Ticket to ride Part 1

In June 2023, Tests17 MinutesBy Dave McCoidJuly 10, 2023

Iveco’s flagship S-Way has arrived on our shores and stands to make quite an impact in the market. Another player in Europe’s ‘big seven’, it certainly throws a good amount of accelerant on an already white-hot market here. We headed up our busiest linehaul pathway with one of the jewels in the new line-up’s crown.

Here it was all over again… actually, before we even start, is it right to mention an opposition model at the start of a road test? I have to really, because I call it Cascadia syndrome. The phenomenon of standing in front of a truck you’ve only seen in, and contextualise with, faraway places. A truck you wish we had at home, one you knew would complete an OEM’s offering here, allowing it to put its best foot forward. To really have a go on equal terms.

Here we were, standing in Taihape at 4.30am on a foggy, autumnal morning among the linehaul fraternity, looking at just such a truck – Iveco’s flagship S-Way in 6×4 AS High-roof tractor form. One of the continent’s ‘big seven’, missing in action down here since arriving on the global scene in 2019, it felt weird. It always feels weird. We looked at it, and it sat there idling, looking back at us. This wasn’t fatigue-induced hallucination; right here in the ‘Gummy’ capital itself, we could reach out and touch an S-Way.

Humble old Taihape will go down as the place we first encountered a properly working Iveco S-Way in Godzone. Yes, we’ve been to the launch here and the media drive day in good old ‘Straya’ – the Aussies even let us go for a burn around the AARC test circuit in Victoria. But, at last, here was one with proper Desert Road overnight grime on it, and a revenue-earning load pinned to the fifth wheel. S-Way had at last begun to write its Kiwi story. It was really cool … in the Fonzie sense, not just the frosty one.

This gig was garden fresh too, far newer than we normally like. However, when proud owner Clint Rolfe offered us his new S-Way, resplendent in the understated yet classy livery of his business Titus Transport, how could we decline? With a hair under 3000km beneath its wheels, driver Scott Parker stood on the footpath and watched the two truck ‘foamers’ he’d just met peer excitedly at his new machine.

S-Way launch day at Wiri headquarters, and there was no shortage of interest.

Big boots and new horizons
Making it clear from the start, I was a fan of the Iveco X-Way – a big, handsome European truck that didn’t look like anything else in its genre. A well-proven participant in the 13L stable, after my day out with Jarrod Bryant in Jono Cloke’s X-Way AS in November 2020, I realised this big Italian could foot it in terms of performance, ride, cabin noise, and overall ambience. The whole thing was a breath of fresh air.

Delving back even further to the October 2018 test of X-Way’s less handsome predecessor – Stralis, I’m on record as saying the big Iveco is the best kept European secret… the ‘other European’, less considered, and somehow Iveco needed to address that. I pointed out in both the Stralis and X-Way pieces what a stronghold for the brand the South Island’s West Coast was. Here was a region able to dish up the toughest assignments in the business, and one populated with folk who buy trucks based on capability and reliability, not the moniker on the grille.

As it turned out, X-Way did well for IVECO New Zealand here. A huge leap in terms of looks. If you liked a big tall handsome Euro, X-Way brought the brand right back into play, and they’ve certainly enjoyed an increased presence on the road. In fact, as we all know, AJ Singh’s X-Way AS at Daily Freightways is currently our John Murphy Memorial Top Truck of the Year for 2021–2022.

You would have to say X-Way also benefited from the company’s new flagship head office in Wiri, South Auckland. No longer tucked down a side road with limited ‘show-off’ space, they were now loud and proud on the edge of Roscommon Road in Auckland’s truck sales hot spot. That coincided with the company expanding and shoring up their support and aftersales network, a project that continues to this day.

Michael May; the goundwork has all been done.

All of this is a great story about a great truck, but beneath it all was an awareness that IVECO’s game was only just beginning. Yes, the headquarters and aftersales work was certainly all about supporting the brand’s rockstar light and medium-duty commercial offerings as well as its better than competent contender in the high end. However, in 2019, Iveco launched X-Way’s successor – S-Way. Eagerly anticipated, it certainly lived up to the excitement and buzz. Here was an Iveco that could glide into an absurdly tight and crowded European truck stop and pull up alongside any of its ‘big seven’ competitors and look them squarely in the windscreen.

S-Way was big, classy, it was statuesque, and best of all, pretty. It won the automotive section of the International Forum Design (iF) Award in 2020, fending off 7298 contenders from 56 countries. No one would ever have thought the Italians of all people needed to learn the ‘sexy sells’ lesson, but learn it they had to, and it’s obvious they have no intention of ever going back. If Stralis proved competence and reliability and X-Way got punters interested, then S-Way had them drooling. And one thing was for certain – it would eventually arrive here.

Not that you’ll ever in a million years get OEMs to admit it, but regional assembly plants not producing an utterly region-specific product in 2023 must hold the ability to be a treasure on Monday, and a pain in the arse on Tuesday. One of the huge questions posed with the S-Way journey down under was sourcing it. Would it come to us ex the assembly plant in Dandenong, Victoria, or was it time for courageous conversations locally, and source the new machine from the Madrid plant in Spain?

To be fair, let’s not lump that burden on S-Way’s shoulders entirely. In an automotive world where the sun is rapidly setting on a single ubiquitous power source; and one ever more connected and oriented toward platform manufacture, the rationalisation of global manufacturing will only become more of ‘a thing’.

In order to keep S-Way’s forward-facing story instantly relevant in these parts, the decision to take option two – the courageous conversation – was chosen. As a result, in mid 2022 one of our region’s automotive icons – the truck assembly plant at Dandenong, originally home to International – fell silent. There is a silver lining, however…

All signed up, courtesy of an outstanding effort at Royans, she was ready to roll a short time later.

Michael May left his role as brand director for Mercedes- Benz at Daimler Truck and Bus Australia in early 2020 to take on the big job at Iveco. At the time, the company’s managing director’s role for this part of the world had been a bit like the UK PM of recent, with the hinges on the office door in need of regular lubrication. May was the man who took on the tough decisions and brought much needed stability and focus to the brand on the eve of its golden child’s arrival. S-Way must have been a product that piqued his interest when contemplating the position – and considering the product portfolio he was leaving behind, that speaks to a lot.

A new model, a pandemic, and a series of courageous conversations about repurposing hallowed ground – if you’re going to leap in, you may as well not risk cracking your skull on the bottom of the pool.

“It was a really challenging time for us, and we did a good job on sundowning the factory in the right way,” says a relaxed May at the Australia media drive day in Victoria recently. “It’s given us an exciting opportunity to align with the latest products, and we haven’t lost a lot of our investment, particularly in the engineering and validation teams we have. We have built a good strong core of engineers and we’re going to continue to grow that. We have a customer and innovation centre, and we have spent thousands of hours and now millions of kilometres in local validation and testing of this product to make sure it’s right for our customers here.”

The customer and innovation centre at Keysborough, Victoria, will play a fundamental role in S-Way’s future story, relaying product and field information back to the mother ship so she can build the lorry Aotearoa and our Anzac whanau actually need.

“We’re already working on the next one now,” says Emiliano Foieri, heavy vehicle product manager.

The centre will also engage in collaborative work with universities on propulsion and technologies around autonomy, as well as creating closer and mutually beneficial working relationships with body and trailer builders (the world ahead is not one where cut and relocate will always end well). Currently, it’s in the midst of sorting the dual control ACCO for the continuation of that model’s legendary municipal activities.

Nothing in life is a given, but the upshot is, if you were questioning Iveco’s ongoing commitment to this corner of the globe, and the provision of fit-for-purpose commercial vehicles, then rest easier.

A tale of two islands
Like so many Europeans, S-Way was made for New Zealand. Way down the other end of the globe is an archipelago that’s just like them… well we were until we decided to use Angola as the model for our road network. That aside, mechanically speaking, their trucks fit far quicker and, dare I say it, often times better than they do in the large dried arrangement to our immediate west. As such, we get things that irritate our Anzac brothers and sisters. Things like 750hp Volvos when they tap-out at 700, and now 570hp S-Ways when they tap-out 550hp. In the words of the late Windsor Davies, ‘Oh dear, how sad, never mind.’

When quizzed Commercial Motor magazine editor and IToY judge Will Shiers says, “We have the 570 in UK and Europe, and it’s bloody good!”

Our big S-Way is the biggest of the Big Daddies however. Even though they’re aligned to Europe in terms of output, ours sport an increased cooling capacity, and a heftier transmission. “The trucks as they are in Europe are not useable here,” says Emiliano.

Mechanicals are only half the story though. If you’re a tiny island nation in the middle of nowhere, with barely a soul in sight, the best way to align yourself with global truck manufacturing is to adopt a preferred vehicle dimension and configuration at odds with almost everywhere else in the world. Hey, it’s worked for us so far! Seriously though, this is where we do owe our kinfolk across the ‘Tassie’ a huge debt of gratitude for the scale they bring, allowing the OEMs the opportunity to humour us, for the time being at aleast.

A superb example of the fragile nature of things was Freightliner’s Cascadia, launched in the region in late 2019. Although initial whispers were encouraging regarding an 8×4 in the line-up, it never transpired, limiting the truck’s ability to truly penetrate our market. And although cabovers are an easier sell, it’s not always an easy journey for them either. It took Mercedes-Benz a while to get us a highway spec 8×4 Arcos with all the safety fruit.

At the New Zealand S-Way launch in February this year, the second truck to appear was the 570 8×4 cab and chassis. Obviously, Iveco has been here in the cabover market for a long time, so it knows what’s required if you want a seat at the table. To be fair, it was a little simpler with the existing driveline largely crossing over to S-Way.

What we have is a good-looking truck that’s a great fit.