Newly appointed Penske boss talks disruption, economy recovery

Being handed the reigns of the recently re-branded Penske Australia could not have come at more challenging period for Hamish Christie-Johnston but amid the rolling lockdowns the new Managing Director offers clarity in regard to the factors that matter most in the coming weeks.

Formerly responsible for Penske Power Systems which handles the Detroit, Allison Transmission and MTU engine and power system brands, Christie-Johnston now finds flagship truck brands MAN, Western Star and Dennis Eagle under his remit.

The current period of disruption has accentuated the contrasting fortunes of road transport categories according to Christie-Johnston. There are those in the general freight sector currently inundated with work and others who work in speciality areas that are starved of it.

“In this dichotomy there is a real difference in the experience our customers are having right now and we are very conscious of that and trying to work with all of them to help them through this period regardless of whether they’re busier or quieter,” he told Prime Mover.

“A lot of our focus for the past few weeks has been about how we service our road transport operators and keep them on the road by providing a very responsive service to them,” said Christie-Johnston.

“Some of them have been very busy so they are not wanting to get a lot of service work done at the moment because they are flat out, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

One branch of the Penske group responsive to the shifts in demand is the rental and leasing operation. Market dictates have prompted a temporary rethink for many businesses in handling surges in capacity according to Christie-Johnston.

“These last few weeks have been very interesting for us to just observe the utilisation of the rental fleet,” he said.

“In Australia we’ve got 300 trucks on rent or lease and the demand has been very strong – much stronger than we would ordinarily expect at this time of year. That is mainly demonstration of the heightened volume happening with groceries. Transport requirements for fuel and aviation fuel have obviously been down and we expect that to stabilise somewhat in the coming months.”

Christie-Johnston added that the truck and transport industries will continue to play an important role both now and as the economy recovers.

“It’s all about confidence right now. We’ve seen the flattening of the curve in terms of new cases and maybe there’s an expectation emerging now that we will see the state governments start to relax the settings in the coming weeks and we’ll go into a period which is survivable for businesses,” he said.

“That will probably go for a period of time and then we will see the economy claw its way back.”

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