey’ Western Star 48X with the DD16 is, not surprisingly in light of the show’s current popularity, generating enormous feedback from the public according to Alan.

It’s for this reason that Tru receives dozens of messages every week concerning the ‘Bluey truck.’

“People thank us and will beep the truck and they will message saying they waved to the driver and the driver waved back and it made their kids smile that day,” she says. “It’s definitely striking a chord with children and families.”

It got immediate attention, in fact, from the moment they launched the unit in April.

To the point it has gone viral on TikTok where they have had nearly 200,000 views of the first post unveiling it, supplanting the ‘pink Kenworth’ for most views on their social media.

“We want to change the perception of the public of what trucks and truck drivers are,” says Alan. “We’re not bad people. Most of us have families and care about this world.”

Speaking of changing perceptions, the support from Penske Australia, Alan notes, is now exemplary, marking a major improvement in recent years.

“I have to say Penske has come a long way in the last 12 months particularly with their servicing capabilities,” he says.

“The changes made in the Sydney dealership has changed the product for us as well.”

The first signs of change were evident three years ago in Sydney according to Alan, who says after a slow start the change management process is now in full effect.

“In Sydney Penske has got a new manager, Ben Holden, and it’s gone on leaps and bounds since then,” he says.

“They have made it much simpler for us to work with their people. It’s great now.”

Alan is hoping to scale down in the coming years, by, in part, moving some assets over to his daughter Tru who runs her own business when she’s not helping out Alan. Only the goal of scaling down is not working.

Despite meeting his original goal of having 50 trucks by the age of 50, he’s now up to 70 at the age of 62. “I was supposed to go down after 50,” he says. “Next year is the 50th anniversary of the business. There will be at least one more on the way for that.”

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