Tuesday, December 20, 2016
In the harsh, barren land of Namibia where airports are a luxury you don’t always have, road transportation is essential. Robust UD trucks are helping the Van Zyl family operate a successful haulage business in this challenging yet beautiful land.
In the loading bays of VZ Trucking, a wide array of goods is waiting to be stacked: tires, vast amounts of food and various machinery. Loaders in clean blue uniforms are busy and organized; every item is labeled with codes and scanned into a tracking system. Louis Van Zyls, owners of the business, and his two sons, Jacques and Willie, are working among their crew, ensuring everything runs smoothly.
Sixty-two-year-old Louis Van Zyl is happy to say his company isn’t the cheapest in the business, but he believes it’s the best. “Our family is very hands-on, and customers want that. Other companies just send a driver to do the job but we are always there on the ground. To me, there are three vital things: first, service; second, service; and third, price,” he smiles.
Reroot and thrive
Van Zyl grew up in South Africa and worked for the national railways in the cargo division. Once Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, the railway needed someone to coordinate the delivery of cargo being transported there. Van Zyl relocated to Windhoek, the capital, with his wife and two young sons. Six years later, the railways offered to relocate Van Zyl back to South Africa but the family chose to stay in the adopted homeland it had grown to love. His background in cargo made Van Zyl a familiar figure in the industry and tempted by the adventure of starting his own company, he bought two second hand small trucks to start VZ Trucking.
Road transportation is essential to Namibia. It is the affordable option if not the only option to move goods around. One of the large contracts of VZ Trucking is transporting dried foodstuffs to different towns all over the country. This has not only supported the company’s growth, but also helped improving the lives of people in the far south of the country, with deliveries now made on a weekly basis instead of every third week or so in the days before VZ Trucking won this contract.
The company also works closely with Dunlop, delivering new tires from Dunlop’s hub in Windhoek across the country in long-haul UD trucks.
Having a tire manufacturer as a partner is valuable in a land with only 5,450 kilometers of tarred roads and 37,000 kilometers of gravel roads. The rock-strewn gravel often inflicts punctures and the tarmac literally melts. “On the worst roads, sometimes two tires burst on a single trip,” says Van Zyl. “I have an agreement with Dunlop that they send out new tires to the truck from the nearest branch.”
The gravel roads and the many steep and treacherous gradients also pose a challenge to his drivers. VZ trucking opted for strong and reliable UD trucks that make a difference operating in this hush environment.
VZ Trucking relies on UD Quons to make the long-haul trip. Loaded with cargo such as tires, drivers can’t risk the trucks breaking down or tumbling over a mountainside far from any service station. “But UD trucks don’t break down”, Van Zyl says. “The Quon range is very strong and good on fuel consumption and the drivers say they handle very nicely.”
Jacques Van Zyl, the elder son of Louis, works in one of the warehouses, supervising on site operations
His son Jacques remembers some bad experiences with breakdowns when he joined the company. “At that stage we had two or three UD trucks and three of another brand, and every morning two of those others wouldn’t start. Sometimes I’d get a call from the driver saying he had parked to offload and it wouldn’t start again, so I had to go out and assist him. Sometimes I would get phoned by the traffic police to come and remove my truck.”
Gradually the Van Zyls replaced these trucks with UD trucks. “Since then breakdowns have been non-existent,” Jacques says. “In summer it’s extremely hot here but the UD trucks can handle the heat and they can also take the cold when it goes down to zero degrees in the desert.” About half of the trucks the company now owns are UD trucks. Van Zyl remembers, one of his first two trucks was a UD. “It was the cheapest I could buy and it was the best small vehicle available in the country at that stage.”
Being consistently reliable through the years isn’t the only reason that convinced the family about UD trucks. Petrol stations are still a rarity in Namibia, and every motorist knows they must leave one town with enough fuel to reach the next. That’s not a problem for these long-haul UD trucks. The double diesel tanks hold enough fuel to complete even the longest trip of 1,700 kilometers without refueling. That makes the weekly round trip to the far north much less stressful – a 34-ton truck takes three to four days to cover seven towns, sometimes with three or four drops in each.
Another reason they keep buying UD trucks is the service. “Although they’re a bit cheaper, they give us very good service,” says Van Zyl. UD Trucks also sent trainers from Johannesburg to give the drivers extra training. “The UD guy was a very good trainer,” he recalls. “He climbed in the trucks with our drivers and showed them what everything does and went on the road with them to see if they had any driving problems.”
Van Zyl is a savvy businessman. When buying new trucks, Van Zyl now systematically opts for automatic gearboxes, which make driving far less tiring. Now almost all the trucks in his fleet are automatic. This has proven to be more efficient in a long run. He also equipped GPS tracking system on all his trucks to ensure the safety of the driver and the cargo, as well as improving operational efficiency.
The Van Zyls are ready to take the business to next step. They are eager to expand into cross-border deliveries using UD Quon 34-toners, and hope to get another ten trucks on the road. As a country that’s largely desert Namibia relies heavily on imported goods – and that’s great for the trucking business.