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Used Canuck trucks reach Third World

CHATHAM, Ont. - Ever wonder what happened to that last truck you traded in? There's a good chance it may have found a new home in Mexico, Costa Rica, Africa, Russia or even Cuba - and it's probably wo...

CHATHAM, Ont. – Ever wonder what happened to that last truck you traded in? There’s a good chance it may have found a new home in Mexico, Costa Rica, Africa, Russia or even Cuba – and it’s probably working harder than ever.

“Trucking is growing all over the world,” says Don Tetrault, president of Tatro Equipment in Chatham, Ont. “And they want this product. Canadian trucks have stricter safety standards, better maintenance, more horsepower, heavier frames and drivetrains.”

Tetrault has been exporting trucks for 25 years and his niche is primarily newer used models from 800,000 to one million kms. Anything much older is chopped and sold for parts.

He buys up group lots of trucks across Canada and a few in the U.S. (surplus fleets, repossessions, lease endings), reconditions them, and ships them to countries around the globe. Tetrault estimates 30 per cent of his sales go to the Third World.

“Mexico is big right now,” he says, “but next year it might be South America, Dominica, or Africa. And we ship containers of parts all over the world. Hong Kong, Venezuela, Holland, Africa, the UK, you name it.”

Tetrault mentions a Mexican fleet owner who stopped in looking for a few conventional tractors, 1995 or newer with Cummins power. He ended up buying one of each – a Kenworth, Freightliner and International – and going home a happy customer.

Moving these used Canadian units is a thriving business in itself. Transrite Transportation Services yard in Mississauga, Ont. is brim full with tractors. About 50 units, already bought and sold, are waiting to be trans-shipped to ports in the U.S. where they will be loaded onto ships bound for the Caribbean, Central America, Africa or Russia.

The tractors can be delivered three or four at a time, depending on the overall length. They are stacked, piggyback-style, on their respective fifth wheels. The units are either driven directly onto the ship or slung into the hold with a crane. Some trucks can be cut apart and fitted into containers, and still others are shipped in open-sided frames.

Trucks bound for Costa Rica or Jamaica are rolled onto a boat in Miami, while those going to Africa or Russia are shipped via the ports in Baltimore, New Jersey, or Philadelphia.

Transrite president Marc Milik estimates that he ships about 1,000 units a year to points outside North America. Costa Rica comes up time and again. It seems the country is a distribution point for truck sales in Central America.

“Costa Rica has ports on both sides of the country so trucks can be shipped easily to other destinations” says Milik. “It also has one of the most stable economies in Central America so it has become a centre for commerce.”

Costa Rican buyers and wholesalers are not infrequent visitors to Canadian used truck showrooms and auctions. They’re looking for a good deal and they’re not too fussy about the make or year. In general they’re interested in cheap trucks with low horsepower engines that they can get for $6,000-7,000.

“They’ll take any make powered by Cummins or Detroit,” says Jim Lockhart, used truck sales manager for the Kenworth Toronto group. “They don’t have the facilities to service Caterpillar engines.”

“In some Central American countries, the newer the truck, the higher the taxes,” says Milik explaining why some buyers don’t mind older vehicles. “Other countries, like Jamaica, will take newer stuff. Most of the trucks we ship are ’98, ’99, or 2000s.”

A high Canadian dollar usually means a dip in truck sales to the U.S., but it seems to have less of an effect on Third World sales – probably since the wholesalers, in turn, are charging U.S. funds when they sell the trucks.

Jamaican customers sometimes buy trucks using Canadian currency because it’s cheaper for them to do so. But on the whole, international trade in used trucks is conducted in U.S. dollars.

Over the years, the Greater Toronto Area has established itself as the shipping hub for used export trucks. Interestingly, Cuba figures highly in this trade.

Cuban agents buy up used trucks in Toronto which are then shipped to Halifax for export to Havana.

It’s difficult to get anyone in this business to talk about used truck sales to Cuba.

The U.S. government, after all, has maintained a strict trade embargo with the communist state for over 40 years and no one wants to ruffle American feathers. But most used truck dealers in Toronto are familiar with Cuba’s rabid hunger for anything with six wheels or more.

Conservative estimates and a little probing indicate that at least several hundred, or more likely closer to 1,000 trucks a year, are being sold to Cuba by truck dealers in Ontario. Don Tetrault, for one, doesn’t have any problem talking about it. “We’ve sold a lot to Cuba,” he says. “Tractors as well as Class 7 trucks.”

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