Here I was again, back in front of the Al Habtoor Truck and Heavy Equipment showroom on the Shaikh Zayed Road, with an eerie feeling of ‘déjà vu’ creeping over me, as memories of bruised and shaken bones, near concussion and noise came rushing back to haunt me.
This time Ed did not promise anything, no test drive in a sports car, no elegant touring in a Rolls, he just said, “See the new man at Mack.” As I rang to arrange the meeting I began to worry, “What if they want me to go out into the desert once again, have I enough life insurance and medical cover”, I thought.
But I need not have worried. The new man at the Al Habtoor Mack division, general manager Pierre Sanson, a veteran of the trucking industry, knew just how to interest a journalist without frightening him to death, by talking about his new ideas on how the truck industry here could move closer to European and United States industries.
“One of the strangest things here is the way people look at trucks,” laments Sanson. “Since the people who make the decisions on buying trucks hardly ever drive them themselves, the decisions are almost always based entirely on financial considerations. In the US and continental Europe, truckers see their vehicles as more than just a commodity. To them, it is a very important pair of their lives, especially if they own the rig themselves.”
To someone who is used to seeing trucks cared for like vintage cars, their selection based solely on financial consideration takes a little getting used to. It is said that the market here is one of the most difficult in the world to compete in.
Mack for instance, has a history that has made it into more than just a truck, explains Sanson. “It has played an integral part in the history of the transportation industry from its earliest beginnings to today, and has an image that has been built up over decades,” he says. “The Mack mystique is similar t that of the Harley Davidson motorcycle, another American road legend.”
Ironically, the bulldog symbol on the fender of the Mack is not true blue American but one that came across the Atlantic from England – some twenty years after the first Mack rolled down the assembly line. It played an important role in the First World War and it was the British, after seeing the sturdy performance of the Mack on the battlefields of Europe, who likened the truck to their own symbol of strength and dependability – the bulldog.
At least, that’s what the Mack Museum in the US says. Yes, there is a museum dedicated to this one marque. Detailing everything from the first designs, to the changes in its appearance as new models appeared – an evolution that is now part of the legend of the Mack and the history of the American road network.
Here in the Emirates, one of the things Sanson would like to introduce is the customization of trucks. In the United States and Europe it is not unusual to see Mack's looking like mobile works of art thundering down motorway, highways and autobahns. “Everything, apart from the engine can be customized, from the bodywork, to specification of the grillwork at the owners request,” claims Sanson, showing me pictures of the results of some of these conversions. I can well understand why so many of these truckers would want to spend every waking, and sleeping moment, in the cab of their Mack.
“Sure it may take some time,” says Sanson knowingly, “But this is a country that I believe is able to understand the value of quality, even in trucking. At Mack we know what it takes to build one just right. Given some time, I am sure we can, by educating the market, build the face of trucking into something that is more than just transportation, where it also becomes an image and develops its own legend.” Who knows, fifteen years down the line, we might all be playing he Arabic version of The Grateful Dead’s iconoclastic “Drive (till the end of time)”.