Dave Whyte joins MACK to experience the Heartland Tour
With the Aussie market for heavy trucks being a hard fought battle among the various contenders, manufacturers are always looking for ways to not only maintain relationships with their existing customers, but to also demonstrate their offerings to potential new buyers.
While truck shows around the country offer operators the opportunity to see and compare models in a static environment, the only way to really determine the suitability of a truck for any particular job is for the prospective buyer to get behind the wheel and experience it for themselves. The Mack Heartland Tour, which is currently travelling around the country, offers operators the chance to do just that.
The Mack Heartland Tour involves a cavalcade of trucks, covering the entire Mack model range, visiting dealerships right across the country. With a schedule that includes stops at both city and country dealerships over a three-month period, the tour is all about taking the trucks to the people, offering them the chance to not only drive the trucks but also learn more about the other products, services and support offered to Mack customers.
While these drive days are based around the dealerships, there will also be people on hand from Mack head office to explain the numerous design, engineering and build features across the model range. Given that all of these trucks are built in Australia, it’s a great chance for operators to talk to those who really do understand the product, and are actively involved in the specification, design and build processes.
To get a taste of what Mack are offering on the tour, I was invited to drive the trucks that will be travelling the country in the cavalcade, and experience what the tour would offer customers. The experience started at the VCV Townsville dealership, and would involve a five-hour drive that would take in most of the trucks involved in the tour. These included two rigid tippers (one Granite and one Trident), and three prime movers – one Granite day cab and one Trident each towing single trailers, and a Super-Liner towing a B-double combination. (Also included in the Heartland tour, but not along for this drive, is a Granite concrete agitator.)
This variety of trucks covers many applications, and should give most operators a taste of what they could expect from the right truck for their own particular application. Mack The Transporter (from the Cars movies) is always a crowd favourite, and wanted to be a part of the action, so also joined us for the trip to Ravenshoe. All together, the convoy made for an impressive sight, and certainly drew a lot of attention along the route.
The roads we took from Townsville were not the usual direct links on the highway, nor were they the usual customer route, which by necessity will be much shorter to accommodate more customer drives experiences each day. While the customer drive route around Townsville (and this will be similar in terms of length at each dealership around the country) was only around 6.0 km, we were involved in a special project delivery. This took us from Townsville to Ravenshoe, high up on the Atherton Tablelands, via Ingham and Innisfail. Travelling in convoy, the trucks covered about 350 km making for a very relaxed day of driving. Given that Ravenshoe is Queensland’s highest town, the latter stages of the drive involved some steep climbs and spectacular views across the mountainous countryside.
While driving a number of trucks over a short distance doesn’t allow for an in-depth report on any one of them, it does give a good overall view of what the Mack model range has to offer. The Bulldog brand, across the range, offers a great combination of traditional American styling and modern European style drivelines, giving those with a liking for American trucks the best of both worlds.
While all of the trucks provided a pleasant driving experience, the highlight of the drive for me was being in charge of the B-double for the steepest leg of the journey. This included not only steep climbs, but also a couple of good downhill stretches to test the engine braking performance of the Mack MP10 engine. At a gross weight of 60 t, the big Mack was definitely earning its keep, and maintained a speed of 30 km/h up the steepest climb. Down the other side, 8th gear was chosen to stop it running away, though not knowing the road meant I probably held it back more than I needed to – better safe than sorry!
Another point of interest along the drive was the ride and handling of both 6×4 tippers, which were empty for this leg. This can be an important factor for those who spend half their time running empty, and both the Granite and Super-Liner demonstrated great composure, even over the rougher sections of the Bruce Highway. With no weight on board, this was also a great demonstration of the M-Drive AMT, and the differences in the shift sequences of the loaded B-double and the lightweight rigids. This type of comparison really shows how smart the gear selection software is, and reinforces the benefits that come with in-house driveline development.
While the Mack cab retains the old-school styling, the comfort levels are definitely up to date. Designed with the traditional customer in mind, the noise levels are slightly higher than those experienced in Mack’s European stable mate, but by no means intrusive. Conversation in the cab is still very easy, even with the window open. The dashboard is almost identical across the range, and provides plenty of information via numerous analogue gauges. The trip computer can also be used to display most of its data in a digital format, including speed and fuel-economy figures. Interestingly, the stalk used to operate the trip computer is straight out of the Volvo parts book, and the only externally visible sign of the relationship between the two.
The drive experience overall was a very pleasant one, and set the tone for the special project mentioned earlier. You may remember the name Ravenshoe after a tragic event that rocked the small town a few months ago, and which has left a permanent scar on the community. Since that event, the town has struggled to come terms with the loss of family and community members. In such a small town, the loss of 2 lives and injuries to 18 others has meant that everyone in the town has been affected, and morale in the town has suffered.
In an attempt to boost spirits among the locals, Mack Trucks worked with Ravenshoe businesses and community groups to organise a free community event in the town. The event involved a country music concert, including performances from some local artists and culminating in a show from Golden Guitar winner Amber Laurence and The Girls of Country, Aleyce Simmonds and Tori Darke.
For the people of Ravenshoe this was a day to get out, have a good time and leave their troubles behind, if only for one day. As word had spread about the event, it also attracted many outsiders into town and provided a boost for local traders over the weekend. A crowd of around 1500 people enjoyed a relaxed day, a free sausage and some great music in the sunshine, with plenty of smiles to be seen among the punters.
This event was a great example of how big business can be proactive in the community. The response from the locals was remarkable, with many commenting on how rarely these events are seen in small country towns. The mood in the town had definitely changed when we left, and I was very humbled to have been involved in such a positive experience, even if only in a very small way.