Western Star trucks deliver for OzWide Freight

OzWide Freight runs a dedicated general freight linehaul service between Brisbane and the far north Queensland. With ultimate reliability as the primary requirement, a fleet of Western Star B-double prime movers is relied upon to keep the operation trekking true.

In a similar vein to many medium-sized trucking outfits, OzWide Freight was founded by one man with one truck.

The year was 2005 and an enterprising Luke Ashton decided he was through with managing trucking companies for other people and set his sights on building an operation of his own.

“A friend of mine encouraged me to make the transition which sort of gave me the push I needed to have a red-hot crack at it,” Luke recalls. “His ongoing support was a great asset to me at the start and I kicked off with one truck that I solely drove for the first two years.”

Luke’s formative years of the business involved a lot of hard yards, but he worked diligently to keep the dream alive and the reward can be seen in the thriving enterprise he owns today.

“In the early years my wife returned to work to help make ends meet and I would often have our bubs with me in the truck and be changing nappies on the side of the road. Back then OH&S (occupational health and safety) wasn’t as strict, whereas these days you would almost certainly be denied entry to customers’ sites if you had children in the truck.”

A big turning point for the business presented in 2009 when Luke took on a new client with a start-up business venture which quickly grew in size with a corresponding increase in demand for freight transportation.

It was a demand that the by then, well-established OzWide Freight was ready to fulfill and the two companies forged a long-term connection that continues to this day.

Another big milestone for the business came in 2012 with the move into its first depot. However, such was the pace of growth at the time it was outgrown almost immediately.

“We initially rented 120 square metres of shed space and within four weeks we were needing 1,000 square metres. At that point I was still driving but I could see that my driving days were numbered as the size of the business now demanded my full-time attention,” Luke says.

“Around that time we had a big influx of new work with a number of interstate transport companies asking us to do local distribution and storage for them. From that we got additional contacts and leads which we chased up and it all kept growing from there.”

Further to this, Luke acknowledges the tireless efforts of his State Manager, Michael Miller, and Warehouse Manager, Steve Clarke, who have been instrumental in expanding the business over the last seven years.

“Steve was working one day a week for me back then and it got to the point where he came onboard fulltime managing the warehousing side of the business,” Luke says.

After the first depot had been well and truly outgrown, the company moved to a new premise at Richlands, then sometime later business expansion forced another move to Loganlea. The third – and Luke hopes final – move was to the current site at Crestmead.

“This site has plenty of space for where we are at now and I want to stay put here,” he says. “The current size of the business is ideally manageable and enables us to provide the high level of customer service that our clients expect. We are all contactable by phone at all times which means we can provide a personalised service; this becomes harder if a company grows too big.”

Luke says that most of the company’s growth has come from referrals from existing customers and from people seeing the trucks with their striking Aussie-themed colour scheme out on the road.

While the company’s own trucks largely run along the east coast of Queensland and around Brisbane, OzWide also specialises in general freight carried by subcontractors between Brisbane and Perth.

The brainchild of Michael Miller, this work has built up over time to become a reliable revenue source for the company.

“Mick wanted to have a crack at the Perth market and it’s become an important part of the business,” Luke continues, adding “we’re now sending out one to two roadtrains a week to the west.”

He is quick to stress that he has no desire to run his own trucks across the paddock, saying that operating them in Queensland enables everything to be managed in the best possible way.

Over the years as the business grew a new depot was established in Cairns and one at Townsville is due to be opened in October 2019.

“In addition to our depot in Cairns, a Townsville depot will soon be operational,” Luke says. “We see these as strategic areas of growth for the business. Our aim is to replicate the Brisbane operation in both these cities.

“Having our own depots up north enables our drivers to unload late at night with the freight then have it ready to be delivered to customers early the next morning. It’s all about improving the service we offer to our clients.”

Luke says the people factor within the business is the critical yardstick in determining what can be achieved and where.

“You can have the freight volume to make a new depot viable but you also have to have the right people running it to make it successful,” he explains.

“We have a good core group of people working for us and I don’t want things to get out of hand so we’re all stressed out. The way things are we can all have a life and enjoy what we do, that’s how I want to keep it.”

Not surprisingly, it’s also the people factor that plays a big part in Luke’s decision to exclusively run Western Star prime movers, which are distributed through Penske Commercial Vehicles, as the B-double linehaulers between Brisbane and Cairns.

Equally important is the durability of the trucks and the extended warranty on the engines which Luke describes as the best in the business.

“I’ve been dealing with three sales reps since I’ve been buying Western Star trucks. I bought the first one through Joey Cahill who is a friend of mine and the last three I have bought through Kurt Dein who has also been absolutely brilliant to deal with,” he says.

“Kurt’s aftersales commitment to this company means the world to us; we can ring him anytime we have an issue and he’s right onto it without fail.

“He also knows Western Star trucks inside out – his family ran a Western Star dealership at Port Macquarie where he rose through the ranks after starting as an apprentice mechanic.”

Luke also appreciates the way Kurt goes out of his way to keep OzWide informed on the progress of the new trucks from conception to delivery.
“He gives us a schedule within a week after we sign the sales form, which means we can follow the truck’s progress right through to when we receive it,” he says.

As for what he likes most about the product, Luke says the single most important factor to him is the one-million kilometre/five-year engine warranty which gives him peace of mind should any unexpected issues arise.

A recent incident proved to him that the extended warranty was worth its weight in gold.

“You just can’t beat the warranty,” he enthuses. “One of our Western Stars recently clocked 800,000km without missing a beat. Shortly after that, we had an engine issue that could have been costly. The warranty covered everything including the cost of the tow truck and it was back on the road again in four days which is pretty good considering what they had to fix and replace.

“In another example of Kurt going above and beyond the call of duty, he liaised with the dealer in Townsville to ensure the entire repair operation was done as efficiently as possible and regularly reported back to me.”

Penske has expanded its company-owned dealer network to include Mackay, Townsville and Cairns, key locations in which OzWide Freight operates.

It meets with Luke’s endorsement.

“It’s great to know the same dealer, Penske Power Systems, which sells the truck is able to support us with service and repairs in these locations where we are frequently passing through,” he says.

OzWide employs a full-time mechanic who services the trucks at 30,000km intervals while every third service is done by Penske technicians.

As for how long he plans to own each Western Star, Luke says he has a basic five-year plan which can be altered either way, depending on the truck.

Two of the newest Western Stars in the fleet are 5800 Constellations, along with two 4800FXBs and an older 5800SS.

All feature Detroit 14.8-litre DD15 engines producing 560hp (418kW) at 1,800rpm and peak torque of 1,850lbft (2,510Nm) of torque between 1,100 and 1,400rpm.

The newest pair feature an 18-speed Ultrashift Plus automated manual transmission (AMT) while the others run 18-speed manual shifters.

OzWide Freight’s 5800FE sports a downswept exhaust for optimum aerodynamic performance, while the newest 5800SS has the vertical exhaust stacks.

And both 5800s feature a set-back front axle that provides optimum weight distribution in B-double applications.

Luke says the steeply raked snout of the 5800 provides better visibility when driving in local traffic areas compared with the square and relatively horizontal bonnet line of the 4800FXB.

He also reckons the ride in the 5800 is superior.

Overall, for OzWide’s linehaul B-double application, Luke believes the Western Stars are the ideal choice.

“The drivers love them, they are a solid and reliable truck with an unrivalled engine warranty, and the aftersales service and support are second to none,” he says. “I don’t think you could expect anything more than that.”

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