They Drive by Night

Multi-faceted freight specialist, Datspares Transport, runs IVECO commercial vehicles interstate and locally including the new Highway B-double spec from the Italian truck manufacturer.

Datspares Transport, based in Clayton, a semi-industrial area in Melbourne’s southeast, moves an array of dissimilar goods for many customers in different industries.

Its services include metropolitan depot to depot operations using rigid and light commercial vehicles and interstate B-doubles — 12 of them to be exact.

The business is owned by Brian Murphy who arrived in Australia 30 years ago having grown up in Wexford, on a farm, in the southeast corner of Ireland.

Around a decade ago the business, which originally specialised as a scrap metal yard, transitioned to a dedicated road transport outfit as demand for shipping spare parts on pallets escalated under the agency of a long-term customer contract.

The company, whose General Manager Laura Murphy, Brian’s daughter, has been doing its best to keep up with a surging workload ever since.

A second office for the business is located in Sydney while it also makes use of regular distribution points in both Brisbane and Adelaide. That is, to put it another way, just the tip of the iceberg. 

Then last year the iceberg — more commonly known as COVID — arrived and operational provisions have intensified to accommodate the frenetic regime of PCR testing, the chaos of waiting for containers to pass through customs, sudden border closures and the inconvenience of mandates that have exacerbated the dearth of experienced truck drivers plaguing an industry desperate for them. 

Into this mix, Datspares Transport, which runs on its linehaul a fascinating mingling of IVECO heavy vehicles, namely PowerStars and Stralis series vehicles, took on a pair of the new IVECO Highway B-double trucks for an extended trial run.

The immediate results, of which there have been much to evaluate, culminated in the order of four more units, the first two are due to arrive in Q1 next year. 

It was a long time coming as the new trucks had been hyped, according to Brian, by Darren Cann, General Sales Manager at Melbourne Truck Centre for the best part of two years. 

“They’re absolutely brilliant. The safety features are smack on, making it basically idiot-proof,” Brian says. “All the other European trucks might offer 600 horsepower and above, but they only run with a 12-speed gearbox.”

Brian Murphy.

That’s a problem for a company that regularly runs B-doubles into Wollongong over Mount Ousley and the steep and sustained descent in and out of Adelaide. Pulling 60 plus tonnes with a 12-speed gearbox demands every bit of RPM available in the engine. Datspares Transport assessed as many truck brands as possible at different horsepower ratings to see if it could deliver on the task.

Not only did the suspension, gearbox and Euro 6 Cursor engine on the IVECO Highway B-double all feel improved but it also surprised in its fuel consumption, performing ahead of the other models.

“I’d originally heard the new IVECO Highway B-double was meant to have 575 horsepower and when it had been dropped down to 550 it worried me as we do a lot of heavy loads coming out of Wollongong,” Brian says. “Coming back up that hill she’s also on max weight as we carry back out to a furnace in Melbourne. On that route the IVECO Highway, with the 16-speed box, is leaving every other truck we’ve tried for dead. In both the speed coming up the hill it does it with ease and going down the hills the retarder holds back the full loads so we’re not wearing out brakes. Even though IVECO tell me the engine is the same after you drive it you wonder that there’s nothing the same about it.”

Datspares Transport still conducts manual checks to verify its fuel consumption rates though it will adopt the onboard IVECO telematics including IVEConnect, a driving style evaluator, on the newest vehicles, for more granular reporting on gear changes, braking, fuel economy and other crucial data points as it learns more about the system.

“As you get bigger as a company you have to have access to that kind of information,” Brian says. “You’re able, with the telematics coming through it, to bring everything back to a much safer working place. That’s where I think the IVECO Telematics are going to be a huge advantage for our business. But we are only really at the beginning of that journey at the moment.”

Servicing and diagnostic checks are also scheduled through IVECO Telematics.

While the new IVECO Highway B-double has been specified with a million-kilometre extended warranty bumper-to-bumper, Datspares Transport conducts all of its own inhouse servicing when it comes to maintenance. A majority of the interstate trucks, it should be noted, run up 1000kms minimum every night.

The driver, at the end of the shift, will go to a motel and someone else will operate the same vehicle all day. That evening the drivers will swap over again, with the first driver responsible for the return leg. On average, a Datspares Transport commercial vehicle travels 1500km every 24 hours.

“When you take that mileage into account this is where the back-up service you have is so important,” says Brian. “The back-up service from IVECO is second-to-none at the moment and it was one of the big factors in us buying the new Highway B-double IVECO. They have improved with back-up parts and servicing dramatically.”

It’s seldom that Brian will wait longer than 24 hours for a part. IVECO’s distribution warehouse in Sydney is well stocked, ensuring its customers are rarely at the mercy of import schedules, especially during the ongoing debacle of global supply chains.

According to Brian it’s not the big things that bring operations to a halt — it’s the little things. Keeping engines tuned the right way; adhering to COVID protocols; maintaining experienced staff and close relationships with the likes of Darren at Melbourne Truck Centre, who is, per Brian, “worth his weight in gold.” With a minimum of ten B-doubles on the road every single night of the week, Brian estimates he wouldn’t have any more than three breakdowns a year.   

“No matter what truck you have if you don’t have confidence in the back-up service when the little things go wrong it’s pretty pointless,” he says. “That’s where the reliability comes into it.”

Datspares Transport won’t entertain using aftermarket parts. Every part, whether it is an oil filter or nuts and bolts, is always a genuine IVECO. 

“When you’re doing the kilometres that we do you can’t afford little variations,” Brian says. “Running with a genuine part, you know what’s right for the job and you’re going to get a certain number of kilometres.” 

Every certainty in an industry beleaguered over the past two years by uncertainties, counts. Between February and May, the business transports seedlings from Sydney to Melbourne. On hot days cool air moving over the trailer keeps the plants from frying inside. Any breakdown, on such an application, would remove the very shield that mitigates against direct sun from belting down on the roof of the trailer.  

“You literally can’t afford that. It would only take an hour to lose your whole load,” Brian says. “There wouldn’t be a point in going any further with it.” 

Most of his existing highway fleet has clocked between 1.3 million and 2.7 million kilometres. 

IVECO Highway B-double hits the road.

Until the first IVECO Stralis models were introduced in late 2015, Datspares Transport had been transporting everything and anything from batteries bound for recycling plants, concrete products and spare parts on IVECO PowerStars matched with a Cummins ISX engine. These, in turn, were paired with the EuroTronic II 16-speed transmission.

“They don’t fall apart,” Brian says. “They are put together very well.”

The IVECO PowerStars are also, from a maintenance perspective, easy to work on. As well as having a degree in horticulture, Brian, among his many talents, is a qualified mechanic.  

“With the IVECOs you don’t have to have special spanners to get into things. I don’t have to send mechanics out to spend a week with Benz or Scania or Volvo so as to learn how to change the eyelet in it,” he explains. “It’s still, at its core, a truck, which is a huge advantage for small operators like myself. We can work on our own truck and keep up with everything that way. IVECO has stood by me with the warranties.”

If a truck comes in from Sydney at 6am, two mechanics will get “stuck into it” on a service so that it is ready by 10am. Because everything can be done without delay, as a consequence it empowers the operator.

“I need trucks that have to get up around the two million-kilometre mark. And if you can’t do two million kilometres than you have the wrong models,” Brian says. “There’s not many operators who run the highways with trucks over a million kilometres because they are not able to stand up to it.”

In 2015 the IVECO ASL Stralis was introduced into city operations and proved a nimble addition, accessing locations the bonneted PowerStars found more difficult. The Stralis was eventually given some of the same depot to depot tasks and have been just as effective in Brian’s estimation. 

Changes in the industry including knee-jerk government edicts, sporadic border enforcements and a deficit of veteran, expert drivers, have placed a burden on OEM designers and engineers to deliver user-friendly vehicles to increase safety and awareness, especially for untried drivers coming into the game. This is where IVECO’s new truck comes into its own.

“The visibility out of the cabin is absolutely brilliant. Some of these checkpoints, like entering into South Australia, on a miserable wet night when your ability to see is cut so short and trucks are backed up out on the highway can make it dangerous,” Brian says. “From a user experience you can’t ask for anything more. The IVECO Highway B-double has everything like the Driver Attention Support, Advanced Emergency Braking, lane keeping and a rollback system. When you have trucks like that in your fleet your insurance premiums go down. It pays for that as well.”

Mindful that most of his interstate drivers are big men, egress to the cabin is important and the IVECO Highway B-double excels in this area, so it is less like scaling a ladder according to Brian. 

“The steps are very easy to use and they need to be when you have men who weigh 100 kilos,” he says. “No one wants anyone to get hurt. Who wants to have a WorkCover claim? I’m finding its very safe to send lads out in it.”

On maximum weight loads, the new trucks are recording an average of 2kms/litre. With a light load it improves to 2.2 to 2.4kms/litre, depending on the conditions and load. 

“I had one max weight single run to Sydney the other night and between Melbourne and Sydney she averaged 2.7km/litre. That’s a huge saving,” Brian says. “Every point of fuel you save, depending on the price of fuel, equates to a saving of $25,000 to $30,000 a year. If you can get two points up on fuel then that’s pretty much the repayments on your truck. That’s why we’re running two of those new trucks at the moment and why there will be another four coming next year.”

The Hi-Tronix 16-speed transmission is equipped with ‘Rocking’ and ‘Creeping’ modes while a hydraulic retarder is essential for the type of miles required of Datspares Transport’s trucks. 

Datspares Transport Clayton depot.

At 14.5 kilometres in length, the Mount Ousley climb is, for 6.6 of those kilometres, steeper in incline than 5 per cent. For another 1.2 kms the grade is steeper in incline than ten per cent. On this run Brian has got no need for exhaust brakes.

“The new retarder system with the new 16-speed gearbox is exceptional. When you’re running on a hill she will hold it back within two or three kilometres of the speed that you set so if you’ve set it at 100 k/p/h it will run out to 102 or 103 going down one of those hills. That’s without touching the brake,” he explains in his lilting Irish brogue. “So you have a lot less wear and tear on your truck and trailers and you don’t have the highway patrol on your back or the RMS. That’s where those things really do come into their own value.”

The other driver aids, which include Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, Electronic Braking System (EBS) with Brake Assistance System (BAS), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Hill Holder, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Advanced Emergency Braking System (AEBS) all make the truck idiot-proof as Brian puts it.

“For anything on the Eastern seaboard and as far as Adelaide, no matter what industry you are in, I reckon she’s probably the best suited truck that you could possibly get,” he says. “It’s foolproof. I can’t find any other fault. The truck has the pulling power to keep the experienced lads happy.”

The finance process was made a breeze by Alex Charilaou at Finlease according to Laura, who notes the drivers have told her they love the truck and the way it handles the workload. 

“The saving on fuel and wear and tear have a direct effect on our bottom line,” she says. “This means we can grow our business faster and continue expanding our fleet. Our customers choose us because we are on time and reliable, so I need our trucks to be the same.”

The eldest of three daughters, Laura is the brains of the operation according to her father. Her siblings, like their mother, work in the medical field.

“As kids we would come into work with dad every Saturday,” Laura recalls. “I have learned almost everything I know about this industry and business in general from him. Spending so much time in a wrecking yard and being one of the guys had an enormously positive effect on us all.”

One of her favourite quotes, — attributed to Thomas Edison — “opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work,” says much of the values instilled by Brian in his girls. 

“I love working with my dad. We both think in a similar way,” Laura says. “On difficult days, and there are many in this business, we are able to figure out the best cause of action together. We trust each other to make the right call, no matter the situation.”

Some of Brian’s staff have been with Datspares Transport for 30 years. The big joke among the team is that if you last two weeks then you’re up for long service leave.

“It means you know how to do your job and there’s no reason we’d be getting rid of you,” Brian notes. “I don’t have a high turnover of staff.”

He says it not to brag, but rather out of admiration for an accomplishment that is, especially in this day and age, hard to ignore. 

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