Celebrations don’t come any bigger!

In News12 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineDecember 22, 2021

The first Scania S770 2.3m sleeper cab built in the world.

In hindsight, 2021 may just have been the perfect year for Waikato-based Alexander Group to celebrate 50 years in business. If any year exemplified the tenacity required to reach half a hundred years in the game, it was 2021.

The company’s official birthday party, scheduled for November, would have tied in nicely with group founder John Alexander’s induction into the Road Transport Hall of Fame. But Covid-19 scuppered the party – for now – and as with other inductees into the Hall of Fame this year, John’s took place via the online presentation enjoyed by thousands nationwide.

However, saying all was not lost is understatement in the extreme. Underlying both events was a new truck, and not just any new truck. The world’s first Scania S770, 2.3m sleeper cab tractor was being prepared away from John Alexander’s ever-vigilant eyes by the Alexander family and the team at Scania New Zealand. Originally, it was to be unveiled and presented to him at the group birthday celebration bash, recognising the legacy he and wife Cecile created.

Deon Stephens, Scania New Zealand Sales Director, hands the keys for Wiltsdown Chief over to Alexander Group company founders, John and Cecile Alexander.

With the big celebration postponed until 2022, the truck’s reveal took on a far more intimate feel last Friday on the shoreline of Lake Karapiro, among family, long-time friends and work associates, and senior staff from Scania New Zealand.

“It’s been a mission getting this built without Dad knowing,” laughed group fleet and logistics manager Rod Alexander on the lead-up to the event. “He’s been as suspicious as hell! The questions have been getting harder and harder the closer we’ve got.”

Thankfully, the morning showers rolled away on the day and the sun shone for the 12-noon handover. John and Cecile were certainly surprised, and the crowd burst into laughter when John said, “I’m a bit overwhelmed, to be honest, and I can’t believe this is the present after 50 years. But I also have a feeling I might be paying for it.”

On hand from Scania New Zealand was managing director Rafael Alvarenga who acknowledged John’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 2021, citing that as a measure of his importance in the industry and he also noted Scania’s “pride in having a commercial association with the Alexander Group.”

Also present among the Scania delegation was national sales director Deon Stephens.

“The Scania and Alexander association goes back all but 30 years. John has always been an innovator, constantly looking to improve efficiency. He was the first person in New Zealand to spec an Opticruise-fitted transmission when getting rid of the gear lever was a big thing. Today 99% of sales come with Opticruise.”

After the official handover, group chief executive Hayley Alexander emphasised the importance of family in the business, both in terms of the Alexanders and the wider business family.

(From Left) Deon Stephens –  Scania New Zealand Sales Director, Hayley Alexander – Alexander Group Chief Executive, Rod Alexander – Alexander Group Fleet and Logistics manager, John Alexander – Alexander Group Founder and Director, Rafael Alvarenga – Scania New Zealand Managing Director, Gary Leitch – Scania New Zealand National Sales Manager , Damon Smith – Scania New Zealand Auckland Sales.

Again, the easy and good-humoured nature of the event came to the fore. “After fifty years generation two are well in place,” she said. “Our precious generation three are just over there in the wings, and we’re all still talking.

“Our celebration theme of ‘Loyalty is a Round Trip’ acknowledges all the staff in the company’s journey,” and, turning to her parents, “I know this truck’s been a bit secret squirrel, but it acknowledges everything you’ve built as a legacy for us all.”

Rod Alexander spoke of his immense respect for how his father acquitted himself, saying that even when his dad seemed to be getting the thin end of the wedge in business, he rose above it, never giving time to those whose dealings appeared less honourable.

“It’s not just about shiny wheels; it’s about how you hold yourself and what your personal standards are. Dad’s been inspirational in that regard especially.”

He then told attendees the truck’s name, Wiltsdown Chief, draws on the region in which John grew up.

“My great grandfather, Walter Alexander, arrived from England, buying land in the rural area behind Lichfield up toward Tokoroa. He said it looked like Wiltshire in England where he’d come from and so he called it Wiltsdown. It’s where Dad grew up.”

Both Rod and Hayley acknowledged the truck’s driver, Trevor Harcourt, emphasising there was no one better to take the wheel. Trevor worked in the business in the early years and returned in later years, hugely respected as a driver by not just his employers, but his company and industry peers.

A well deserved family ‘pressie’ for an exemplary half century in a tough industry

“They’re a great company to work for, a great family,” said Trevor post the handover. “Everyone is included. They’re just as comfortable talking to the boys in the smoko room as they in a boardroom. They do a lot of things they don’t have to do in the way of incentives and just everyday generosity.”

The last words on the day were, of course, John’s. “We were supposed to have the big party last month, but that was put off. Leading up to that, and then since the postponement, I’ve been thinking a lot about the history of our journey. You know, we’ve had a long journey and it’s been tough at times, but we’ve persevered and just carried on. It’s like I’ve always said, ‘When things get tough, you’ve just got to get up and go again. I’d like to acknowledge everyone here who are part of the family of this company. That includes the grandchildren also – you’ve been part of this journey, too. I really appreciate you all. Thank you for all your help.”

‘She’s all yours!’ John Alexander presents the keys for Wiltsdown Chief to driver Trevor Harcourt

The Wiltsdown Chief!

Fleet number AL50 is the first Scania S770 6×4 2.3m sleeper cab built in the world. The unit was assembled at Scania’s special vehicles plant in Laxå, Sweden. According to Scania New Zealand sales director Deon Stephens, the first S770 2.3 sleeper cab rolling down the line in 6×4 and right-hand-drive trim with a white cab and yellow chassis, certainly created some chat in Sweden and beyond.

“It’s not the first one to hit the road here, Rod’s list of ‘to-dos’ was too long for that, but it was definitely the first one built.”

Under the new 2.3m sleeper cab is Scania’s iconic V8 in its latest Euro-6 incarnation, delivering a mind-numbing 566kW (770hp) at 1800rpm and 3183Nm (2348lb/ft) at 1500rpm. Behind that sits the company’s 14-speed Opticruise AMT transmission and proprietary rear end, with the whole truck riding on air suspension.


“It has everything,” says Deon, “every safety feature, including active emergency braking, adaptive cruise-control, lane departure warning, and vulnerability alert (side warning systems). There’s a fully emissions-compliant 7” twin vertical exhaust system, additional light bars top and bottom, and colour-coded sun visor and opaque stone guard. Inside, there’s Scania’s V8 custom leather interior, fridge, TV, and additional storage.”

One feature on the truck that will pique the interest of Scania boffins everywhere is the cab side skirts.

“When it arrived, it had the standard skirts,” said Rod Alexander, “although the 2.3 cab went right to the back of them, you couldn’t tell by looking that it was a 2.3m cab. I wanted people to notice the difference, so I got Willie Malcolm to make a new set. He’s made them from aluminium and all the bracketing is glued on the inside, giving the outside a perfectly smooth finish. He’s done an amazing job.


Superb craftmanship in both the cab side-extenders, by Willie Malcolm, and the Exhaust system by Broshmik Trucks.

“Likewise, the exhausts and bracketing, all by Broshmik Trucks, the workmanship there is stunning. There is a couple of things we want to do as finishing touches, but it’s come up superb.”

It would be fair to say that between knowing what it is, who it’s honouring, who’s driving it, the extras and attention to detail, and of course the 98 marker lights on the truck and 64 on the trailer (thanks for counting, Marcus), the Wiltsdown Chief cannot avoid a life of attention.


“I’m looking forward to it,” said Trevor Harcourt. “I’ve driven American gear all my life, but this is a whole new learning experience, and as I say, I am quite looking forward to it actually. I want to have a week or two to familiarise myself and then get the Scania driver trainer to come and show me all the ins and outs. There’s just so much to these. You can’t learn everything they can do on your own.”