The Kiwi way: trucking across ‘the ditch’

By: Warren Aitken, Photography by: Warren Aitken

New Zealand’s trucking game boasts distinctive differences to Australia’s road transport industry – including the existence of cab-over Internationals.


Level ground – unusual geographic terrain in New Zealand

As a card-carrying All Blacks supporter I can tend to be a little one sided when it comes to certain things. I’ll defend our claims of being the ‘pie eating capital of the world,’ I’ll allow the Aussies to claim Russell Crowe but we get Crowded House. But when Australians poke fun of town names like Waipu, Hooker Valley and Shag point, I point out the great Australian towns of Nowhere Else, Humpybong and Mount Buggery. Checkmate!

When it comes to the transport industry though, we are those neighbours you catch yourself peering over the fence at, sometimes in that ‘mate, she’s in the pool again’ way and often in the ‘what the hell is he building now,’ raising the eyebrows way. The reason for that is although New Zealand may be close enough to chuck a pav over when pudding’s up, its transport industry and the environment it operates in is as different to Australia as the two countries flags are not.

The most obvious variance is the travelling distance. To put it into perspective, the distance driving from one end of NZ to the other is around 2081km. In contrast to that, in Australia if you lived in the relevantly named little community of Kiwirrkurra it would be a 2400km round trip to pop into Port Hedland for a pie.

Terrain is also vastly different over there. While most of Australia is as flat as central Queensland road kill with a few decent mountains thrown in just to keep the clutch foot warm, New Zealand is predominantly narrow, windy and hilly. A New Zealand hill is the equivalent of an Australian mountain, only bigger.

So, with a different environment New Zealand has had to sculpt its own unique transport configurations.

One of the most popular setups for the NZ conditions is the classic 8-wheeler truck and trailer combinations. I would dearly love to fuel the Anzac rivalry by taking the opportunity to point out we call them truck and trailer units because, well, it’s a truck with a trailer. While Australia refers to them as truck and dog combinations which if literal would have the RSPCA in an uproar.

However, it would be very duplicitous of me to joke about that as NZ’s other popular setup is a tractor unit with a B-train behind it. Clearly, they are not trains, they are not even close to road trains nor do they resemble Thomas the Tank engine. They are as the Aussies have appropriately named them, B-doubles. So I’ll let the truck and dog jokes sit and rollover for now.

Distinctive restrictions

The popularity of truck and trailer combinations reflects the NZ transport industry’s attempt to navigate the finer points of all the rules and regulations around weight restrictions, length restrictions, permits and road user charges. Now we could get into a breakdown of what, why, how and WTF to explain the technicalities but I’m sure that would be as much fun as a three-hour lecture on why the Kardashians are a positive influence on our young.

The short version is New Zealand has a system where diesel vehicles pay charges based on axle weights and kilometres travelled. To protect the state of the roads the idea is to spread the weight evenly over the axles. The maximum allowed at the moment is 23 metres long with a gross weight of 50 tonnes. To get the big yellow H permit for a 50 tonne setup, the weight must be spread over nine axles within specific measurements.

With that in mind, we arrived at Brenics Transport to check out its twin steer International 9870 with a five-axle trailer.

Before we focus on the driver of this stunning looking rig, I guess we should address the elephant in the room. What the heck is an International 9870 and where do I get one?

Short answer, you get one from New Zealand. The 9870 is designed and built in Mt Maunganui by Intertruck Distributors. Originally just an agent for Navistar’s International and Iveco brand, managing director Comer Board put his heart and soul – as well as his many years of trucking experience – into turning the company into a producer of a NZ-specced and built truck. The advantage being every truck designed is built to the customers’ needs.

Intertruck produce three variants of the International Eagle 9870. The Day Cab, the Low Roof Sleeper and the Sky Roof. The cab shell of the 9870 is based on the original 9800i platform (the first International Eagle designed by Intertruck). The 9800i was a good solid truck with many still working hard in tough NZ conditions, but it’s fair to say when it comes to looks the old 9800s only ever received the participation awards at any beauty contest. The redefined 9870, with its staunch grill and drop visor is more likely to be getting hit on at every bar in town. Brenics Transport’s 9870 is an in your face example of that point.

The redefined 9870’s grill would look an intimdating sight through a Wicked camper van’s rear view mirror

Spacious sleeper

Brenics has been around New Zealand roads for over 20 years, specialising in produce and packaging. The company has a lolly scramble of truck manufacturers in its fleet, including a couple of older Internationals, so the purchase of a new NZ-built Eagle was always on the books.

The driver of the 9870, Rick Harkness, tells me, "I loved my old truck, but this is a whole new level".

Harkness started in one of the old day cab International Eagles before the new 9870 turned up in mid-2017. With the old day cab Eagle Rick was in motels most nights when he was on the road but with the arrival of the spacious cab he can now camp in the truck.

At 6ft 3, Harkness commends the interior room of the big Eagle. "I can stand up with just ducking my head a little bit; it’s got good headroom," he says.

The redefined 9870 Eagle also includes a raised bed, which shifts the fridge underneath the bed and even more storage space available in the Sleeper Cab.

Aside from the advantages of extra space inside the truck, the other advantage the internationals are finding is a much lower tare weight. Intertruck salesman Shaun Jury says, "Comparing a 6x4 unit, we can be as much as three-quarter tonne lighter than other makes".

Brenic’s 9870 tares in at just over 19 tonne. That’s with fridges, motors, spare tyres, chains and everything else, giving them a payload of 27-28 tonnes. At just under the NZ maximum of 23 metres, the unit is built to take 36 pallets.

I will point out another very Kiwi thing about this truck, which is replicated in a lot of other Kiwi rigs, is fuel capacity. Brenic’s 9870 sports one tank holding 450 litres. In Australia you’d run dry before you got to another servo at that rate, but due to NZ’s size, running out of fuel is about as likely as losing the Bledisloe Cup.

Powering the 9870 is a Cummins X15 putting out 615hp. Though the truck is in its formative years for Brenics, they’ve already noticed improved fuel figures as well as pulling power to spare. Harkness credits the fact that the truck is almost always up to weight as the reason the big Cummins has bedded in so well.

Leaving aside tourists in Wicked campervans, the other issue for Kiwi truckies is stability and traction. It’s a country where you can spend your morning skating on ice, your lunch in blistering heat followed by an afternoon of rain and an evening in the snow.

With an auto gearbox and Internationals IROS suspension Harkness admits he was extremely impressed the first time he got caught in the notorious Lewis Pass. "I had an empty Scania behind me and the grit truck behind him," he says. "I couldn’t believe it didn’t skid or slide."

While partial credit is given to the way it was loaded, Rick admits the trailer wasn’t light and the way the truck reacted gave him the utmost confidence in it.

So, it’s got the room, it’s got the feel, it definitely has the looks and it can’t be faulted in performance. It’s no surprise that Rick rates the International 9870 as "the best truck I’ve ever driven".

Comer and his team at Intertruck have done an outstanding job, creating a New Zealand truck for New Zealand conditions.

To surmise then, in as Kiwi as I can. If you’re gunna take a Tiki tour in the wop wops, the sweet as 9870 is straight up. Chur!

They’re called tractor units with B-trains in Kiwi language

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