Home Fleetwatch 2022 News Flash The story of how a truck supplier has broken a transport operator

The story of how a truck supplier has broken a transport operator

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The Daewoo Maximus was premiered by Tata Automobile Corporation SA at the 2019 Futureroad exhibition in Johannesburg promising operators enhanced bottom lines and lowest cost of ownership. For the Fensham Group – and some others – this has not materialised with millions of Rand being lost through countless breakdowns and total unreliability of the fleet.
The Daewoo Maximus was premiered by Tata Automobile Corporation SA at the 2019 Futureroad exhibition in Johannesburg promising operators enhanced bottom lines and lowest cost of ownership. For the Fensham Group – and some others – this has not materialised with millions of Rand being lost through countless breakdowns and total unreliability of the fleet.

If there is one wish that Andrew Fensham, Group MD of the Fensham Group, hopes will come true for his company in 2023 it is that the 30 Daewoo Maximus trucks he has in his fleet will be replaced with Scania models as soon as possible and that he never, ever, has to deal with Daewoo again. This follows what he describes as a two-year nightmare of constant breakdowns and endless problems with the fleet of 30 Daewoo Maximus trucks he bought brand new back in 2021. FleetWatch has been following this sorry saga for a number of months in the hope that Daewoo – represented in South Africa by Tata Automobile Corporation SA (Pty) Ltd – would come to the party and somehow get things right. Alas, it has not been so and the nightmare continues with over 11 breakdowns experienced in the first week of January 2023 adding to hundreds of breakdowns experienced since February 2021. And the Fensham Group is not the only company experiencing on-going problems with their Daewoo Maximus trucks. There are others – and are now all ‘gatvol’ writes Patrick O’Leary.

When a transport operator has to turn down a lucrative contract to haul 5 000 tons a month due to his lack of confidence in the quality of his new fleet to deliver a reliable and on-time service, that is a sorry state of affairs. Yet this is exactly what Andrew Fensham, had to do with one client. And it is not the only business he has had to turn away – or has lost. Read on….

It was an exciting time for South Africa when Daewoo introduced its Maximus range at the Futureroad exhibition in 2019. The American combination of Cummins engine and Eaton-Rockwell drive train had been extremely popular among operators when it was housed in the International Eagles under the then Tyco banner. Now, here it was being reintroduced onto the market via the Daewoo Maximus. Adding to the attraction was a European-type appointed cab which offered drivers a great level of luxury and comfort. To top it all, it was a good looker too.

The blurb on the Daewoo website (December 29th, 2018) also gave a glowing description of what operators could expect. Under the heading “Engineered Internationally for SA Conditions”, it stated: “Outstanding driving and handling characteristics, superb comfort and convenience that begins with spacious and comfortable cabin, powerful and rugged powertrain options, impressive hauling and carrying capabilities. Moreover it is built to handle around-the-clock high speed operations that will enhance your bottom line giving you lowest cost of ownership.”

Daewoo is a Korean-based company represented in South Africa by Tata Automobile Corporation SA (Pty) Ltd as the authorised distributor of Daewoo Commercial Vehicles in South Africa. 

With such a  glowing past in terms of the drivetrain combined with the promise of all round improvements made and even better things to come, Andrew Fensham, MD of the Fensham Group, looked to the Daewoo Maximus trucks as replacements for his UD Trucks fleet which was nearing the end of its economical life.

Having been in the industry for over 23 years, Fensham was not a newcomer to trucking with years of hands-on trucking experience under his belt. Operating his trucks under North Shore Trading (Pty) Ltd (NST) as a division of the Fensham Group, he had in place a highly successful company with great contracts, money in the bank and a bright future – and it was about to get better with a brand new fleet now under his wings. Market conditions were also extremely favourable for the sector in which he operates with a growing need for side-tippers to serve the high global demand for commodities in the absence of an efficient rail network in South Africa. Alas, it was not to be.

According to Fensham, the day he brought the Daewoo Maximus trucks into his fleet in 2021 was the day his life turned from hopeful optimism into a 24/7 nightmare of breakdowns, vehicles falling apart, and possible contracts being lost due to the inability of his fleet to service on time. The first ten of the 30 Daewoo’s bought arrived in February 2021. In April, the second batch of 10 was delivered and the final 10 came in March 2021.

The expectation of growth was soon dispelled when between 30 to 40 breakdowns were experienced in the first month on the first batch of 10 units. “That rose to between 40 to50 when the second batch was introduced into the fleet,” he says. 

And it continues to this day – every day – which has had a massive negative impact on the company’s viability. From 1 August 2021 up until end of October 2022, the company experienced a total of 789 breakdowns.

Andrew Fensham, owner of the Fensham Group which operates its trucks under North Shore Trading (NST), has had endless problems with the 30 Daewoo Maximus trucks he bought at the beginning of 2021. In this video, Fensham points out to Patrick O’Leary, editor of FleetWatch, how the cosmetics of the truck cabs have failed dismally and are being held together with cable ties. Keith Agliotti of JKA Alignments and Consulting also points out the premature tyre wear caused by faulty suspensions. It’s a shameful picture all round.

“The only reason we are still open is because I have tapped into my investment account to fix all the problems on the trucks so as to keep our customers happy and the company going. That account, built up over many years, is now, for the first time ever, in the negative due to me having to carry the can for what should be the responsibility of Daewoo,” says Fensham.

He cites as one example the fact that he has spent well over R500 000 on replacing tyres that incur premature and irregular wear caused by suspension problems. “And we have proved via independent expert tests and evaluation that it is the suspension that is causing the irregular wear. But they do not act on that proof,” says Fensham. (See below report from JKA Alignments & Consulting).

Empty promises

Despite numerous approaches over this time to the top management of Tata Automobile Corporation, Fensham says the responses have been disappointing. “We’ve lost around R19-million in revenue since we brought these trucks into our business and the silence from their top management has been deafening. All we have heard is empty promises to improve and there is nothing they have done to compensate us for the losses we have incurred. We invested some R53-million into their trucks, have lost round R19-million in revenue due to the inability of these trucks to perform and they have left us in the lurch.”

According to Fensham, there is only one person he says has been exceptional and that is Ashley Govender, technical manager at Tata Automobile Corporation. “He has gone out of his way to help us as far as he could in terms of our breakdowns but with due respect to Ashley, the bigger issues that have arisen from this need to be dealt with at top management level.”

Fensham says they did have a meeting with Len Brand, CEO of Tata Africa Holdings under which Tata Automobile Corporation falls, but the response was far from satisfactory in terms of tackling the very real problems of the quality of their trucks or any form of win-win arrangement being entered into regarding the way forward.

“His response was to take the trucks back and basically call it a day,” says Fensham, adding that no mention of any compensation for losses was forthcoming.

Brake boosters have broken off from their mountings on numerous occasions rendering the affected rigs totally unroadworthy until the boosters get replaced. Incidents like these have caused huge time delays which have not endeared the company to its clients.
Brake boosters have broken off from their mountings on numerous occasions rendering the affected rigs totally unroadworthy until the boosters get replaced. Incidents like these have caused huge time delays which have not endeared the company to its clients.

So how has all this impacted on the company’s ability to do business? Here is one example of the ramifications of the many breakdowns to the company. This is Fensham’s reply to a company wanting to give NST a lucrative, long term contract to haul 5 000 tons of high grade copper concentrate per month. (Note: FleetWatch has all the documents in its possession and where permission has been granted, names and companies are mentioned).

“Good morning N…..Unfortunately I cannot commit with a penalty clause on 5000 tons. The sole reason for this is the unreliability of our Daewoo fleet as they are breaking down on a regular basis. It will really be stupid from my side to commit as we had 51 breakdowns for the month of July 2022. Trust you will understand these vehicles will drop me and then I would sit with a penalty which we cannot afford. Daewoo will not come to the party and I would rather stand aside and take a knock of R4 775 000 gracefully as to make a commitment and not achieving it.”

Customer complaints

And that is not the only lucrative and highly profitable contract the company has turned down. There are others. Complaints and concerns have also been received by customers regarding the reliability of the fleet. Here is one from Jan Combrink of Imperial Logistics.

“I thank you for your support and dedication throughout 2021 and into 2022. With that said I am concerned about the amount of breakdowns NST have been having. I understand that your fleet is brand new, so it baffles my brain how there can be so many breakdowns. 

I have contacted you on numerous occasions explaining the level of service delivery we at Imperial require from you. Your fleet is supposed to be running as a dedicated transporter on some of our routes and our clients demand high level of service delivery. 

Due to the fact that NST could not deliver trucks as was agreed upon, I came very close to not making my parcel for Richards Bay. I had to source extra transporters to help intervene. If I had missed my parcel, it could have impacted negatively on my contract agreement with the client and we could even have lost the contract. This contract is worth in excess of R60-million per year. 

The driver of this rig had to use a load strap to secure the nudge bar so as to prevent it falling off and causing potential damage to the rig and following road users. There are huge safety issues at play in such faults – for both the rig and other road users.
The driver of this rig had to use a load strap to secure the nudge bar so as to prevent it falling off and causing potential damage to the rig and following road users. There are huge safety issues at play in such faults – for both the rig and other road users.

I know you guys are serious about transport and I know you guys want to deliver an outstanding service, as was discussed with Andrew at numerous meetings, and this is the only reason I am not stopping you. But please consider this as a formal warning to get your vehicles sorted out as we cannot afford breakdowns on this route.”

I contacted Jan Combrink – the writer of the above letter – and he was extremely sympathetic to the plight of NST. However, he was caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of being able to continue using NST due to the number of breakdowns the company was experiencing with its fleet and the need to satisfy his clients.

“We make commitments to our clients which we have to stick to. If we say we’ll load 20 trucks a day, we have to do that but with NST, they would commit to say 10 trucks and would then fall short because of their breakdowns. It was difficult for them to make a 100% commitment as on one day they would perform well and then the next, they would drop off due to breakdowns. And it was not their fault.

“I had such high hopes for them. It was a brand new fleet and with the new Daewoos and the trailers, I anticipated that they would be one of the biggest competitors in the market; but this did not happen due to the numerous breakdowns they were experiencing on their Daewoos,” said Combrink.

When asked if I could use his name and company, he replied yes as he felt strongly that NST was being disadvantaged through no fault of its own and this needed to be brought to the fore. “With us it’s all about relationships. We no longer refer to companies which haul for us as sub-contractors. They are our business partners and if the trucks don’t perform as in this case, the partnership suffers.”

He also felt strongly about it as he had another company on his books as a business partner which experienced the same problems with their Daewoo Maximus trucks as did NST.

“The problem though was that this was a small start-up which bought four Daewoo trucks and they were on the verge of closing down due to three of their four Daewoo trucks standing for two weeks waiting for parts. They had not had time to build up cash reserves. They did survive but that was due to the help we gave them rather than any help they got from the OEM.”

As noted above, NST is not a newcomer to the trucking business and had built up cash reserves when successfully running its previous fleet of UD trucks – but these reserves have now been depleted.

And here’s yet another one from one of NST’s clients headed ‘Poor performance of NST trucks” – quoted verbatim.

Because of the quantities to be moved (between Lephalale and Middelburg) we decided to incorporate NST as a strategic partner to ensure we deliver the correct number of tons on a weekly basis to Middelburg, the off-loading point.

Not only has the cab panel come loose but so too has the headlight securing bracket broken. Drivers have often been stopped by traffic officials and been given fines for having no lights.
Not only has the cab panel come loose but so too has the headlight securing bracket broken. Drivers have often been stopped by traffic officials and been given fines for having no lights.

It has come to our attention that NST on a weekly basis are unable to deliver the required tons with the trucks they allocated to “S……. (company name known to Fleet Watch) on this specific route. On average NST lose 1 load per week per truck which equates to 2 400 tons per month 16% of the allocated tons to them.

It has been highlighted by NST after numerous meetings regarding your poor performance that the main reason is the performance/breakdowns of your trucks.

Our client has indicated that if we do not improve on delivery performance, they will reduce our allocated tons per month. If NST’s performance do (sic) not improve we will have no choice but to reallocate your tons to alternative transporters that can move the correct number of tons. We cannot afford to lose our business because of NST poor performance. At initial discussion stages you committed to move specific tons and are currently unable to do this. Our company’s name is at stake and poor performance will not be accepted anymore. NST is not seen as our preferred partner any more unless your performance improves dramatically. Your urgent attention regarding this will be appreciated.”

And here’s yet another customer complaint received. Please excuse the language but I have left it in to show the anger and frustration of this customer towards a company which once stood tall as a proud professional haulier. “It is heart breaking receiving such messages from our customers,” says a disillusioned Fensham.

“I have numerous times dealt with NST’s excuses for poor service delivery due to breakdowns and delays on your Daewoo trucks. I personally think you are bullshitting me because none of our other transporters experience such a huge number of breakdowns per month. I am fed up listening to every day’s apologies and alternative arrangements. With all due respect – your Daewoo trucks are giving NST a name that we as your client don’t want to be associated with. Get rid of the shit in your fleet or go find a client that will be satisfied with your unreliable service.”

According to Fensham, the above is from a client whose contract is worth R18-million a month – a contract which is threatened to be terminated due to the unreliability of the Daewoo Maximus trucks.

Refused entry by mines

Apart from countless on-road breakdowns, there have also been numerous occasions when NST trucks have been turned away from entering certain mines to load due to faults picked up by the mines’ inspections teams – panels missing, brake boosters broken off their mountings, diesel leaks from the fuel tanks and others. As is well known, the mines employ strict quality checks for trucks entering their premises and if the truck does not meet the prescribed standards, it is turned away. This has happened on numerous occasions to NST trucks – all of which are on record.

A total ‘gemors’ with everything falling apart and being held together with 'blou-draad' to prevent parts falling off the truck and hitting into traffic behind.
A total ‘gemors’ with everything falling apart and being held together with ‘blou-draad’ to prevent parts falling off the truck and hitting into traffic behind.

After performing to high standards for many years, all this has been heart-breaking for Fensham and his team. And the real problem is that despite NST suggesting ways forward, these suggestions have, according to Fensham, fallen on deaf ears.

“We even suggested that they take in five of our trucks to correct all the faults and give us five demo models to operate with. Then, take the next five until all 30 were repaired to the standards that would bring them into line with the standards of their European competitors. This would have been a win-win situation but this too did not happen,” says Fensham, adding that they have periodically been given demo trucks while waiting for their trucks to come out of the repair shop “but one of them also broke down”.

Drivers unhappy

As for the drivers, they too are unhappy. Some of them have been left stranded on the side of the road while waiting for back-up service to arrive. As is well known, broken down trucks have become easy targets for the growing number of criminals who see stranded trucks as easy pickings. On-road breakdowns are not just about inconvenience and downtime. They are also about driver safety and one driver I spoke to said he does not like driving them “because there are too many problems with these trucks. They are not safe and when they break down, we are not safe”.

On the subject of drivers, NST also had to wait quite a while for a driver trainer to be allotted to train the NST drivers on the new trucks. And when he did arrive, the driver trainer rolled the truck on the first outing. Luckily, the NST driver who was in the cab with him escaped injury but the Daewoo driver trainer incurred some minor injuries. The truck itself had major damage.

The in-cab video shows that the driver trainer was not wearing his seat belt – neither did he insist on the passenger wearing his. This is a basic for best practice in professional driving. Viewing the video, it also shows that the driver trainer seemed to be fatigued with his eyes drooping just before the bend where he lost it. You can see the video by clicking here: https://youtu.be/mqF9H0dlhIY

Numerous faults

So what have the main faults been? A full list as drawn up by the company is shown further in this article but let’s look at some of the more obvious ones starting with the cosmetics. The cab panels fall apart – yes, they literally fall apart meaning that NST issues their drivers with cable ties to hold the panels together. “They shake loose from each other and there have been instances where they’ve fallen off the trucks totally,” says Fensham

Brackets – for example for the headlights – have broken off resulting in the headlamps hanging loose and even breaking away and falling off the trucks. “This makes it extremely dangerous to be on the road as the panels and other parts that fall off can hit a car driving behind our trucks. We’ve also received numerous fines for our lights not working,” says Fensham.

The front nudge bars have also come loose – and even fallen off – due to excessive vibration and bad quality workmanship. The accompanying videos and photographs show ample evidence of these re-occuring faults.

Abnormal premature tyre wear has, from the start, been a huge issue and despite this being pointed out to Daewoo, the response, according to Fensham, has been far from satisfactory. Irregular and premature tyre wear is a sure sign of some mechanical fault and to determine this, Fensham sent two of the trucks to Keith Agliotti of JKA Alignments and Consulting for an independent evaluation. Agliotti is well known in the industry as a top wheel alignment expert. This is the report – quoted verbatim here – submitted back to NST:

On the 28/09/2021 we were requested by North Shore Trading to assist and give an opinion on premature tyre wear as an independent party. A breakdown of what was found was:

  • Alignments were out of specification.
  • Some vehicles suspension components were not torqued on assembly. As a result suspension components were vibrating loose.  eg: steering boxes, hanger brackets that secure the steering suspension to the chassis.
  • 5th wheel assembly was not torqued on chassis rails.
  • Also when inspecting tyres, we picked up that tyre fitment was not seated correctly. This is either due to low compressor pressure or insufficient lubrication when fitted to rims. This will also result in premature tyre wear and excessive vibration.
  • When inspecting the suspension laden, we noticed that the suspension only had 50 mm of travel which is insufficient, resulting in the suspension bottoming out and leaf spring bump stops were impacting on the chassis. This will force the tyre to take all the impact from the road surface, which in turn results in premature tyre wear.

With this report submitted to Daewoo with no response, Fensham then sought a second independent opinion and sent three of the trucks to Sure Stop Auto Brake Test (Pty) Ltd in Rustenburg for evaluation. This is the report (again quoted verbatim) he received back, signed by director Jacobus Prinsloo.

This was a scary incident when one of the NST rigs broke down slap-bang on an active railway-line crossing at Magaliesburg. The gears would not engage. Transnet were informed so that they could warn their train drivers operating on that line. Worse though is that the client was informed and sent the following note to Andrew Fensham: “Good evening Mr Fensham. I believe that your Daewoo truck is again stranded on route with our loads. Apparently it’s obstructing the traffic in town and as if that’s not enough, it’s stuck on a railway line. To be openly honest with you if our name are (sic) ever connected with your unreliable trucks, or if this scenario is mentioned on any media platform, you will be facing charges of name violation. See this as a warning and not a threat.” (FleetWatch has omitted the name of the client as per client’s instruction above). To receive such a note from a client is heart-breaking for Andrew Fensham. Thankfully the truck was towed off the line thus preventing what could have been a major disaster.
This was a scary incident when one of the NST rigs broke down slap-bang on an active railway-line crossing at Magaliesburg. The gears would not engage. Transnet were informed so that they could warn their train drivers operating on that line. Worse though is that the client was informed and sent the following note to Andrew Fensham: “Good evening Mr Fensham. I believe that your Daewoo truck is again stranded on route with our loads. Apparently it’s obstructing the traffic in town and as if that’s not enough, it’s stuck on a railway line. To be openly honest with you if our name are (sic) ever connected with your unreliable trucks, or if this scenario is mentioned on any media platform, you will be facing charges of name violation. See this as a warning and not a threat.” (FleetWatch has omitted the name of the client as per client’s instruction above). To receive such a note from a client is heart-breaking for Andrew Fensham. Thankfully the truck was towed off the line thus preventing what could have been a major disaster.

Three trucks of North Shore Trading were presented for inspection due to excessive vibration and damage to the body work and other parts. Trucks was reported to drive more on national roads and only load in unpaved and mining areas.

Test vehicle: Daewoo Maximus 7548 KLH 030 NW

1. On initial inspection it was found that there is excessive vibration on the truck evident in the panels that is broken and in some cases torn from there fixed point.

2. Mud guard panels, nudge bar and corner panes was found lose and tied with cable ties to prevent them from falling off.

3. Front tyres were found to be worn on the inside as well as the outside of the tread pattern.

4. Road test was conducted and at a speed of approximately 80Km/h a definite vibration and solid hitting of the cab could be felt indicating that there is no clearance of the cab to the cassis.

5. The wheel alignment on the front wheels was tested and found to be in the specification for heavy duty truck settings.

6. During the inspection under the truck a clear indication was found that the dampers were hitting the chassis causing the uneven ride and constant vibration experienced.

7. It is this problem that there are not enough space between the chassis and the front suspension that is a major contributing factor to the problem.

On inspecting the other two trucks the same and identical problems were observed making it to be a common problem on these types of trucks and not an isolated problem on the specific truck. I am of the view that using these vehicles in the current state will:

1. Lead to a serious accident as the steering of the vehicle is heavily impaired by the vibrations.

2. The current vibration and hard hitting of the cab cause driver fatigue to set in on an early stage and on long distance driving it will prove to be fatal to the driver and other road users.

3. The damage to the tyres and body work is costly and constantly changing tyres to prevent the vibration will not solve the problem.

4. The fact the body parts are broken lose and supports torn and cracked off may lead to total failure and flying parts may cause an accident to the truck driver and or other road users.

In my time working in the transport environment I have never seen the destruction of vehicles in such a short space of time as in this case.

Extra credence was given to the above reports when one of the trucks was sent to East Rand Spring Works in March last year. This was the report-back received on the work done.

“The front leaf springs had no camber at all so the front suspension had no suspension movement. The front shocks had very little resistance in the inward position. We have reset and added extra blades to the springs”

The bottom line of all this is that according to Fensham, if he doesn’t replace the current fleet, he will be forced to close the company. “It has been a devastating time for us and it just does not end. Every single day we experience breakdowns and we cannot make money or service our clients,” he says.

Each breakdown is recorded and from August 2021 through to the end of November 2022, a total of 857 breakdowns were experienced. In April 2022 alone, 80 breakdowns were recorded. These have ranged from panels falling off the trucks through to not being able to select gears; trucks not being able to start; brakes binding, fuel starvation; no headlights or tail-lights on trucks; alternator problems, propshafts breaking – and numerous others.

A ‘gatvol’ NST driver throws his hands up in disgust at yet another on-the-road breakdown. The drivers are highly disgruntled at the number of breakdowns – and especially when they happen at night as they fear for their personal safety when left stranded on the side of the road until help arrives. As a result, they have become reluctant to drive the Daewoo Maximus trucks. One driver sent a Watsapp stating: “In a dangerous place. Anything can happen because I'm in Mthonjaneni where they don't want side tippers.” In January this year, the Mthonjaneni local municipality in northern KZN announced a total ban on coal trucks passing through the town using the R66 road in Melmoth. The locals are not truck-friendly in this area and the driver had good reason to be afraid. On-the road breakdowns at night are dangerous for drivers anywhere in the country as it makes them easy targets for the roving bands of criminals who have become the scourge of the industry.
A ‘gatvol’ NST driver throws his hands up in disgust at yet another on-the-road breakdown. The drivers are highly disgruntled at the number of breakdowns – and especially when they happen at night as they fear for their personal safety when left stranded on the side of the road until help arrives. As a result, they have become reluctant to drive the Daewoo Maximus trucks. One driver sent a Watsapp stating: “In a dangerous place. Anything can happen because I’m in Mthonjaneni where they don’t want side tippers.” In January this year, the Mthonjaneni local municipality in northern KZN announced a total ban on coal trucks passing through the town using the R66 road in Melmoth. The locals are not truck-friendly in this area and the driver had good reason to be afraid. On-the road breakdowns at night are dangerous for drivers anywhere in the country as it makes them easy targets for the roving bands of criminals who have become the scourge of the industry.

One example of a breakdown was when the brake spring collapsed causing the brake linings to lie loose inside the drum. In this case, the S-cam was also stretched and the right hand side rear tyre burst. That vehicle had to wait on the side of the road to be towed to the Richards Bay dealer. More downtime.

New Era

With Fensham having lost all faith in the Daewoo Maximus trucks as well as the management of Tata Automobile Corporation SA (Pty) Ltd, the decision was taken to replace the entire fleet. However, the way forward is a difficult one as, according to Fensham, the resale value of the Daewoo Maximus units is nowhere near sufficient to enable the company to do an immediate replacement via trade-ins of the fleet. It’s going to be one step at a time and to this end, the first step has already been taken with Scania South Africa coming to the party by taking in five Daewoo maximum units as trade-ins at a price which enabled five brand new Scania R460 units to be put into the fleet at the end of August last year.

The deal was driven by Rikus Gouws, Key Account Manager, New Vehicle Sales, Scania South Africa with finance approved by Scania Financial Services. “It wasn’t easy but we were able to come up with a deal that at least kick-starts the replacement process,” Gouws told FleetWatch at the time.

What made it a bit easier is that Gouws has known the Fensham Group for many years and while the past two years have served to erode the financial health of the company, the past success of the company and its future viability were taken into account when evaluating the risk profile.

FleetWatch compliments Scania Financial Services on this approach for it encapsulates what we have always said that the trucking industry is all about long-term relationships not short-term transactions. Today’s balance sheet may be ‘yucky’ for whatever reason but the potential for profit lies in the transport contracts and the potential for securing additional contacts.

As spelt out above, NST is not a newcomer in the industry and has a solid reputation in the market built up over 22 years. However, because of the unreliability of the fleet of Daewoo Maximus trucks over the past two years, that reputation took a serious knock. The fact that management has been honest in their responses to customer complaints – at great cost to the company – also tells of a company with a high standard of ethics. Given all this, with the right fleet in place, lost contracts will return to the fold and performance will, once again, be at a top level.

Evidence of this is that since the five new Scania R460 units were put into service, there has not been one breakdown on these units and the loads are running smoothly, thus keeping the customers happy. And the good news for the Fensham Group is that since then, finance has been approved from a traditional bank (rather than an OEM in-house finance arm) for a further five Scanias to be put into the fleet. So that brings the total number of replacements to 10 so far.

Visit from Korea

According to Fensham, despite this decision having been taken, he was still prepared to leave the door open for Daewoo if the outcome of a visit by a four-man delegation from Daewoo in Korea in mid-November produced some tangible results – both in terms of correcting the faults on the current model range, coming up with a compensation plan for the losses incurred and a definitive plan for the way forward.

This picture shows the bracket that holds the wheel arch in position broken due to severe vibrations on the wheel arch. On two occasions on two different rigs the wheel arches fell off while driving. This is a huge road safety issue as those arches could have hit a vehicle behind. Luckily this did not happen – but it could have!
This picture shows the bracket that holds the wheel arch in position broken due to severe vibrations on the wheel arch. On two occasions on two different rigs the wheel arches fell off while driving. This is a huge road safety issue as those arches could have hit a vehicle behind. Luckily this did not happen – but it could have!

I was present during this meeting – as was Hendrik Visser, one of the directors and co-founder of HRM Transport, another operator who has experienced exactly the same problems with his Daewoo Maximus units as has NST. Also present were independent suppliers with intimate knowledge of the multitude of problems experienced by NST over the past two years. The following chart lists the faults that were presented to the Korean delegates:

List of faults over time

  1. Lack of quality on the cosmetics result in fines and impounding of trucks by the traffic department and the mines. Combinations prohibited from loading.
  2. Brake chambers braking off – safety risk for road users and drivers, vehicle unable to move.
  3. Suspension springs not suitable and causing major vibration and tyre wear. (30 – 40 000km) This alone resulted in numerous failures on the cab and drive line. The cost of said failures was borne by NST again from day 1, which amounts to and in excess of R1,2-million. This does not include the operational downtime losses incurred, contracts lost and the untarnished name of NST jeopardised in the South African market. These issues were communicated from day 1 to the management team, solutions were suggested by experts in their fields but this once again was downplayed by the Tata/Daewoo management team. 
  4. Multiple air leaks from shaved-through pipes caused by vibration.
  5. Multiple electrical failures causing excessive downtime.
  6. Multiple Eaton gearbox failures. 
  7. Multiple number of downtimes with gears not selecting for various reasons.
  8. Front nudge bars falling off due to excessive vibration and bad workmanship.
  9. Multiple fuel tanks cracking due to vibration and bad workmanship. Vehicles not allowed to load due to diesel spillages.
  10. Multiple breakdowns due to fuel starvation, due to tank balancing.
  11. Excessive brake wear – predominance settings not correctly set. This causes premature brake failure on trailers (40 000km instead of 300 000 km).
  12. Multiple diff failures and power divider failures which leads to downtime. 
  13. Torque rod bushes damaged and must be replaced too early.
  14. Early clogging of the air filters, which lead to high fuel consumption.
  15. Multiple blowing of fuses, fuse boxes don’t seal. Short circuit and blown lights causing vehicles not to load – terminal blocks used instead of wires being soldered.
  16. Multiple starting problems. 
  17. Multiple starter failures.
  18. Multiple alternator failures – alternators not strong enough to charge the batteries.
  19. Water leakage under engines. 
  20. Water coming through the top of the windscreens.
  21. Non availability of spares.
  22. Incompetent technicians responding to roadside assistance. 
  23. Incompetent driver trainer support (our truck was written off by Daewoo’s driver trainer).
  24. Air conditioners faulty. No parts available. 
  25. Driver seats faulty, no parts available.

The four-man delegation from Korea listened to the problems and at the end of the meeting, one of the delegates assured Fensham that the concerns would be taken up and that feedback would be given on a way forward. 

“It is now January and still no feedback from that meeting has been given,” says Fensham. In the meantime, the breakdowns – on a daily basis – continue. So that’s the end of the road for Daewoo in this group.

“Despite countless meetings with Daewoo, all they have given us is empty promises to improve and there is nothing they have done to compensate the losses we’ve had in our company. It’s now over. A full fleet replacement will be done and, together with other transporters who have also suffered, we may well go to court and fight for our right to be compensated for the millions of Rands losses incurred,” says Fensham.

Other disgruntled operators

At the beginning of this article, I stated that it was not only the Fensham Group which was disgruntled but also other operators. FleetWatch  spoke to some of them, one being HRM Transport which started up as a new venture in 2021 running four Daewoo Maximus trucks. Hendrik Visser, one of the directors and co-founder of the company, was also present at the meeting with the Daewoo Korean delegation.

Yet another one of NST’s Daewoo Maximus trucks being towed into the company’s Kroondal depot for repair after an on-the-road breakdown. The numerous breakdowns and faults have multiple causes ranging from gears not engaging; electrical faults; differential and power divider failures; in one case a broken propshaft; brake boosters falling off; battery faults. The list is endless. 

Operations manager of HRM Transport, Walter Schar says that when he started with the company, he was told of the problems in terms of breakdowns and other issues but thought it couldn’t be that bad. “However, now that I’ve been here for six months, I can tell you that it is worse than I could ever have imagined. I cannot believe how many problems we’ve experience with these trucks. You can’t make money with them. They are a waste of money,’ he says.

Schar says that instead of operations running smoothly, he spends his days running from one crisis to another. “A truck with an urgent load will break down and I then have to unload another truck, get it to the broken down truck so as to transfer the load to get it to the customer on time so as not to incur penalties.”  

At the time of talking, one truck had been standing at Richards Bay for two weeks waiting for a part – a power divider that came loose – to arrive from Korea. A power divider is found on a 6×4 truck tractor where you have a single propshaft coming from the back of the gearbox to the drive axles. The power divider serves to split the power to the first and second drive axles. It’s akin to a third differential.

The latest fault on one of the units was the ABS sensor light which was coming on repeatedly. “We had to replace the sensor in the front and at the same time, had to reattach the headlight which had come loose along with the panel that surrounds it,” he says.

According to Schar, the directors are now looking to sell two of the units and replace them with Scanias – and then later do the same with the remaining two units. “It is no use continuing with these trucks as the owners are not making a cent profit as they just keep breaking down. You cannot structure a growth plan. It’s all about survival,” says Schar.

Hendrik Visser, endorsed everything Schar said, adding that the problems they experienced were exactly the same as those experienced by the Fensham Group. “Instead of acting as an enabler for growth, these trucks have stymied us on every front. Never again,” he said.

“Downtime was unbelievable”

Although no longer in business having closed the company last year due mainly to the unfavourable economic and operating conditions facing truckers these days, Jacques Botha, the owner of Gay Transport, one of the oldest transport companies in the market having opened its doors in 1965, told FleetWatch that when the company was operational, he bought four Daewoo Maximus units in 2019 to join his fleet of Scania and Volvo trucks.

He said his main gripe was about the lack of back-up on breakdowns as well as poor parts supply. Unlike the NST fleet, his trucks didn’t fall apart – due to them operating on long haul city-to-city roads – but he did still suffer breakdowns. “And when, for example, a turbo pipe went or some electrical fault occurred, that was my problem to fix. I never got the back up – and that would cost me.”

Even on scheduled services, there would be delays. He cites as an example that when he sent his Scanias in for a service, they would be back in a day. “The Daewoo guys would take three to four days due to them not having some or other parts in stock so in terms of service, it was a mess.” 

He added that the downtime was unbelievable. “Over a three year period, I lost 200 000kms due to downtime on my Daewoo Maximus trucks compared to my Scanias. That tells the story.” he said. Botha kept them in the fleet for three years before getting rid of them.

It is only fair to point out that the problems with the Daewoo Maximus trucks was not the only reason for the company closing. As was pointed out in a statement put out by Botha at the time, this was due to a combination of market conditions, the effects of the Covid lockdown and political unrest in the country all contributing to the company not being able to keep up with the increase in operational costs. However, when put to work when the company was a going concern, the Daewoo Maximus trucks did not shape up to anywhere near initial expectations.

FleetWatch spoke to a few other company owners – who asked to remain anonymous – but all expressed some degree of dissatisfaction either with the reliability of the trucks or the lack of back up service and delays in parts supply. One of these owners said he had operated nine Daewoo Maximus trucks and had to replace two motors in two of the units within the first 60 000 kms. After four years, he decided to close his business and sell them – and that’s when he encountered another huge problem. The following statement from this owner should ring a loud warning bell for Tata Daewoo. “I never had any issue on getting a decent buy-back on my Scania and Volvo trucks but the Daewoo Maximus was like a leper. No-one wanted them.”

He did eventually manage to sell five of them to a company which operates the old Freightliner as well as Daewoo Maximus trucks. FleetWatch spoke to the owner of that company and he too said that the parts supply from Tata is not good. However, they do their own servicing of their trucks and because the Freightliners and the Daewoo Maximus have similar American drivetrains, they can swop parts at times and thereby reduce downtime while waiting for parts from Tata.

A happy customer

One company which does rate the trucks highly is Stellar Transport whose MD, Valerio D’Alessio, told FleetWatch  that they have not experienced any problems with their Daewoo Maximus trucks and are totally satisfied with them.

“We travel into Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and they are working wonderfully for us. The fuel consumption is decent and the biggest attraction is the price they’re coming in at. The only problem are the brakes. They don’t have an engine brake but the old intarders so we are going through brakes quite a bit more. However, the availability of spare parts through our dealer, ELT, is great.”

He says that they are running about 90% on good roads so, for their application, they are not experiencing the same problems as is the Fensham Group which does a lot of off-road travel.

Uneven tyre wear as shown here has been attributed to suspension problems with two independent inspectors reaching the same conclusion, namely, that there is not enough space between the chassis and the front suspension resulting in the spring dampers hitting the chassis (see picture below) thus causing uneven and premature tyre wear. It also explains the excessive vibration.  It was also found that some vehicle suspension components were not torqued on assembly resulting in suspension components vibrating loose.
Uneven tyre wear as shown here has been attributed to suspension problems with two independent inspectors reaching the same conclusion, namely, that there is not enough space between the chassis and the front suspension resulting in the spring dampers hitting the chassis (see picture below) thus causing uneven and premature tyre wear. It also explains the excessive vibration. It was also found that some vehicle suspension components were not torqued on assembly resulting in suspension components vibrating loose.

“We haven’t had hassles and have, in fact, increased the number of Daewoo Maximus trucks in our fleet. Our dealer has also been very good to us,” says D’Alessio.

What stands out here is that Stellar Transport runs its trucks 90% on good roads. For operators who are running their Daewoo Maximus trucks on off-road conditions it’s another story – one of hardship and sorrow as they battle to stay viable in the face of constant hassles and no back-up from Tata Daewoo management.

Editor’s Comment

As is well known, operational costs have gone through the roof resulting in the demise of many long-standing transport companies. To then add to this the costly operating environment through never-ending breakdowns is a recipe for disaster. The only conclusion one can draw is that Daewoo did not conduct proper tests to ensure the suitability of the Daewoo Maximus to all South African conditions. It seems they relied on the good reputation of the once highly popular American drive-train previously housed in marques like International – combined with a classy European type appointed cab – as their instant recipe for success. But there is so much more to it than that.

South Africa has unique operating conditions and trucks need to be specced to cater to those conditions. What Daewoo needs to do is to stand firmly behind its clients who are experiencing endless problems with the trucks literally falling apart. And I refer not only to proper and speedy back-up service and reliable parts supply but also via financial compensation for losses incurred through no fault of the clients who are losing credibility with their clients and losing money hand-over-fist. As I see it, Daewoo Maximus clients are being used as R&D test centres where faults can be highlighted and corrected in future model introductions. I doubt whether this was an intentional strategy but it had certainly played out as such. This should have been done prior to the introduction of these trucks.

The problem for Daewoo is that this is a small market where word of mouth spreads fast – and memories are long. So even if they do correct the faults in any new models they intend introducing, will they have a future or will trust be dissipated to such an extent that they have no future at all. How they handle the current dismal performance and reliability of their product in certain applications will determine their future viability in this market. As it stands, that future looks bleak – and the real problem is that they are taking some transport operators down with them. The Fensham Group has experienced this but is determined to rise again with Scania trucks lifting them onto their previous platform of success.

August 31, 2022 was a happy day for the Fensham Group with the arrival of the first Scania R460 models to replace five Daewoo Maximus models. FleetWatch Editor Patrick O’Leary was there and interviewed Olga and Andrew Fensham who saw this as the first step in a what they described as a new era for their company.

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