Western Australian Freight Leader Crosses the Nullarbor with Cat® CT630
“Crossing the Nullarbor” is a rite of passage for many Australian truck drivers. However, journeys across the harsh Nullarbor Plain are a daily routine for many of Kevin Small’s employees. And he knows all too well the challenges long-haul trucks can face on the bone-dry, treeless plain.
Kevin is the managing director of successful road freight company GKR Transport, which he launched as a one-truck operation at Welshpool, WA more than 26 years ago. Today, he oversees a 45-truck fleet that frequently handles east-west general freight runs. And he calculates that a truck breakdown can cost over $20,000 a week in lost revenue.
“Given that there aren’t truck shops dotted along the Nullarbor, I need to eliminate the risk of breakdown-induced downtime,” Kevin says.
Given the distances they’re travelling – around 400,000 kilometres annually – GKR Transport normally replaces its trucks approximately every three years.
So as a longstanding supporter of Cat engines, Kevin says the release in 2010 of the Cat® CT630 – the first-ever Cat on-road truck, and first launched in Australia – was always going to be of interest to him.
Following an initial once-over at the Perth Truck Show last July, GKR started their relationship with the new truck brand in purchasing two Cat CT630 90-tonne highway trucks for its east-west express freight movements.
Equipped with a 50-inch sleeper bunk and powered by a 550 hp Cat C15 engine, the two new trucks are now averaging over 8,000 km a week on the Perth-Melbourne and Perth-Sydney general freight runs.
Husband-Wife Driving Team Put CT630 to the Test, Find It “Phenomenal”
For the last three months, one of those two CT630s has been driven almost exclusively by the husband-wife truck driving team of Mark and Clare Bolitho. Their assessment so far: “It’s a phenomenal truck.”
Mark, who’s been driving for 24 years, has the distinction of being the first driver in Australia to drive a big triple combination with a gross capacity of 82 tonnes. Mark and Clare have been driving together for 15 years, and he considers her the best woman truck driver he’s ever seen. “But then, she learned from the best,” Mark says with a smile.
When Kevin Small offered Mark and Clare the chance to drive a CT630, Mark wasn’t sure at first what to think. He knew about the power of Cat from his father, who operated an Ingersoll-Rand oil drilling rig that used a Cat engine. But the tipping point came from Clare, who had driven another test Cat truck and was very impressed.
“I used to love my old Freightliner, but this Cat truck is far better at pulling the loads” Mark says. “As Patrick Swayze said in ‘Black Dog,’ ‘Ain’t nothin’ like a Caterpillar engine.”
Mark and Clare had proof of this on the first night they drove the truck. “As we started out to Adelaide, one of our fellow drivers was behind me in a Kenworth,” Mark says. “At first, we were going up a hill together, with him just behind me. But we left him behind like he was standing still.”
And this, Mark is quick to add, was at a point when the truck only had 694 km “on the clock.”
“Some engines don’t get the full potential of their power until they’ve been running for thousands and thousands of km and the pistons are bedded in,” Mark says. “With this truck, it was like someone had already done that job for us. And since then, it’s just gotten better and better.”
Early on, Mark and Clare also encountered a road train being pulled by a Western Star, powered by a Cummins 625. “We left him in our dust,” Mark says. “He couldn’t stay in top gear.”
Couple Appreciate CT630’s Fuel Efficiency, Handling, Durability
Mark and Clare also appreciate the CT630’s fuel efficiency and rugged durability. They usually drive the CT630 from Perth to Melbourne and back, pulling a double trailer road train with an average weight of 75 to 80 tonnes. In the three months they’ve been driving the truck, they’ve put 73,000 km on the vehicle. And they’ve attained an average fuel efficiency ratio of 63 l/100 km.
“The power is unbelievable,” Mark says. “We can go up certain hills at 1,350 to 1,400 rpm, at 100 km per hour, and we don’t even need to come out of top gear.”
“It drives effortlessly,” Clare says. “And it’s quiet too. I can answer the phone while Mark’s driving, and people will actually ask us if we’re in the truck.”
The CT630’s steering is also extremely responsive and easy for either a man or a woman to drive. Once Mark was resting in the bunk when Clare pulled into a truck stop. When she got out, she heard some drivers remark with astonishment, “That’s a woman driving that road train!”
“The way the truck handles makes our job so much easier,” Clare says. “It takes a lot less effort to handle the truck, going uphill or downhill. And headwinds and side winds don’t affect us at all, even when we’re going 100 km/hr.”
The couple also appreciate many of the CT630’s features and workmanship. “There’s a diagonal brace that keeps the side mirror from vibrating,” Mark says. “You can see the full length of the truck, with no distortion – which with a double trailer road train, is remarkable.”
Mark and Clare also like the CT630’s distinctive aluminum bull bar, which they say is important to protect against kangaroos during some parts of their standard run. And they love the CT630’s powerful air conditioning system, a critical feature in Australia’s heat. “Compared to Kenworths or other trucks, the A/C is magic, it’s brilliant!” Mark says.
The couple also enjoy all the attention they get when driving in the distinctive Cat vehicle. “On our first run, we were driving through a small town 100 km outside of Brisbane,” Mark says. “A driver in a refrigerator truck called us on our CB and asked if ours was the same model he’d seen at the Perth Truck Show.” Another fan- a fellow trucker-posted a photo of Mark and Clare’s truck on his Facebook page. The last time they checked, it had collected 500 likes.
Superior Reliability and Driveability
Kevin Small is pleased with Mark and Clare’s response to the CT630. And he says it was superior engine reliability, drivability, and the reduced likelihood of breakdown that were the primary drivers of his decision to favour the CT630 over other truck options.
“The CT630 is suitable for road-train applications,” he says. “I also like the fact that the CT630 was expressly designed and optimised for Australian conditions.”
Kevin also saw the CT630’s launch as an opportunity to further collaborate with WesTrac, GKR’s longtime dealer.
“Truck durability and reliability are the cornerstones of a successful road haulage business,” Kevin concludes. “Our decision to purchase two CT630s reflects our confidence in the trucks’ ability to deliver.”
Meeting the Rigours of Australian Conditions
Terry Harwood, WesTrac Sales Manager, On-Highway Trucks Kewdale, agrees that GKR Transport’s endorsement of the Cat CT630 said a lot about the truck’s ability to meet the rigours of Australia’s long-distance road conditions.
“We’re backing up the performance of the CT630 with the sort of parts and service support that clients throughout Australia have come to expect of us,” said Terry.
“We will continue to partner GKR Transport through a more intimate understanding of their requirements,” confirms Terry, who along with John Mortimer, WesTrac Manager, On-Highway Trucks, has worked alongside GKR Transport for over 20 years.
“That means continuing to fine- tune these trucks to best complement the demands of long-distance road transport throughout Australia.”
The Cat® CT630 and its sister vehicle, the Cat® CT610, are sold and serviced by the Cat® sales and service network, which spans more than 50 locations across Australia through the WesTrac, Cavpower, William Adams and Hastings Deering network.