Milestone for Volvo’s Brisbane plant
Perth’s original Volvo truck doyen, Max Winkless, headed off to the Volvo Group factory in Wacol, south-west of Brisbane last week, to be a key part of the celebrations surrounding the 60,000th truck produced at the factory since its start in 1972.
Volvo chief executive Peter Voorhoeve acknowledged Max’s founding contribution to the Australian Volvo story, while Max outlined the process he undertook to establish the production facility.
In late 1968, Max was importing his first Volvos. Although Perth was considered as a factory point, distance from the major population centres quashed that idea and he turned to Melbourne, the automotive capital of the country.
However, it seemed too crowded and it was tough to find truck expertise.
Mittagong in New South Wales was considered, with the objective of bringing the components in from Sweden via Wollongong and thus avoiding busy Sydney wharves.
But ultimately Brisbane looked the most promising as it had a solid base of skills in heavy industry. Also, the Queensland government was very welcoming and did all it could to encourage the new entity to build its factory there.
Max uncovered the old and abandoned Nuffield plant where Morris Minors had been built. With no help at all from the Federal government, Max and his Volvo colleagues bought the plant, discovering later on the roofs were far too low for truck production. Preparing the factory to build new trucks was a far bigger job than they thought.
Redevelopment has continued through the decades. In the past six years, Volvo Group Australia has invested $27.5 million in factory expansion and refurbishment. Over the next several months an additional $3.5 million is being spent on the chassis construction line.
The reason Sweden’s efficiency experts continue to back a relatively low-volume plant on the opposite side of the world to home base and high production levels is Australia’s unique position in global trucking.
Australia is recognised globally as the most demanding truck environment in the world. It has high temperatures which require major cooling technology and has giant distances which require large fuel loads, taking up space on chassis rails.
It has high kilometres meaning service, parts and maintenance backup must be widespread and high quality. Finally, the payloads are generally higher than any other major long-distance transport operation in the world, therefore big power and torque is needed.
Recently, milestone production truck number 60,000 — a Volvo FH — rolled off the line, closely followed by number 60,001, a Mack Super- Liner. Both were driven out of the factory dressed with Australian-made logos splattered across the sheet metal.
Since 1972, 44,000 Volvos and 16,000 Macks have been produced here. The present market resurgence has shoved available production slots out to next February. The company also has dealer and fleet names chalked up against all production up to next September, although any retail or fleet requirements will be slotted in ahead of the backlog, pushing that out further.
Volvo people wouldn’t confirm the actual figure but the plant spits out about 16 trucks a day with one shift. At that rate, with no interruptions, it’ll be another 15 years before truck number 120,000 is built.