Trucking Around the Tip of Africa

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

It is one of the mythical places on Earth, where, if you are lucky, you might spot a giraffe or a kudu—the antelope that is a symbol of the area—nibbling on a tree against a blue, mountainous horizon. This is also where UD trucks are extremely popular, having gained a reputation as reliable workhorses that can handle the tough conditions.

This is Limpopo in the northeastern corner of South Africa, an area that shares its borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is not far from the two-million-hectare Kruger National Park, home of Africa’s Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos. In stark contrast to the beautiful landscape is the gritty reality of the provinces’ main economic sector, mining. Limpopo has no less than 136 operating mines, producing nine percent of the country’s total income from minerals. Apart from limited deposits of gold and diamonds and some larger coal deposits, the majority of mines focus on ferrochrome and platinum. This is the land of dusty dirt-tracks, heavy loads and an extremely harsh climate, with temperatures around the freezing point at night, and peaks around 30°C in winter—in summer, it can reach an unforgiving 45°C.


In the heart of this mining district lies the headquarters of Ngululu Bulk Carriers (NBC). Trucks with the company’s distinctive kudu logo are almost ubiquitous on roads in the province, ferrying ferrochrome between mines and smelting plants, as well as transporting their loads further afield to the port of Durban or neighboring countries. Fleet & Technical Director Flip Myburg supervises the company’s major fleet of 260 vehicles. NBC is also UD Trucks Southern Africa’s biggest customer in the extra-heavy market sector, with 142 UD Trucks Quons. Recently, the decreasing value of ferrochrome inspired NBC to broaden the company’s focus and add the transport agricultural products such as corn to its business activities. Although seasonal, diversifying helps to stabilize an industry, which is otherwise dependent on the volatility of the stock market prices in Johannesburg, London and New York. NBC is run according to a market-leader strategy. 

The philosophy of maintaining high standards is reflected throughout all aspects of the company, from driver salaries and client satisfaction to the cleanliness of the trucks. “We never send the trucks out on the road dirty,”says Chief Operations Officer Louis Tolmay. “Of course, our priority is client satisfaction, but I also want our people to feel pride in working here and wearing the company logo,” Mr. Myburg says. “I want to motivate our guys. The way I see it, our drivers are also managers when they are out on the road, or dealing with clients when they load or unload. The driver is the face of our company.” The same high standards apply to the company’s choice of trucks. “We have had very good experience with our UD Trucks,” Mr. Myburg says. “We have been using them for eight years, and are currently on our fourth generation of UD trucks. They have proved themselves to be extremely reliable in these very harsh conditions. This means that they have saved us money on both maintenance as well as on downtime.” “We operate in a very harsh environment with very heavy loads in mountainous terrain under dusty conditions, which could cost you if your service standards are not superior,” Mr. Tolmay adds. “In this climate, we have seen that UD trucks have the superior quality of any of the European trucks.” 

louis tolmay

Mr. Louis Tolmay

He also points out that some other truck brands in the South African market have been less reliable to work with, because the license to sell them has changed hands. Subsequently, spare parts and warranty issues have been problematic, whereas UD Trucks has proven themselves a very stable partner. Ngululu Bulk Carriers buy their trucks from UD Trucks Southern Africa with a trade-back guarantee when the trucks reach the limit of their warranty period, which is equal to the company replacement policy. As soon as their vehicles have clocked 500,000 kilometers or reach the age of three years, they will be exchanged for new models. Mr. Myburg notes that the tailor-made maintenance agreement between UD Trucks and NBC is a huge benefit. Part of the agreement is the arrangement in which external, authorized maintenance technicians are responsible for all maintenance onsite. This gives NBC the flexibility to plan ahead in terms of maintenance, and thereby limit downtime. At the same time, NBC is guaranteed that all maintenance will be of the required standard.

ud technican

A technician from UD Trucks dealer Exa Motors performs some of his company's regular maintenance of NBS trucks.

All of NBC’s UD Trucks are serviced every 25,000 kilometers, with a lube/health service in between. They clock an average of 16,000-18,000 kilometers per month. Marius Jacobs who is the manager of Exa Motors, the UD Trucks dealership responsible for this area, is part of this maintenance team. He is enthusiastic about the relationship. “I have worked on many brands as a diesel mechanic, but to me, the UD Truck is definitely the best and the easiest to maintain,” he says. “It is one of the best on the road today in terms of dependability.” His colleague Willem Slieker agrees. “What I enjoy about UD Trucks is that their vehicles are very rigid. They are the toughest on the road and can take the hammering.”