The European Connection


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Opzeeland Transport usues its European connection as a source of information to use here in New Zealand

The European Connection
The European Connection

Canterbury based family operated transport company, Opzeeland Transport, has a long history in the transport business, dating back to the early 20th century in Europe. After talking with John van Opzeeland, Managing Director and son of founder, Cor van Opzeeland, you soon discover that his european connections remain a good source of information.


Following World War II in the early 1940s, the van Opzeeland family began to settle back into life in Holland, getting into the developing transport business. His brothers all wanted Cor to stay and rejoin them in the family business, but Cor chose to immigrate to New Zealand to start off afresh here, like many others at the time.


He arrived in 1952 and first found work on the trams and buses in Christchurch. A few years later, having settled into the southern lifestyle, he bought into a coal carrying business in Hornby, which he ran for nearly a decade.  In a move re-connecting him to his transport roots, Cor became the first person in Hornby to receive a "vehicle authority" (or a vehicle licence as they are called these days) for the Hornby area and began carrying goods on the side, between coal deliveries.


Eventually Cor sold the coal business and focused exclusively on freight transport, building Opzeelands up to a fleet of four trucks by the early seventies.  As the end of the decade drew near, Cor’s children were becoming involved in the family business, with the oldest son, John, showing particular interest. "I enjoyed spending time in the trucks from an early age," explains John. "I really enjoyed the working environment so I drove for quite a few years, and I guess through a matter of logical progression more than planning we [John and sister Marianne] ended up sort of running the company" he recalls. 


"That was fine when you had around half a dozen trucks – you could do it from a radio in the truck, as many still do. But then you begin to quietly grow, and as more people come onboard the layers start to grow, then hey presto! – you’re sitting here," says John as he gestures to his desk stacked with paper work.  

"You get a little removed from the steering wheel," reaffirms John. "As a result I haven’t driven seriously for 20 years, but I still enjoy the opportunity to get in and do any role that’s required.  Unfortunately the opportunities of getting out from behind the desk now the company has grown significantly, are few and far between."


Carting general freight, the company’s core deliveries are mostly food stuffs, hardware and packaging.  Although they remain based in Hornby, Christchurch, the company’s distribution network spans the whole country.
According to John, his strength is in the South Island, with a network throughout the mainland performing overnight runs to all the major centres.


"The town fleet of a dozen trucks services local customers and store merchants, while we also run services to and from Auckland every week, feeding the product back into the stores and direct to customers."


In 1984 the current premises in Hornby was formally opened in a ceremony attended by the then Minister of Transport, Sir George Gear. The moment signified the coming of age of Opzeeland as a key transport player in the Canterbury region and was spectacularly captured when a brand new Scania P82M4X2 tractor unit burst through a curtain towards the on-looking audience with spectacular theatrics.


It was a poignant milestone in the history of the company, and unknown at the time, it was also the beginning of a long standing relationship between Opzeeland and Swedish truck manufacturer Scania. The P82M4X2 was the first Scania delivered to Opzeeland Transport and began a relationship that has continued unchecked.


Although John swears "we’re not party people by any means," there have been a number of significant events in their history so far. These events include celebrating 50 years in business back in 2006. The moment was again marked through the close relationship of the company and Scania. This time the company chose to paint a Scania R500 in gold and decorated the curtains to match with a commemorative design.


"When you look around in Christchurch, from when I started 30 years ago, there are very few companies that still remain here in Christchurch. So it’s important from yourself and your staff’s perspective to commemorate key milestones in your business."


John is a keen business man. He has an analytical mind and is prepared to think outside the box to maintain an advantage over his competition. He by no means selects his trucks on a personal whim or preference.  Instead when John is looking at his fleet, he includes a look at what’s going on back in his father’s homeland of Europe.


Although Cor’s brothers have moved on now, John says he still has a lot of cousins in the transport business back in Europe and keeps in touch with them regularly, suggesting they are a great source of information as to what trends are occurring within the industry in Europe. "Obviously with our heritage we have had a bit of contact back with Europe and they have historically been, and still are, about a year to a-year-and-a-half ahead of us in terms of trialling the products. So you soon find out what’s good and what’s not.


"If we get word of what’s good it can give us the jump here.


"The Scania product is consistently good and is one of the better Europeans in our view," says John. He points to the successful launch of the P&R series in Europe in 2004. For almost two years before it arrived in New Zealand, the product was proving itself in Europe.


The continued reliability of the Scania product has been a key reason Opzeeland Transport has remained with the product.  Having run Scania’s since the early 3-series, John says he has had a good run from the brand. "They [the Scania 3-series] were a great truck. The 112’s were very good, and at that time the specifications of those were good too - they were very reliable.


"It comes down to a vehicle’s reliability, cab and chassis shape and height so as to be body-friendly for us, and even the suspension, drivability and comfort and safety of the unit," says John, echoing the common help perception that European vehicles have it in terms of safety and economy over other makes. 


Like many transport operators throughout the country, there is often a polarisation of opinion as to European vs. American vs. Asian truck manufacturing. It’s clear John’s preference lies in his heritage back home in Europe where, he says, "the products are recognised for quality manufacturing, high level performance and efficiency, and a strong emphasis on enhancing the driver comfort and drivability of the vehicles. European technology is leading the industry, and the latest Scania’s are a prime example of that."

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