Kenworth has been a household name in Australia since the 1960s when the first trucks from the United States hit the local market. The company went on to build the first Australian-made Kenworth truck and sell many of the well-known transport machines in the country. The history of Kenworth trucks in Australia is rich and deserves retelling to appreciate the brand’s great contributions and accomplishments to the Australian trucking industry.
Going Down Under
In 1955, George Blomfield and Ed Cameron went to America to find trucks that can withstand the tough climate and road conditions in Australia. It was during a time following World War II when there were high inefficiencies in the railway systems, and the country badly needed a new transport solution. The two Aussies’ search led them to a plant in Seattle (Washington, USA), where they discovered the premium quality trucks manufactured by Kenworth.
Blomfield and Cameron decided to make a huge investment to import these vehicles and in 1962, Kenworth trucks hit the shores of Australia. The American trucks became a hit and sales continued to increase in the succeeding years. This led to a $1 million investment to build the 56,000 square foot manufacturing plant of Kenworth Australia in Bayswater, Victoria in 1970. Not long after, Kenworth Australia started releasing locally-built trucks.
The first Australian-built Kenworth truck, a cab-over K125CR (also called ‘Grey Ghost’) was produced in 1971. Four years after, the first Kenworth truck to be conceptualised in Australia was launched designed specifically to outlast the driving conditions in the country, the ‘W900SAR’. This truck became very popular due to its solid technical capabilities.
Growth and Expansion
By 1978, the Bayswater plant doubled in size and Kenworth Australia added 300 extra positions to help with the growing demand for its trucks. Some of the huge deals that the company closed were 13 Kenworth cab-overs ordered by Ansett Freight Express (AFE) and 31 prime movers for Finemores Transport Pty Ltd.
The company went on to manufacture even more popular trucks, one of which is the Kenworth C500AR. Released in 1981, the truck was a tough off-highway vehicle that was proven to be well-equipped for rugged truck works in the mining and logging industries in Australia. During the same year, Andrew Knight took over the operations of Kenworth Australia. He is the first-ever Australian to be appointed as managing director of the company.
1987 saw the biggest launch that Kenworth Australia had made when it unveiled the T600, nicknamed ‘Anteater’. The truck got the name for its prominent sloping aerodynamic nose and a bonnet plunging towards the ground. But more than that, the Kenworth T600 was also well-reviewed for its outstanding fuel economy, which resulted in the truck’s massive sales. The following year, the company hit another milestone for its 10,000th Australian-built truck.
In the 90s, success continued for the company despite the recession. It launched the Kenworth T900 in 1991; T480 in 1993; T601 (the 15,000th Kenworth) in 1996, and C510 in 1998.
Another important chapter in the history of Kenworth Trucks in Australia is the introduction of T604 ‘Technology Truck’ in 2000. It was equipped with advanced safety features, including the infrared heads up display, forward-collision radar, advanced GPS, and external cameras. In 2004, the company released one of its best Australian-built trucks, the T404SAR.
Three years later, the company launched the Kenworth C540, the largest truck designed by the company in Australia. It was made to handle heavy-duty workloads, particularly for the off-highway mining sector.
After celebrating 40 years in Australia in 2011, Kenworth released the limited-edition Legend 950 in 2015. It’s one of the most iconic models the company has ever built. Only 75 Legend 950 trucks were produced and had sold out in just 48 hours. Banking on this success, Kenworth released in 2017 the second model of its Legend Series, the Legend 900. It was unveiled at the Brisbane Truck Show and just like the first model, the Legend 900 was manufactured at a limited number. Only 257 units were produced for sale.
Future of Trucking
If the history of Kenworth Trucks in Australia is anything to go by (and we think it is), we can expect even more innovation, high-quality manufacturing and performance from the brand in the years to come. This is also a testament to how far truck manufacturing in Australia has evolved throughout the decades, demonstrating the talent and creativity of Australians in designing and building new machines that will cater to the needs of the various industries that use them.
With that, the future looks even brighter not only for Kenworth but for the whole truck manufacturing industry.