Making big rigs longer as well as lighter while carrying more weight might sound like a chapter from a book titled Zen and the art of truck maintenance, but for manufacturer Jackson Enterprises it's about tailoring products to buyers' needs.
Trevor Jackson's company, based in the small town of Pahiatua, 45 minutes' drive north of Masterton, is a market leader in super-lightweight aluminium stock trailers.
"A chassis ready to have its crate fitted, minus axles and wheels, is only 760kg," Jackson said. "It's all about payload. The guys who can get it lighter at the start will end up winning in the end."
But fleet managers not only want their trucks lighter, but also longer, so they can pack more freight into each journey. Recent regulation changes increased trucks' maximum length from 20m to 23m and allowed weight to increase to "50 tonnes plus" on designated routes, Jackson said.
"Every metre counts. For every metre shorter, you lose one and a half tonnes of payload," Jackson said.
"Manoeuvrability is key too. A lot of it depends on the operator. If he's got to get through lots of back-country, he might ask for 19m instead. It's about how we configure the axles to get the tonnage they want," he said.
The rule changes mean all truck and trailer manufacturers have been busy spreading and adding axles, and lengthening roofs and chassis. But Jackson said his point of difference was innovation. "If [they] want a configuration outside the ordinary - that's where we've always had a good finger in the pie."
In a business where customers spend well over $100,000 on one product, versatility is crucial. One set of wheels is designed to be capable of shifting anything from a 30-tonne bulldozer to concrete panels, general freight or containers.
Repairs are an important revenue stream, with jobs from around the North Island. Insurance jobs are around half of these, and can be worth up to $200,000.
Jackson, a diesel mechanic, is Pahiatua born and bred. In 1994, a local owner-driver needed a new deck and a manufacturer quoted him a six-month wait. "He asked me if I wanted to give it a go," Jackson said. He rented a shed and built it with an arc welder and a disc grinder in a couple of months.
Then a livestock buyer commissioned a deck and a full trailer, and Jackson took on his first employee. Today there are 38, including seven apprentices in his ever-extending Queen St site.
But there have been hurdles.
"There was a downturn in the industry three or four years ago," he said. "The length-of-vehicle thing was changing, the weight, nobody was building anything. Plus the recession . . . it caused a big gap." To get through Jackson had to make redundancies and cut back operations. "Just keep at it . . . try and keep your sanity together."
The business bounced back, with inquiries coming in and customers starting to think big again; but the market was still volatile. "You can only really judge it by people making noises that they'd like to build something new . . But it's either a feast or a famine, it's not like at a supermarket and you can make a quid out of everything you sell. If sheep and beef crash, or if the road-freight side of it crashed . . ."
Every Monday night his partner, Jo Anne, cooks a meal for all seven apprentices, and Jackson pays them an extra two hours to sit down afterwards and do the paperwork towards their tickets.
Jackson said it was a way of looking after the key reason for his business's success: "Having good people around me."
BY THE NUMBERS
Aluminium stock trailers built: 100+
Total trailers built: 560+
Kms travelled by an alloy trailer in 10 years: 1 million+
Complete units (truck bodies and trailers) built annually: 38-42
Average price for new 5-axle alloy trailer: $125,000-$130,000
Price for adding an axle and lengthening chassis, roof and curtains: $40,000-$50,000
Biggest build: 72-tonne, 40-wheel, 22-metre-long transporter for Stockton mine
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