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Sat 19 May 2007 12:00 AM

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4WD supply keeps contractors on the pedal

Lead times on plant is not the only thing concerning procurement managers across the region; the availability of four-wheel drive vehicles for use on site is also controlled by heavy demand. Christopher Sell reports on two approaches designed to keep a contractor's workforce moving.

Visit any construction site in Dubai, or further afield for that matter, and the presence of four-wheel drive vehicles is unmistakeable. This is unsurprising.

The conditions on sites are hardly conducive to the clients of Maserati; it is more a case of ‘two wheels bad', ‘four-wheels good'. In fact, with the larger projects in the emirate representing small towns in size, it is imperative to be able to navigate easily around the construction site.

And this ability to cope with all terrain is especially important in a region where a large number of developments are based on reclaimed land. The Palm Jumeirah, Deira and Jebel Ali - not to mention those developments in Abu Dhabi on Al Raha Beach and Saadiyat Island, for example - require hardy vehicles to be able to manage the varying terrain.

It depends on the nature of the project. If you have one in the middle of nowhere, say the desert, you need a decent, powerful engine but for normal terrain, you can go with a less powerful vehicle.

Talal Adel Hammoud, projects plant manager, CCC (UAE) explains that long experience in the region has enabled the company to ascertain what exactly works best for their company. "Consolidated Contractors International Company has a long and extensive experience in the construction industry both locally and internationally. CCC has been operating since 1954 and during these years the company has worked on thousands of projects and used a variety of 4x4s."

Based on this long-term experience, Hammoud advocates the Toyota brand, citing its longevity and ‘complete package'. "These days CCC relies heavily on Toyota vehicles. Some of the main reasons for that is durability, excellent after-sales support, low cost of maintenance and high resale value." As a result of this, CCC has unified its entire fleet.

What is more, different models are used, depending on what role a CCC employee occupies. For example, a senior member of staff could expect to be provided with a Land Cruiser or Prado, while the foreman and other on-site personnel are provided with double-cabin models.

However, Hammoud admits the task can sometimes determine what type of vehicle is provided, with the Land Cruiser favoured for field repair and maintenance tasks: "The Land Cruiser pick-ups have a high horse power and are excellent in remote areas, especially when used for towing big compressors and welding machines."

Mazen Malouk, deputy administrator, ACC, says the company tailors its approach to 4x4s depending on the terrain: "It depends on the nature of the project. If you have one in the middle of nowhere, say the desert, you need a decent, powerful engine but for normal terrain, you can go with a less powerful vehicle."

Hammoud also points out that, unlike other forms of motor vehicle, there has been little change in the basic operation of 4x4 vehicles. Where they have improved has been within the creature comforts, more in line with the increasing expectations of the public than a need to improve mechanically.

For Toyota, these changes, clearly seen on the Land Cruiser and Prado, are developments such as differential lock, ABS, stereo, CD, DVD and GPS.

Having to cope with the differing projects also means CCC needing to balance what would be required of the vehicle in any given environment. As mentioned, Dubai's construction site place varying demands on the contractor as their locations can encompass unique specifications. "Of course, there are certain projects that take place in areas that need special applications; sometimes regular 4x4s are not applicable and cannot do the job.

"In certain rough terrain or others where we have encountered shallow water, big-wheeled tractors are needed to move people and equipment around. We deal with this issue case by case, and depending on the terrain situation we take action."

However, Hammoud points out that it isn't necessarily all about the type of machine that is important. A good, reliable vehicle, with the right size engine is one thing but if there is an inexperienced driver behind the wheel, then it's useless. Having the required skill level to handle desert driving is paramount.

"In the general desert terrain found mostly across the region, a regular 4x4 will do the job just fine but an important point worth mentioning here is that what is more important than the vehicle is the person operating it.

"Not anyone can drive a 4x4 in the deserts of the gulf region; if the driver is not experienced then he will definitely face a lot of trouble and have difficulty moving around without getting stuck."

Sometimes the standard vehicles available just do not offer the functionality required from the contractor, and consequently, CCC has had to use adapted machines depending on the requirement, be it to transport materials, equipment or personnel.

In some instances, the firm has hired specially modified vehicles for certain jobs such as 4x4 or even 6x6 buses to transport workers and personnel across the desert or even 6x6-wheel trucks.

Like other contractors, CCC realises there is a financial advantage to favouring a particular manufacturer. Julian White, sales and operations manager, 4WD Motors, explains that most of the big contractors have realised the benefits of approaching the main dealer to get a good deal for a volume sale. And Hammoud adds: "We have unified our fleet to make it more standardised. It makes it easy to work with someone you know and have experience with."

However, according to Malouk, ACC does not follow this particular pattern of procuring from a single dealer. Preferring in fact to use a number of dealerships in the hope of avoiding any potential delays, which could impact on the project. "We use many brands, from the Toyota Land Cruiser, to the Hyundai Santa Fe. It is based on the availability of cars. We cannot stick to one motor, because maybe you go to Nissan or Toyota for a pick-up and they don't have what you require."

Malouk adds that this policy is in place to avoid having to wait for a particular car to become available when it is in high demand; for example, he cites having to wait 15-20 days for a Toyota Land Cruiser and even 20-30 days for the ‘lower model' Mitsubishi Pajero. "I believe this is because 4x4 prices have become more affordable. People have started thinking, ‘why have a normal car if I can afford a 4x4?'

"We use Nissan, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Toyota. We don't have any sort of agreement. Of course there are two strategies; if you go with one dealer only, of course you might get better prices and maintenance. At the same time, you might not find the model you require. So that is why we don't do this."

It seems that four-wheel drives are not just the preserve of those wanting to hit Sheikh Zayed Road in relative comfort. The high-horsepower, off-road capability and large volume appeal to construction companies as it enables them to manoeuvre around their construction sites in relative ease and safety.

With the likes of Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan all offering vehicles they claim can match the most hostile terrain, it seems that contractors are spoilt for choice. But in a market where demand can often outweigh supply, procurement managers will not only be kept on their toes by the plant suppliers but also the commercial vehicle availability as well.

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