From Sweden with love

In Scania, Tests41 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 11, 2019

You‘ll go a long way in New Zealand to find a combination that‘s utterly unique, unless you live in Hamilton that is, where local company APL Direct have made a habit of innovation. However, in their latest acquisition, they‘ve truly outdone themselves.

There‘s definitely something in the Waikato soil. It‘s not just about grass, cows, and race horses. As a region that incubates home-grown success, it would surely vie for top spot on a per capita basis. It seems that at some point inspiration followed by innovation and a liberal dose of bravery will wash over you, and a life-changing journey will likely follow. An incredible example, one that goes largely unnoticed by the throng, is APL (Architectural Profiles Ltd), but before we immerse ourselves in their amazing world, let‘s rattle off just a few whose history has a cow bell ring to it: J Swap Contractors, Porter Group, Gallagher, Brian Perry Civil, New Zealand Dairy Group (came together with Kiwi Co-operative Dairies to form Fonterra), Modern Transport Engineers and associated brands, C&R Developments, the list goes on and on.

So, to the APL family of companies. Manufacturers of window/door frame extrusions cut, pressed, coated, and coloured to your liking. Manufacturers also of door and window seals, and plastic extrusion; suppliers of locks, catches, handles, and sheet aluminium. Parent to well-known end customer brands Altherm Window Systems, First Windows and Doors, and Vantage Windows and Doors (see sidebar). Parent as it also happens to one of New Zealand‘s slickest European truck fleets, their logistics arm – APL Direct.

Photo: It‘s slick and bang up to date. Perfectly in synch with the parent company.

Lead the followers
You don‘t get from a standing start in 1971 to the APL we see today by sitting on your hands. Bold, uncompromising steps backed by good homework as well as entrepreneurial self-belief hallmark any such success. Those traits featured highly in the evolution of APL Direct, which began its own journey in 2003. High spec European rigs with sliding roofs, missing diffs and many other tweaks and embellishments have hallmarked the fleet‘s relatively short history, and it‘s likely APL Direct trucks have been the cause of many a strained neck as heads turn quicker than a Damian McKenzie sidestep.

But we‘d guess none have turned heads more than their latest glorious offering to the trucking world: a truck and semi that probably takes their Euro penchant as far as antipodeanly possible. In fact, as soon as you see the gleaming new NTG (New Truck Generation) Scania R450 Highline 4×2 – yes 4×2 – and 2-axle semi, you have to wonder how many times, as it inched down the assembly line in Europe, the question was asked: ‘Are you shur dis truck is a going to da New Zealand?‘ And our guess is right. Driver Dave Lattimore said the truck is constantly attracting attention and comments from other drivers and people in general. “It‘s certainly a bit different, not something you see here at all really. She‘s a real honey.”

Why, what, and why?
Firstly. Why would APL want their own trucks all of a sudden? APL Direct was formed in 2003 as a result of a rapidly expanding broader APL business. Trucks and distribution are not APL‘s core activities; they‘re a manufacturer. But as we know, the reality is you can make the coolest stuff in the world, but if you can‘t get it to the customer on time and in pristine condition, you‘re toast – especially if your customers are your independent product franchisees doing their utmost to put everyone‘s best foot forward. In a way it‘s like Fonterra. They make dairy products from milk, but if member farms had vats overflowing everywhere because no one came to collect the milk, Fonterra‘s credibility would be irreparably tarnished. Mitigating mission critical risks means some companies choose to look after the transportation component of their businesses themselves rather than leave it as part of a service provider‘s multi-customer consolidation. Any cost saving the latter option may offer is small fry compared with costs implicated in a catastrophic service failure. In APL‘s case, delays in their supply chain may lead to hold-ups and cancellations on building sites big and small for things like scheduled compliance coding and contractor arrivals. As such, the flow-on costs of product arriving damaged or late accelerate rapidly. And it‘s not just outbound either. Return logistics, the great black art of supply chains globally, is far less of a hassle for APL. The Direct division clears customer sites of all crating, door bags, and other reusable items, returning them to Hamilton. The environmental and production cost benefits of this is huge. Oh, and done well – which they so do – there‘s advertising.

What a fringe benefit! So that‘s the first ‘why‘ largely dealt to. As for ‘what‘, the Euro truck enclave that is APL dates back to the fleet‘s inception, and the workings of the original transport manager Lionel Killen. Lionel arrived on the scene with a wealth of road transport experience and a rare ‘green fields‘ opportunity to establish a boutique distribution fleet. Of course, being APL, the mandate from company CEO Craig Vincent was centred around the words efficient, best practice, innovative, and immaculate. It was truly a dream opportunity. Lionel did a stellar job, and although he‘s no longer with the company, the Euro brand preference lives on. The uncompromising ethos that underpinned Lionel‘s decisions in the establishment of Direct has been part of the company DNA forever.
“The trucks are an advertisement, not just for what we do, but who we are, our approach, our professionalism,” said Jake Lambert, the current transport manager. Originally APL Direct was a DAF stronghold, but over the years Scania have gained the ascendency, with today‘s 18-strong fleet made up of 13 Scanias, four DAFS, and a sole 4×2 Isuzu flat-deck on metro, overflow, and transfer work between the sites.

Standard configuration has been rigid and dog, fitted with curtainside bodies, or in some cases a concertina curtain system sourced out of Holland that leaves the deck fully exposed when opened. This unique system obviously allows for crane and gantry operations, although a number of the standard curtainside units also have this party trick up their sleeve via an ingenious sliding roof set-up.
The last ‘Why?‘ In a world of rigid and dogs, why, out of the blue, a 4×2 tractor and two 2-axle semi? “Yes, there‘s certainly an element of ‘experiment‘,” said Jake. “We found that often the overflow volumes just exceeded the capacity of the rigids, meaning a trailer had to be taken in order to accommodate a few cases and maybe a pallet. With the semi, we essentially have a 5-axle trailer equivalent with a tractor hooked to the front that has the capacity to take 100 extrusion cases. At this stage it‘s all about evaluation, both from a capacity perspective and manoeuvrability. Our big 5-axle trailers are restricted to line haul because they just can‘t get into the places we deliver to. We think the semi will be like a 5-axle trailer you can get into places.

“We looked at the 4×2 and tractor operation run by the Coke guys next door, and Dave Lattimore [the R450 4×2 driver] is an ex-Coke OD and ran the configuration himself, so he had input too. We also had a look at Kiwi Furniture Movers just around the corner, they run some as well. There‘s no reason we can see why it won‘t work. “We‘ll see. There‘s only one in the plan for now, but all going well you can‘t rule out more. So far the signs look promising.”

Photos: The APL Direct R450 is special on so many more fronts then simply its Euro looks. The highlights package sourced from Acitoinox in Italy, the Primsa Tech coating in the black on the grille, and the Patchell Industries rear light bar are just some of the touches that keep you looking…and looking…and looking.

Oh what a tractor!
“Essentially a 5-axle equivalent with a tractor hooked to the front of it.” In the world of APL, cutting corners is akin to heresy, and although Jake‘s words above seemed so run of the mill, in typical APL style, if you‘re going to do it, do it like no one else.
Dave Lattimore potentially ‘wheels‘ the country‘s most expensive 4×2. A Highline cab with all the bells and whistles, fleet number 35 is a wow-factor truck. Put the blinkers on and you‘d swear you were standing in some European haulage yard, staring at their latest acquisition purchased for work to the four corners of the EU. The truck has ‘extra mile‘ written all over it, not just in mechanical and cab spec, but in the aftermarket touches. There‘s the Prisma Tech coating added to the grille‘s black areas that sparkles in the sun, the Patchell Industries taillight and rear bumper set up – the theme of which is carried through to the rear of the Roadmaster semi. There are the light bars, engraved stainless, and chrome highlights all over the truck, sourced via web-order from Acitoinox in Italy.
“When we first thought about the concept we didn‘t need the truck immediately and so waited for the new model and made it a bit special,” said Jake. Jake‘s a great understater. It‘s a combination that draws you to it. Start looking at the detail and you‘ll be there all day.

Claws and wings
Like the mythical Griffin that appears at the centre of Scania‘s corporate logo, the R450 has claws and wings in spades. Unless we‘re into furniture or metro distribution, Kiwis have tended to tick the dual drive box on the options sheet, although that is showing signs of change nowadays as margins mean the costs implicated in every decision are scrutinised. Interestingly, diff counting at APL Direct hasn‘t required a big abacus for many years and 8x2s and 6x2s are the norm in the Waikato firm, so choosing a 4×2 was very much par for the course. How ironic – and unsurprising – that a non-transport transport company would be so innovative.
Being a single screw there are gains in available thrust, and/ or economy. From reduced weight and mechanical loss, you could expect 3 to 5 percent saving in fuel alone, and on top of that there‘s wear and tear, tyres, and even things like fewer mudguards being ripped off. It all adds up.

With four axles the R450 carries a legal payload of 16,540kgs, which is fine because 100 extrusion cases at say 100kg as an example, comes in at 10 tonne. Bear in mind a load would rarely comprise a net 100 cases, but instead be made up of cases, doors, window seals, locks, outers, and bits and pieces, so you soon get the idea weight‘s not the end game here. Bear in mind also the unit has scales and you could say, as ever, APL Direct have things under control. The only time a wary eye is kept on proceedings is when doing things like backloading sheet aluminium ex Auckland to Hamilton. Residing under the floor is Scania‘s DC13 143 12.7-litre 6-cylinder diesel engine producing 331kW (450hp) and 2350Nm (1735lb/ft torque). It‘s a Euro 5 unit via SCR and fitted with a fixed geometry turbo and Scania‘s extra highpressure common rail system.

Jake said as soon as the Euro 6 units are here they will be switching to them and that will become the standard. “Doing our bit for the environment is important to us.” Peak torque is present from 1000 to 1300rpm and at that point power is sitting on about 325kW (435hp), hitting its top number at 1900rpm. At the crossover sweet spot there‘s an unlikely worst-case scenario of over 14hp/tonne at maximum GCM. The upshot is, if you see Dave in the mirrors, you‘ll probably see him a lot closer shortly and it won‘t have much to do with him, it‘ll be Griff just loafing along.

Behind the engine is Scania‘s GRS905R Opticruise 14-speed transmission with the 5-stage retarder. The Opticruise comes with a clutch for enhanced finesse when manoeuvring at low speeds. It‘s a ‘clutch on demand‘ system and is a handy thing in Dave‘s workaday life. The front axle is Scania‘s AMS640S rated at 7500kg, and rear is an R780 rear axle at 11,500kg capacity with a 2.59:1 final ratio.
On the suspension front there‘s air at both ends. The for‘ard set up is air and shock, and aft there‘s a two-spring arrangement supporting two bags with shocks. Steer tyres are 385/65 R22.5, and 275/70 R22.5 furnish the drive.

Aboard the mythical beast
After a decade on week-about Auckland /BOP set runs, Dave is loving the variation the new set-up is delivering. Having said that, our two-day adventure comprised a trip down memory lane with a rock around the BOP, starting in Tauranga and going as far east as Whakatane, and then into Rotorua and home, followed the next day by a nine-drop milk round in the City of Sails.
We met Dave at APL Direct‘s Tasman Road yard in Hamilton at a respectably early hour. Sitting in the driver‘s seat tending to the morning admin, Dave told us about his journey at the Scania‘s helm.

“Constant Auckland just buggered me. I don‘t think it‘s going to get any better; they‘re scratching away there at Takanini putting in an extra lane but there‘s a thousand houses and god knows what else being built just south of them. It‘s not going to improve. I just got sick of watching my life tick away parked on the motorway. “Jake asked me about this one, having done the Coke and that, and so I put my name in the hat. It‘s bloody fantastic. Being overflow I go almost anywhere. Wanganui, Hawke‘s Bay, Auckland, BOP; I‘ve been to Christchurch twice. I just love it, eh. What a beautiful machine to do it in.” Dave then commanded the R450 to move via a twist of the wand toggle and brush of the throttle and the truck glided out of the pristine DC and into the early morning traffic. Flicking gears around as it saw fit, its master navigated a path out to SH1 south.

Photo: It‘s town and country sort of world for the Scania. Paraparas one week and turning on to Hugo Johnston Drive in Penrose the  next.

The Scania‘s a health and safety manager‘s dream come true for the obvious reasons most of you will already know, but trucks like these have a huge capacity to contribute significantly to the ‘health‘ in health and safety. The Highline cab is almost a therapeutic space where one can watch the ‘silly‘ world go about its silly things. Seriously though, Dave‘s only a couple of years from Winston‘s wonder-card and the Scania will help ensure he arrives fit and fresh. Delivering freight in pristine condition to the customer has always been a truck‘s strong point; delivering their driver in pristine condition to retirement hasn‘t.

Gross weight was 28 tonne and on the Waikato Expressway toward the SH1 and 29 junction the Scania was completely at home, meaning its European home. This is the truck for this road. Looking out the window, had it not been for steering wheel locations and road position, you‘d have thought you were trundling through rural Germany or the like. Decibels on the noise meter sat in the mid-60s at 90km/h, rising only slightly to 67-68dB on chip seal surfaces or raging downhills.
Into the Kaimais and you‘d like to say it was all on, but it wasn‘t really. The R450 got down to 44km/h in 9th at 1200rpm on the steepest pinch before regaining speed numbers in the 50s. In-cab noise – no different.

Photo: It doesn‘t take long before the rationale behind the semi‘s king-pin placement materialises in front of you. 

Dave said he lets the truck do its thing and doesn‘t interfere with gear selection at all. The Opticruise has three modes, Power, Standard, and Economy. In the truck‘s line of work there‘s no need to take it out of economy, so day-to-day is a low rev torque-fest. As is always the case the Euro OEMs have the whole AMT thing pretty sorted and the Scania‘s lightening quick shifts and gear skipping was smooth and silky. “Why would you interfere? It‘s got it all under control, I‘m just here to guide it along,” Dave laughed.

It‘s a fascinating watch from our perspective. There‘s no ‘old dog new tricks‘ label anywhere near Mr Lattimore, we tell you. When it comes time to let the Scania go in an eon or two, the new owners will likely comment on how the pedal rubbers are barely worn. That‘s because watching Dave at work is like watching a teenager on an Xbox or PS4. It‘s all happening on the smart wheel. Even descending the Kaimais, Mamakus, or ‘Bombers‘ the day after, he simply adjusts the settings on the descending controls mounted low in the middle of the tiller, and lets the truck determine the best tools to use to put a hold on things.

Photos: There‘s no disputing the Scania‘s nimble abilities. Dave‘s now used to Griff‘s long tail (semi over-hang).

The eye of the needle
The number one goal that drove the new truck‘s genesis was getting a lot into a small space, meaning getting a lot of truck into tight customer sites for unloading. It‘s interesting to note at this junction the R450 4×2 and semi combo isn‘t the only experiment in the APL Direct operation, and lurking somewhere in the forest of aluminium extrusion cases is an R series 8×2 rigid with a 10.2m deck and a rear steering axle – but that‘s for another day.

Physics is physics and it‘s a fact that you can‘t get a 4.3 x 2.55 x 16.7m cube into a hole that‘s smaller. But, we‘re a clever creature when it suits us, and the geometry around the Scania attests to that, with the drive configuration, wheelbase, airbags, rear overhang and kingpin settings on the semi all contributing to give the Griffin and its tail contortionist qualities.

For two days we watched Dave and Griff turn, twist, squeeze, reverse, lift and lower their way into all manner of places. There were places with steep and raked entrances, ones with long drives in and back-out, and others with a long backin and drive out. All amidst cars, trucks, pushbikes, people walking dogs (and visa versa), scooters, motorbikes and almost anything and anyone you can think of. You can see why Jake, Dave, and the rest of the brains trust behind the machine left the semi kingpin setting forward at 560mm.
“Yes, it would have looked nice to have the semi‘s front wall up closer to the cab fairings but we knew that would be asking for trouble,” said Jake. Watching the driveway rake at our first stop of the two days in Tauranga, we said ‘Amen‘ to that. Turning circle on the 3.6m wheelbase 4×2 is a staggering 6934mm at the kerb and 7703mm at the cab‘s extremity. Add to that the placement of the axles on the semi with a rear overhang of 3890mm and it‘s easy to see that in the right hands this unit will go into some pretty awkward places. “You do have to watch that tail,” said Dave. “You can‘t take it too cheaply, you have to make sure you know what‘s going on around you.”

It‘s well worth a note at this point on the investment in image and the hidden payback it so often yields. If Kate Middleton dropped her eggs en route from supermarket to car you‘d hear every man for miles running to assist. If Mrs Brown did, you wouldn‘t. Likewise, some of the places Dave has to put the unit into may require a slight delay in the lives of others. What we noticed was people oohing and aahing at the Scania‘s presence, happy to sit and look at the majestic Swedish machine or take a selfie rather than toot or moan about any inconvenience. We even had part of a film crew who were busy scoping out a location in Penrose walk up and say, “Nice truck” as Dave backed down the length of a poky street beside them.

Photo: Dave‘s an old hand at distribution work – doesn‘t matter if the aluminium is in the form of Coca Cola cans or window and door frames, he‘s your man!

Out in the wild
The Scania‘s got the full bag of tricks when it comes to safety and tech, and it‘s just as well, because with the network in its current state, both man and machine could well need it at some point. “It‘s going to be an interesting winter,” said Dave, in regard to the level of surface melt and degradation on the state highways. “When those first decent rains come…it‘s going to be very interesting.”
And that‘s a comment from a naturally cautious 63-year-old man with a plethora of experience behind the wheel. As a truck driver he‘s probably in one of the best places he can be. Scania is one of the big seven in Europe and it‘s been game-on there for as long as anyone can remember in terms of the tech-led safety assault. As such the R450 comes with disc brakes, EBS, ABS, Adaptive Cruise with Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB).

There‘s hill hold, and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with associated traction management. It wants for nothing by today‘s yardsticks. In fact the truck gave us a wee demo of its cautious nature on the way home from Rotorua back at the SH29 junction when it detected a car it thought wasn‘t getting into the right turn lane in a timely enough fashion and slowed things up until it was happy. It was an interesting experience and served as a peephole into the future when autonomous vehicles and intuitive humans live together. As the more laissez-faire members of the union we may need to up our level of vigilance in case a member of the other team decides they need to slow, or even stop. Scania‘s hydraulic retarder and its formidable braking power needs no introduction and the latest R4100D model in the new Scanias has increased braking power at 4100Nm and freewheels when not in use, further improving fuel consumption.

Photos: A typical mezzanine floor set up with a few APL‘isms‘ like in-deck pins to stop the crates moving. (Stacked at rear.)

“Originally there wasn‘t a wand for the Opticruise and retarder,” said Dave. “The retarder worked via brake blending off the pedal and it was just too harsh at times with all the stop-start we do in metro areas. Fine on the highway, but not so good in town. We had them fit the more traditional wand and give me more control back. Since then it‘s been fantastic.” In regard to fuel consumption, the APL Direct truck – although only 15,000km young at the time of testing – has averaged an impressive 3.29kpl (9.28mpg). Goodness knows what the number will be once she‘s freed up a bit more. It‘s worth noting the NTG Scanias have won the Green Truck Award in Europe more than once already for the 13-litre motor derivative. It‘s not hard to see why.

Directional control and brakes are faultless, and like the Volvo last month, the Scania was quite soft in the ride at times – certainly softer than other Scanias we‘ve tried – again, especially at roundabouts, severe turn-in points and the like. It‘s one area the combination of a quintessential Euro set-up on Kiwi roads might be mildly antagonistic, with Dave saying the slumps and depressions on roads like the Paraparas are sometimes large enough to swallow one side of the tractor entirely.

“She‘ll take a dive on one side down into it. The first time I encountered it I thought ‘hell‘ but I‘m used to it now. Once you‘re aware of it it‘s just business as normal. Some roads are goat tracks; that‘s just how it is, and you drive accordingly.” There‘s no disputing the fact that we‘re with a Scania groupie. The R450 is the third Scania Dave‘s had in his decade with the firm, starting initially on the DAF and then working progressively through two Scanias and then on to this latest machine.

“They‘re just a bloody nice machine you know? Quiet, comfy, they perform well and I‘ve never ever been let down by one. I‘ve never had one stop on me. I think they‘re it.” Dave came from a P400 to this machine and he said it‘s a whole new world, believing the bar‘s been lifted considerably. “The comfort and visibility are amazing. They‘ve improved visibility at intersections looking past the mirrors. I mean, look at it. It‘s next level really isn‘t it?”

Vanilla-free right to the end
The APL Direct R450 certainly isn‘t your regular order for either the truck or trailer supplier. “It‘s been a project. There‘s been a lot to work through and discuss. There‘s been input from many on our team and Andrew Lane at CablePrice in Rotorua was great throughout the process,” said Jake. “We‘re in a privileged position where we can put a trial unit on the road and see if there‘s a future in it, so why wouldn‘t you?”

Like the truck, there‘s certainly not a lot that‘s vanilla about the trailer either. Built for APL‘s specific tasks, the 12.9m (12.6m internal) 2-axle unit has a unique look, with mezzanine floors and placements in the deck for pins of varying length that keep the cases happy in transit. “It‘s something we do and it was the final straw in solving in-transit issues with the cases. The pins just keep them snug and prevent any possibility of movement,” said Regan Silcock, transport coordinator at APL Direct.

The trailer rides on 19.5” BPW eight stud disc braked axles and BPW Airlight-2 suspension. 265/70R 19.5 XTE2 tyres on Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels complete the look. The semi is festooned with access aids and there are ladders, giving Dave the ability to safely breast the loft if needed. It‘s the third unit Roadmaster have built for APL Direct and Jake said its planning and construction went exceptionally well, working closely with Roadmaster account manager Mark Walley. At this time the semi doesn‘t have the sliding roof that allows gantry unloading, although Jake hasn‘t ruled out a retrofit in the event the concept proves successful.

So much on the move with this unit. An all-new NTG Scania on the road in New Zealand that looks like it‘s caught the wrong boat from home. A change in traditional configuration from the APL Direct norm. A change for driver Dave Lattimore. There are evaluations occurring on every front. What hasn‘t changed though, is APL continuing to push their business boundaries, exploring new options and opportunities; something that‘s them to the core, something very Kiwi.

Will it work? Who knows, it‘s early days, although the signs are all good. The truck itself certainly works on every imaginable front – performance, comfort, safety, marketing and image. Dave Lattimore, its driver, is an old-schooler, not prone to animation on things like trucks, but his new ride certainly does more than draw a smile from the face under the cheesecutter cap. “Yeah, she‘s a bloody honey all right. I mean, what is there not to like?”
Exactly Dave. What is there?


Scania NTG – Next Generation Truck
The release of the new Scania range in New Zealand occurred at last year‘s Fieldays at Mystery Creek. The latest of Europe‘s big seven to release their more contemporary wares here, it leaves only DAF still sitting on an older model, although their time approacheth rapidly, from all accounts. Harking back to a point we touched on last month in the Baillie Volvo FH test, the Scania‘s arrival had been hugely anticipated on account of the Griffin‘s part in our Euro truck history over the past half-century. Add to that the numerous awards it‘s added to the company‘s trophy room, including the prestigious International Truck of the Year in 2017 for the S Series, and the multiple Green Truck Awards, and it‘s no wonder customers were champing to get at it.

The NTG trucks are the result of a NZ$3bn cost, and four and a half thousand man-years (combined manhours) worth of development time. Visually the trucks are an evolution, and certainly unmistakeably Scania to the core. It‘s a funny thing, but the shock of a new Scania‘s look is always short-lived, such is the skill with which they link the latest offering to its forbearers. By comparison, the aesthetic adjustment phase of the FH Volvo continues for many, even though uptake has been enviable. The new Scania is safer in a crash and slipperier through the air than its predecessor, even though they present slightly ‘harsher‘ and blockier lookswise. One thing that is interesting is the ‘happy face‘ look that seems to be in vogue in European truck cab design rooms currently.

The new family comprises S, R, G, P, L, Crew Cab, and XT construction spec. The S cab is the ‘Opulence Prime‘ of the range, with a flat as a pancake floor and 2070mm standing room. The big cabs are higher than their predecessor but the dash position has been lowered to enhance visibility. On that tangent, there‘s been a huge amount of work put