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Canadian built trucks an African favourite

PENTICTON, B.C. - Canada has a proud history of truck manufacturing, with the likes of Sterling, Western Star, Hayes and Pacific trucks being built here throughout the years. Now there's a new truck b...

PENTICTON, B.C. – Canada has a proud history of truck manufacturing, with the likes of Sterling, Western Star, Hayes and Pacific trucks being built here throughout the years. Now there’s a new truck being manufactured in Canada and it goes by the name Mammoth.

You won’t see many of these trucks on Canadian highways, however. They’re being built in right-hand drive, cabover engine configurations for international markets, particularly Africa.

It’s a market Geoff Gogle knows well, having sold Western Stars and Mitsubishi’s in Zambia. However, when gun-toting insurgents attacked Gogle and his family six years ago, they escaped to Canada to heal their wounds.

Gogle quickly realized there was an abundance of used trucks in North America whereas used trucks are hard to come by in his native Africa. Since many Africans can’t afford to purchase brand new trucks, Gogle began converting North American conventionals into right-hand-drive cabovers for the African market. The frame is shortened to the customer’s specifications and then an ERF COE-type cab is installed. The truck is simultaneously converted to a right-hand drive and voila – you have a Mammoth truck, perfect for freight hauling in Africa, New Zealand and other right-hand-drive markets.

Gogle and his small staff have sold more than 150 trucks over the past five years and they plan to ramp up production soon to one per week. Gogle hasn’t ruled out selling cabovers into the North American market at some point down the road.

“There’s still a small niche here and that small niche is just enough to keep us going nicely without fighting the big boys,” says Gogle, suggesting there’s a market for 5,000 cabover trucks each year in North America.

Still, Gogle’s goals for domestic sales are modest.

“To take on Freightliner and Volvo, you’re talking major problems,” admits Gogle. “You have to leave those guys alone but as they are pulling out of the cabover market someone else can step into that niche.”

The trucks destined for Africa are built from 10-year old conventional chassis and other components readily available in Canada. An engine (usually Caterpillar, Cummins or Detroit Diesel) with about a million kilometres under its belt is used to power the truck, completing the makeover.

One may wonder who’d want to buy a foreign truck with a million kilometres already on the engine, but Gogle points out it’s quite cheap to overhaul an engine in Africa when required.

“The labour’s so cheap in Africa that it’s not a big deal to tear whole thing apart and rebuild it,” he says. “Here, the labour alone would be prohibitive.”

Mammoth trucks sell for about US$30,000, making them a cost-effective choice for African fleets and owner/operators. When shipping through a U.S. port, it only costs Gogle about $3,000 to ship a truck to Africa.

“We can price ourselves competitively with the domestic supply,” says Gogle.

One wonders why African truckers wouldn’t simply import cabovers from European countries, but Gogle says Africans like 6×4 configurations whereas most European trucks are 6×2.

“That’s not desirable because of the tremendous traction difficulties on the mountains pulling high loads, so people prefer to have the North American powertrain,” explains Gogle.

There are other international markets ripe for the picking, but Gogle says he’s been frustrated with protectionist trade laws in countries such as India. So for now, Mammoth continues focusing its efforts on the African market. Gogle still has family in Zambia and they serve as a sales team. Gogle himself also visits Africa to conduct business and he says the company backs its products up by providing training as well as engine contacts within the area.

“I talk the language and that’s very important,” says Gogle. “And our reputation goes back to 1960” when he was the owner of Geoff’s Garage. In fact, it was during this time Gogle adopted the name Mammoth trucks as his business began shifting its focus from passenger vehicles to commercial trucks.

Exporting Canadian-made trucks to Africa is an unusual niche – will the market support Mammoth’s ramped up production? Gogle thinks so.

“I doubt we’ll be able to keep up with the demand unless we have access to more funding,” he says. “The market is really huge, but it’s not as though it doesn’t have its own dangers. It’s competitive and if we price ourselves out of the market, we’re buggered. We have to build these trucks much faster and we’ve got to market them – we can’t sit around and wait for someone to come buy them, we have to go out there and promote them.”

Twenty years from now, Gogle says Mammoth trucks will be a common sight in Africa and other countries where there’s demand for right-hand-drive cabovers.

“This is the first time anybody has custom-built used trucks,” he says. “It just makes sense to sell the right truck into the right market. Trying to sell something that’s alien to the market doesn’t make sense.”

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2 Comments » for Canadian built trucks an African favourite
  1. Pieter says:

    Hi Geoff,
    I am a South African working in Mozambique , dont you think its a good idea to convert long nose Freightliners ( columbia, century class and fld-120 types ) they are very popular in this part of Africa. I work for Selected Supplies in Beira , we import American truck parts and we have a
    fully equiped cummins and detroit workshop.
    Hope to hear from you soon,
    Best regards,
    Pieter Pelser.

  2. enock banda says:

    Dear Geoff,
    I am a Malawian and work with trucks everyday. I believe you have heard that soon South Africa will not allow Left hand drives on its roads and most Malawian trucks ( Century Class, Columbia and International) are Left hand and have been busy on this route for years. I want to pioneer and champion Left to Right Hand conversions in my country and there is BIG business market.
    Don’t you think its a good idea to train me on conversions, and soon I am opening a Truck Service Centre with MOT as well.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Kindest Regards,
    Enock Banda. (+265 888 979 511 or +265 999 368 601)

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