Paccar has celebrated two major milestones, the 50th anniversary of the first Australian-produced Kenworth truck, and the production of the business’s 70,000th truck at its Melbourne plant.
It wasn’t always the case that Aussie Kenworth owners were driving a locally-produced product, the Kenworth story in Australia started with the importation of Kenworth S-models from the U.S. back in the very early 1960s.
Later in that decade, knocked-down trucks were being assembled in Australia, but it was becoming clear the brand needed to start producing trucks locally, designed and built to better meet Australia’s unique road conditions and regulations.
After purchasing a parcel of land in Bayswater Victoria and building the facility that would allow for local production to commence, Paccar (in those days still known as Pacific Car and Foundry) got to work on building the first local Kenworth offering – a cab-over K125CR.
That milestone vehicle, known affectionately as ‘The Grey Ghost’, now lives at the Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, but was in attendance for the milestone celebrations.
In those early days, a period described as being all about growing and learning by Paccar Australia managing director, Andrew Hadjikakou, the Bayswater plant was able to produce just one truck per day, today the plant has grown ten times larger and handles twelve different models from both the Kenworth and DAF ranges.
The plant can now produce up to twenty-one trucks per day, some of which are exported to markets such as Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
Despite the enormous growth and change over five decades, Mr. Hadjikakou said some things have remained exactly the same.
“Kenworth began manufacturing in this country with a philosophy and dedication to manufacture and engineer each truck individually, every one of them is as unique as the customers that buy them.
“It is the desire to build the world’s best trucks that still inspires and unites us.” Mr. Hadjikakou said.
The Paccar boss paid tribute to his team, which now comprises around 1,200 workers, many of whom have been long-time employees.
“Being part of what we create here, what we stand for, gets into your DNA and in many cases is passed on from family generation to generation.”
It’s estimated that the local truck manufacturing operation indirectly employs many thousands more people, primarily through the parts supply chain required to keep the line moving.
A group of dignitaries, including federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg, assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar, assistant minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz, and assistant minister to the deputy prime minister Kevin Hogan, were on hand to help Paccar celebrate.
After a factory tour that included some actual hands-on truck manufacturing experience for the Treasurer, Mr. Frydenberg recognised the enormous contribution the Paccar operation has made to the Aussie economy.
“This is a picture of Australia’s manufacturing strength, and very much an image of Australia’s very bright manufacturing future.
“It has been incredible to meet with the Paccar workers today and hear their own stories and you can sense the pride among you all.”
The major milestone for Paccar and the Kenworth brand comes after the entity faced, and made their way through, a number of major challenges since that historic first day back in 1971.
Those challenges included the removal of import tariffs, fluctuating fuel costs, economic downturns, global recessions, dimensional changes, emission reductions, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Hadjikakou said he was very optimistic about the future because of the operation’s ingrained culture of innovation and heavy investment in next-generation technologies.
“COVID-19 revealed how important onshore manufacturing is to this country, it stirred up Australia’s deep patriotic sense.
“Hopefully our story will inspire other Australian-based companies to look closer to home for production.”
And there looks to be good reason to be optimistic. Paccar is about to complete the latest expansion of the Bayswater factory, there’s also a $15 million investment taking place in local research and development, software integration, and engineering to produce new products.
“These products will benefit our industry, community, and broader economy through cleaner engines, higher levels of safety and comfort, reduced fuel usage, and higher productivity,”
“Our factory expansion is set to double our manufacturing capacity and will position the organisation for the next 50 years of manufacturing on this site.” Mr. Hadjikakou said.
One man who might just know the Kenworth product better than anyone else is veteran salesman Manny Melkonian.
Manny, who just recently retired, was Paccar ’s longest-serving employee and he was honored at the event for the contribution he has made to the Kenworth success story in his career, single-handedly selling 3,000 Kenworth trucks.
While the enormous contribution made to the Kenworth Australia story by leading Kenworth dealer group Brown and Hurley was also recognized at the event.
Servicing the NSW and Queensland markets, the Brown and Hurley Group, which is celebrating its own 75th anniversary this year, has sold more Kenworth trucks in Australia than any other dealer network.
Brown and Hurley have been with Kenworth since day one and to mark their contribution to the brand, Brown and Hurley will have the honor of taking delivery of the milestone 70,000th locally produced Kenworth.
Brown and Hurley’s Jim (JJ) Hurley was on hand at the event and reflected on the long-running professional relationship.
“I was here for the original opening of the plant fifty years ago, we sold our first Kenworth in 1965 and I personally sold my first Kenworth in 1967 when I was 24 years old, so I’ve been doing it for a while.
“We have our 17,000 Kenworth sale coming up in a couple of months, and it’s pretty interesting to note that it took twenty-one years to sell our first 1000 Kenworths, and now we sell around 1000 a year.” Mr. Hurley said.
“Fifty years of manufacturing in Australia, what an achievement,”
“I’d like to congratulate all the Kenworth team members past and present who have contributed to this magnificent product, Australian made, World’s best.”