In 2004, Anthony Mansell and his wife jumped straight into the deep end.
With just a single Kenworth and a shared vision between them, AJM Transport was born.
“It will be quite a big milestone for us next year, celebrating 20 years of AJM Transport,” he says. “I would be lying if I said we’re not super proud of that. I took the plunge and bought one truck, and I suppose we’ve sort of grown off the back of that. Twenty years condensed into one minute is a quick version of our story, but that’s basically the nutshell of what we do.”
The fleet, based out of Newcastle in New South Wales with branches in Sunshine in Victoria and Rocklea in Queensland, finds itself revolving around express and time sensitive freight.
AJM Transport has, since the purchase of its first prime mover, diversified into what Anthony describes as a unique shuttle system on the eastern seaboard between Melbourne and Brisbane.
“We shuttle everything between those ports with trailer and driver changes, and what that does is it supplies a pretty unique and vast service to customers,” he says.
“But also for us as a business, it gives massive utilisation – our shuttle trucks in the middle are doing about 580,000 kilometres a year.”
On the other side of the coin, the fleet is involved with several other tasks as well. Manufacturers, for example, will come to Anthony to test equipment on trailers, trucks and engines.
This, he finds, is a quite enjoyable part of the job.
“We’ve built our business off of relationships, providing a service, and supplying, I believe, exceptional gear and spec,” he says. “We’ve been doing it for 20 years, so we’ve got to be doing something right.”
Anthony purchased a second-hand Kenworth after his first one, and since then, he has continued to replenish the fleet’s numbers, whenever suitable, with Kenworth.
In the long run, this has paid off given the fleet’s various operations due to the brand’s reliability.
“It’s just the continuity we experience with the product,” he says. “We can put a new engine in a million-kilometre unit and replace gearboxes and diffs at certain intervals, and it will be good to go again.
“When you do nearly 12,000 kilometres a week, you can’t progressively wait for things to fail as they just break and let you down. So, we’ve got a pretty good truck record now. Our Group General Manager, Dennis Roohan, has been instrumental around that preventative maintenance program and being able to achieve those high kilometres in a short period of time.”
More recently, AJM Transport took delivery of a new Kenworth T909. The unit, part of a larger order consisting of 36-odd prime movers, will soon be joined by another eight K200s for the fleet’s east coast express shuttles between Melbourne and Brisbane.
“We just got another one in and there’s another three right behind them,” Anthony says. “Then there’s another two that will go to our Melbourne to Newcastle run for a specific customer. They’re long overdue, but I can’t wait to put them in the fleet. It’s almost like you can breathe fresh air as you’ve updated the fleet.”
The new T909 was bought specifically for one of AJM Transport’s long-term customers. But the deal, Anthony reveals, didn’t go according to plan.
“We bought this truck for a customer which we do a lot for on the east coast,” he says. “We do the Darwin leg and have done it for nearly ten years with that customer. It was a big commitment – a lot of kilometres travelled, a lot of roads taken – and literally a young guy that’s been catapulted into a national role asked me to cut all my rates.
“We’re just not about that — we’ve never done it. I told him I was happy to work with him, organised a hook up, but he didn’t take me up on it. He sent me an email, didn’t even pick up the phone, and cut us on the Monday for $6 million worth of work.”
By Tuesday, all of that gear was placed again, thanks to its relationships with loyal customers it maintains throughout its business.
“That makes me proud of what we’re doing and what we’ve done,” adds Anthony.
It’s important, he believes, that people understand that the industry can’t just cut rates.
“I mean, we’re all living in a world of inflation and interest rates,” he says. “I feel strongly about that because our customer base is strong and I love that about our business.”
The Kenworth, nevertheless, went straight to work for its new dedicated customer. According to Anthony, it has performed flawlessly without ever missing a beat.
“We couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved with it,” he says. “The T909 suits it extremely well with double bunks, TVs, microwaves and separate air conditioners. It’s basically self-sufficient.”
Although the unit is grossing just under 130 tonnes, AJM Transport over-specs it, like all of its units, at 160 tonnes to prevent inadvertent mistakes made in the past.
“We’ve developed the spec of those trucks over time with Cummins and Meritor,” Anthony says. “It might not sound like much, but we’ve had challenges with a slightly different spec and we’ve been able to tweak that. Now, we literally turn the key, and it goes to work.”
Behind the wheel of the T909 is a husband-and-wife team which run the truck up and down the east coast every week, every month, and every year, as has been the case for the last ten years.
“There’s a wet season every year, and sometimes the husband-and-wife team gets stuck in the middle of nowhere,” Anthony says. “We don’t like it, but it happens. That’s the reason why we equip them with the right tools for the trade.”
The prime mover carries a quad combination of two B-doubles hooked up together with a dolly in the middle to take it from Brisbane to Darwin.
The road conditions encountered by this Kenworth, among the fleet’s other ones, is quite extreme. It’s also why Anthony believes it is, as a prime mover brand, the only suitable choice.
“There’s no other truck that will do that run up there,” he says. “With respect to other manufacturers, they just would not cut it. The roads are horrendous. You’re back to 40- and 50 kilometres an hour sometimes, literally. The easiest way to describe it is if you’re sitting on your chair at the kitchen table and I get behind you and shake you around, that’s what it’s like — and you’re doing that for hours on end sometimes. It’s just a different monster up there.”
For Anthony, Volvo is a very close second on the eastern seaboard. In fact, he says they do an extremely good job on the linehaul side in a B-double application.
But, with the shuttle trucks and high utilisation, the Kenworths have been “just bulletproof” — much like the support they offer customers after a sale.
“They’re pretty good, to be fair,” he says. “We choose specifically to deal with our local dealers at Gilbert & Roach. They’re extremely supportive, and I’d like to make a point of that. The Suttons Group, and locally at Gilbert & Roach Newcastle, are super supportive and that actually is a big factor of why we keep going back to the product as well. They’re extremely good in our industry and good for our business.”
Looking ahead, there’s no doubt in Anthony’s mind that, sometime down the track, he will find himself at Gilbert & Roach again looking for additional Kenworths.
“We’ve got a constant order base and we’ve got to plan so far ahead these days,” he says.
“We generally do between 16 and 22 new prime movers a year, whether that’s additional, replacing, or a bit of both. We’ve got some trailers we’re going to dribble through as well. We’ve got another ten sets coming in the next month, and then we’ll get some at the end of the year, as well. But again, that’s replacing additional units. It’s a steady stream.”