Mack, News, Trucks

Hog Dog – Super-Liner is back big time discovers Steve Brooks when he interviews operator Mark Prendergast

Slotted under the snout of its Super-Liner and Titan flagships, there was never any doubt that Mack’s 16 litre MP10 would strike a sharp chord with bulldog believers. With up to 685 horsepower, why wouldn’t it! But as STEVE BROOKS finds, even the non-believers are discovering a dog with some serious bite.Hog Dog - Lead 1

Brand loyalty is something that doesn’t rate particularly high with Mark Prendergast. Sure, it’s fine to stick with a certain brand while ever the product and the people behind it do the job expected of them, but the minute things change for whatever reason … well, the way he sees it, that’s the time to shop elsewhere, or at least have a look at what else is on offer.

As for those who stick religiously to a certain make of truck no matter what, and rarely give serious thought to an alternative even when problems start mounting up … well, the affable yet fiercely determined 49 year-old just smiles, shrugs, and simply suggests a shortage of sharp tools in the shed.

From the moment we start talking there came the stark realisation that a rural upbringing and road transport’s school of hard knocks have carved deep into the Prendergast persona. On the truck front, it started when he first climbed behind the wheel of a four-wheel-drive ACCO tipper at 16 years of age. It wasn’t easy work, hand loading and hauling rocks from a paddock being prepared for spuds.

After that, “I drove for other people for a long while, mainly livestock and a lot of interstate, but the longer I did it the more I thought I’d like to run a truck of my own,” Mark reflects. “So in 1991 I bought a Benz, a 2638, to do livestock and fridge work. It wasn’t a bad truck and probably did a lot to set us up.

“By that I mean it didn’t send us broke,” he laughs.

Home has always been around Victoria’s Daylesford district, specifically a small farm near the village of Blampied, about an hour and a half north-west of Melbourne. With wife Gabrielle, a daughter and two sons, a farm, and a business that nowadays runs a dozen trucks on livestock and grain, a candid Mark Prendergast concedes he has plenty to keep his days occupied.

On the home front, Gabrielle looks after the administrative side of the family business but it’s an adamant husband who adds with a broad grin, “She likes to stay well under the radar.” But as the conversation continued it became increasingly apparent that while Mark is happy to talk about trucks he, too, is happy to fly under radar when it comes to divulging business detail. And fair enough! It is, after all, a competitive world and as he puts it, “The less people know about the details of your business, the better!

By his own admission, the road has at times been rocky but with no shortage of perseverance and a desire to set his own course rather than follow the paths of others, refrigerated loads diminished as four-legged freight steadily grew to dominance. First it was typically sheep and cattle but with a sharp eye for opportunity, pigs emerged as the core of the Prendergast business.

Easily stressed and far more vulnerable to climatic conditions than cattle or sheep, Mark confirms that pig breeders and buyers demand particularly high standards of care during transport to ensure animal welfare and accordingly, meat quality. Consequently, trailers purposefully modified for pig transport (specifically Dickinson trailers from Wagga, NSW, and G&C Engineering from Kyneton in Victoria) coupled with strict adherence to cleanliness and maintenance standards are paramount in keeping customers satisfied.

“Hauling pigs comes with its own issues. It’s different in heaps of ways to hauling cattle or sheep. There’s a lot more in the detail, and I’m not just talking about the smell,” he says seriously. “Someone who might be good at handling cattle and sheep may not be cut out to handle pigs.

“They’re quite an intelligent animal and you have to be tolerant. It definitely helps if drivers aren’t short on commonsense and calmness.

“It’s probably not for everyone and I certainly didn’t set out with a vision to specialise in pigs, but I could see the potential and we’ve worked hard to make it work but like most things in transport, it’s a job that still comes under competitive pressure.”

As for the grain haulage side of the business, Mark confirms that while volumes have increased in recent years, it’s definitely the porkers that bring home the bacon. Literally!

Again though, it’s quickly apparent that brand loyalty hasn’t been a driving factor in the evolution of the company trading as Prendergast Livestock. Of the 10 prime movers currently in the operation, it’s a wide mix of makes and models: Western Star, Kenworth, International Eagle, Mack and MAN. All have a stake in the business and given the spread of brands, it comes as something of a surprise to find MAN the leading supplier. Yet typically perhaps, there are several MAN models rather than just one standard.

It’s obvious he holds the German brand in high stead, not least for fuel efficiency and the attraction of 60,000 km service intervals. But if MAN is so appealing, why not run the brand across the whole fleet?

“It’s good for a lot of our work but not all of it,” Mark answers. “Like, they don’t have enough fuel capacity for the heavy-duty end of what we do and I wonder if the cooling capacity would be up to the job over the longer term. They’re fine for single trailer work but for livestock B-doubles particularly, I think it’d be asking a bit much.”

Consequently, American muscle has long figured foremost in the Prendergast mind when it comes to hauling heavy loads such as three decks of pigs in a B-double combination. In fact, in a business which over its 20-plus years of operation has used numerous makes and models with no professed passion or preference for one brand in particular, Mark is surprisingly quick to cite Iveco’s former Powerstar 7700 model as the best of all, so far.

“We had a couple of 2002 models, one with a Cat C15 and the other a Cummins Signature,” he recalls. “Seriously, they were two of the best trucks we’ve ever run but when they stopped offering the model, I couldn’t get excited about the Cursor engine so we went looking at other brands.”

There’s a dog in the house

Prendergast trucks are almost always bought new and generally kept for about five years. By then they’ve notched between 750,000 and 800,000 kilometres and are either traded on a replacement or sold as a going concern with a job.

Mark concedes, however, that the latest addition to the business was a little outside the square of his normal buying practice. For starters, it was a demonstrator unit with 40,000 km on the clock, an addition to the business rather than a replacement, and came with a specification considerably heavier than he’d usually choose even for B-double livestock work. It was also the first Mack he’d ever bought.

“I’ve never been a Mack man,” he says succinctly. However, a visit to the Brisbane factory where Volvo and Mack are built and what he described as “a highly professional approach” by the CMV Mack dealership in Laverton (Vic) were more than enough to light the fires of interest in a highly specified Super-Liner demonstrator.

Under the dog’s nose was a 685 hp MP10 engine coupled to the seamlessly slick mDrive 12-speed automated transmission feeding to a drivetrain configured for gross weights up to 131 tonnes.

Taking delivery mid-way through 2012, he concedes it’s a big spec but equally admits the attractions were many: a 52 inch high-rise sleeper, the power and torque – peak torque of the 685 engine is a barnstorming 3150 Nm (2300 lb ft) – to make easy work of any B-double loads and subsequently deliver on reports of respectable fuel economy, and the likelihood of a high resale value five years down the track. “And for the work we’re doing, there’s a lot of durability built into a truck like this,” he quickly adds.

Critically, he also had a particular job and driver in mind to take the leash.

Still, Mark wasn’t blind to the fact that the 16 litre MP10 is also available at a 600 hp rating dispensing a formidable 2800 Nm (2085 lb ft) of torque. Asked if he would’ve preferred the engine at the 600 setting, he replied thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t have been turned off the truck if it was at 600 horsepower but I certainly wasn’t turned off by 685 either.

“I suppose you could say it’s an indulgence at 685 but hey, there’s nothing wrong with big horsepower and torque if they’re used properly.”

While the 685 is only available with Mack’s mDrive automated shifter, the 600 setting is offered with the automated gearbox or the choice of a Mack or Eaton 18-speed manual transmission. It is, however, a definite Mark Prendergast who insists the mDrive would’ve been his choice in either case.

“Automated boxes are definitely the go these days, especially when the engine and gearbox come from the same family,” he remarks.

However, as the conversation unfolded it became apparent the Prendergast Super-Liner wasn’t new to me or this magazine. It was, in fact, one of two 685 hp MP10 demonstrator units that featured in DIESEL’s first issue of 2012. On that occasion the Super-Liner was coupled to a set of roadtrain double tippers alongside a Titan hauling a curtain-sided triple combination, the outfits grossing around 80 and 110 tonnes respectively.

We were actually first to drive the MP10 in roadtrain configuration and both combinations made ridiculously easy work of the exercise. As we reported after driving each truck on return runs between Port Augusta and Roxby Downs in South Australia: ‘… the 685 made a mockery of both road and load.

‘But it’s not just the way this engine performs, it’s the way the performance is delivered. Sure, there will be those who will rue the absence of a manual shifter behind the 685 and perhaps the only disappointment of the whole exercise was that the Super-Liner double combination wasn’t powered by the 600 rating with an 18-speed stick shift. It certainly would’ve made an interesting comparison.

‘However, the compatibility of engine and automated transmission in both configurations was truly exemplary. Here’s an engine, for example, which at the 685 setting produces peak power from 1550 to 1800 rpm, married to a transmission programmed to let the engine pull down deep into the rev range before downshifting, while at the other end of the scale, upshifting surprisingly early to maximise the engine’s phenomenal pulling power. Nor, of course, will these traits do anything to harm fuel efficiency.

‘Simply put, Mack has nailed it.’

A year later with close to 180,000 km on the clock, a normally taciturn Mark Prendergast admits to being impressed with the big bore Super-Liner. Citing average fuel economy of 1.5 km/litre (4.24 mpg) since joining the business, he admits to being “reasonably happy” with the fuel figure before confirming it’s actually comparable with his two best B-double trucks on fuel, an International Eagle and Kenworth T904 each with a 550 hp Cat.

“Yeah, I’m happy I bought it,” he says laconically. Yet perhaps his greatest endorsement comes from the admission that he’s now considering either a similarly specified Super-Liner or a Volvo FH16 600 as his next new truck purchase. As he well knows, they may be different brands but the engines and transmissions are bred from the same stock.

Still, is there anything he’d change on a new Super-Liner? “The AdBlue tank,” he says in reference to the MP10’s SCR emissions system. “I’d go for a 200 litre tank instead of the 150 litre. I reckon that’d give us about a week between AdBlue top-ups.”

Anything else? Quiet for a few moments, he says simply, “Not really. We’ve had a few issues but overall there hasn’t been much at all. And when there has been, CMV has been really quick to respond.

“Actually, when I think about it, CMV has been a pleasure to deal with. Their response to issues has been spot on. If it wasn’t, you can bet I wouldn’t be here.”

Yet when it comes to the truck’s day-to-day performance details, Mark Prendergast willingly flicks the ball to the Super-Liner’s driver Alex McRae. “He’s the one you need to talk to about how the truck performs, not me. In some ways it’s more his truck than mine.

“He’s the one driving it and looking after it. All I do is pay for it,” he says with a broad grin.

Drive Time

Thoughtful and quietly spoken, Alex McRae immediately fits Mark’s description of a driver with the right levels of commonsense and calmness. Likewise though, the 37 year old McRae willingly describes his two years with Prendergast Livestock as “probably the best job I’ve ever had.”

And from the outside looking in, it appears the satisfaction of both employer and employee stem entirely from mutual trust: The employer trusting his driver to do the right thing by treating animals and equipment with due standards of respect, and the employee trusting the boss to respect his abilities, experience and opinions.

As Mark explains, the nature of the business sees a number of drivers running their truck from their own home base rather than the Prendergast property at Blampied. In Alex’s case, home is Young in central NSW which puts him within reasonable distance of piggeries scattered throughout the state’s central-west.

Married with three kids, he too comes from a rural background and has been hauling livestock for 20 years or so, starting on large stations in the Northern Territory. As for hauling pigs, “On and off for 10 or 12 years,” he says casually. “They’re certainly a unique animal and easily stressed, physically and emotionally, and the number one priority is to make sure they arrive on time and in top condition.”

Riding shotgun for a few hours as he steered the Mack toward an abattoir on Melbourne’s western outskirts, Alex needed little encouragement to extol the Super-Liner’s abilities. With the tacho needle hovering just under 1600 rpm as the truck strode effortlessly along the Hume at 100 km/h, he’s had experience with a few Mack models in the past but easily concedes to being new to a truck of this calibre.

“I’ve been in it since Mark took delivery last year and you wouldn’t get me out of it now,” he said emphatically. Ride, handling and vision all rate highly in Alex’s estimation but it’s the truck’s manoeuvrability which has been particularly surprising. “It’s a big truck, for sure, but the turning circle is really good and it’s just so easy to put the truck where you want,” he exclaimed, later proving the point as he reversed onto a loading ramp in the tight confines of a suburban abattoir.

“And for a truck that pulls so hard, it’s incredibly quiet,” he said as the big dog dropped just one gear on the long drag over Wallan Hill approaching Melbourne.

Yet just as it was late in 2011 during our first stint behind the wheel of this same truck, it’s the complete compatibility of the 685 hp MP10 engine and the 12-speed mDrive transmission that truly impress. As Alex McRae explained, “I’ve always driven manuals and it took a little while to get used to the auto box but I wouldn’t go back to a manual. Not now! The whole thing’s just so smooth and strong. I reckon it’s brilliant.”

So are there any negatives at all?

“There have been a couple of issues but nothing too major,” he replied, noting a pyrometer sensor, an alternator, and a rubbed wire on an injector sensor as the only maladies to date.

Similar to his boss though, Alex describes the standard of service and support from CMV at Laverton as “exceptionally good,” but reserves his highest praise for mechanics he knows only as Paul and Christian. “They’re really switched on and know this truck inside out. I reckon you’d go a long way to find better people to work on your truck.”

Anything else?

“No. This truck will do me for awhile, for sure.”

Finally, quiet conversations with a couple of senior Mack managers at the recent Brisbane Truck Show suggest the Prendergast experience with the MP10 Super-Liner is far from an isolated example.

According to several sources, since the introduction of the MP10 and mDrive combination in 2012, Super-Liner has gone from being a relatively small player in Mack’s overall sales volumes to a bullet performer.

The way Mack sees it, Super-Liner is back … big time!

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