In Driven to Succeed, Scania, February 202112 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 28, 2021

On the New Zealand Trucking Facebook page last September, we shared some of the first images and footage of Black Panther. It was one of the most popular posts we‘ve had. But the young owner of this menacing Scania also had a story to tell. So we climbed aboard the S730‘s cab and hit the road.

It‘s an overcast Auckland day, and I‘m glad Black Panther is living up to its name. In the New Zealand Trucking office, photographing a white truck against a grey sky is the stuff of nightmares. But the grey day does create an opportunity to get a taste of Black Panther‘s famous lighting fit-out. Owner-driver Raj Sandhu, though, is loving every minute of telling me about his pride and joy – and its biggest talking point, its lights. “How many? Ah, heaps…” Raj says with a laugh. “And there are heaps more I want to put on, we ran out of lights.” Between John Blackburn and the team at Roadmaster Trailers, and 24/7 Auto Electrical Ltd, the Scania was wired up for lights and sound (to the tune of 40 different air horn melodies) before Raj hit the road with it in September 2020. Sharp-eyed readers may also have noticed the dropped visor and stone guard modelled on Greg ‘Camo‘ Camenzind‘s 2019-2020 Top Truck-winning S650.

Photo: Raj named his company MGR Transport. “If you translate it into Punjabi it stands for ‘My God is saviour‘. I just like to do no harm.”

As clean and shiny as Raj can keep it, this Scania certainly gets its fair share of attention. Raj ordered the truck in August 2019 when he joined the TAA team. “I‘m a big fan of Scania trucks, but TAA was all about American trucks. So, I asked Andrew [Faire, manging director of TAA] if I can put a Scania into the fleet and he said, ‘Sure, no problem with a Scania‘.” As we pull out of TAA‘s depot in Wiri, Raj quickly settles into a relaxed driving style, the big Scania‘s V8 lazily burbling away beneath us, and he gets into his story. At 27 years old, Raj has had a fair bit of experience within the industry. He began trucking seven years ago and joined TAA in August 2019. Before that, he worked at Big Chill for almost three years doing runs to most of the company‘s depots before moving into dispatch. “I‘d get bored on a set run so they‘d changed me around as much as they could. Then, because I‘d done all the runs to all the depots, they asked me to work in the office. The Big Chill dispatch is totally different, so it‘s easier for them to move their drivers into supervisor roles,” he explains. Raj says this gave him a good perspective on both sides of the transport business, but he began to miss the open road. When his manager left Big Chill, Raj decided to do so too.

Photo: It may be all-black, but there‘s no missing Black Panther after dark

“He‘s a friend of Andrew‘s, and he said TAA was on the hunt for drivers and would help put me in my own truck, which I‘d always told him was my dream,” Raj says. Driving through Mangere, we pass a parked-up Foodstuffs Scania R500. “That‘s my old truck, from my stint at Foodstuffs before I joined Big Chill. “I came to New Zealand as a student for a bit of independence. I started working at a farm in Glenbrook, where I stayed for about six months while I got my licence sorted. VTNZ said I could go for a class 5 off my Indian licence, and my first driving job was driving a class 4 truck for an owner-driver. I worked for him two days a week and went to college the other three days in Auckland.” Raj studied for a business diploma, which he finished in December 2015. However, his career was always going to be in trucks. It‘s an interest that was sparked the good oldfashioned way – following in family footsteps. “My dad is a farmer back in India, and I used to help him on the farm, but my big brother used to lease passenger buses, and my uncle drives a Mercedes truck in Germany. He‘s the only Indian fella at his company,” Raj says with a laugh. “I‘d talk to them, hear their stories, and I decided I wanted to become a truck driver. In India, it‘s not a good thing to be a driver. Truckers struggle there; there are not enough facilities, trucks can only go 60kph max, the journeys are long.” Since he also had family in North America, Raj decided New Zealand was the best place to go for true independence and a life on the road. And to his credit, he‘s done well here on his own. “My family are very proud. They were very happy when I sent them the photos of the truck,” he says.

Photo: No wasted opportunity for some lighting…

Photo: Raj gives his rig a once-over.

We‘re told Black Panther is the highest-spec Scania in the country and Raj is grateful to Scania New Zealand account manager Blair Stapleton for guiding him through the buying process, and to TAA for helping him get the finance. At his disposal, Raj has double fridges, a microwave, a coffee machine, TV, an extendable bed, fold-out table and a sound system with subwoofers discreetly mounted in the rear lockers. Among a range of other features, there‘s also adjustable air suspension underneath and a full complement of airbags inside. “It has everything except lane-departure warning. I didn‘t want that, even though it‘s a safety feature, because it doesn‘t work well on New Zealand‘s roads.” That‘s a comment we‘ve heard before. The current mileage on Black Panther is 54,000km, so Raj is still breaking it in. He prefers a ‘manual loaded, auto empty‘ approach. “Empty in manual, it‘ll spin the wheels,” he says, adding that at 50t, he can maintain 42kph up the Taihape deviation. Raj says he‘s driven most brands of trucks (with the notable exception of a Peterbilt) and Scanias are still his favourite. “Scanias feel more stable, and you can drive this truck the whole day and still be fresh. That‘s good when you spend more time in the truck than at home,” he says. On that point, this young Aucklander prefers to take his 24-hour breaks outside of Auckland if he can, in the cab instead of motels.

Photo: Raj Sandhu‘s attitude is one of hard work in a relaxed style.

“It‘s easy with a fridge, microwave and coffee machine on board, as well as a TV with Netflix. I always try to park by the sea when I am out of town,” he says. If he is home in the big smoke over a Sunday, Raj serves food at the Sikh Temple in Papatoetoe. He also enjoys doing his bit for the younger generation. “Where I live, there‘s a young family with young children. Their dad drives trucks too, but since Covid-19, they don‘t go out with him. On the weekends we let them hop in the truck; they enjoy that, who knows they could be our future drivers.” Raj describes his journey over the past seven years as “interesting”, starting with short haul from Hamilton to Auckland and then Hamilton to Tauranga and back, then moving onto metro deliveries with Foodstuffs, before line haul at Big Chill and now TAA. “All my mates say I‘ve done a good job putting this truck on the road, and sometimes I don‘t even know the people that approach me about it,” he says. “I‘m in trucking for the passion. Growing up, I never thought about where I‘d be in the future. If I get an opportunity, I take it – but once a driver, always a driver,” he says.