When the Going Gets Tough

Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific

All of the vehicle’s elements come as welcome news to many Australian soldiers. They will have the opportunity to drive the G-Wagon as a sort of company car, since their employer has ordered thousands of the vehicles to form the backbone of land support services for the next thirty years.

Project LAND 121 is a multi-phase project that aims to provide field vehicles, modules, trailers, and through-life support with greater versatility and lifespan than the assets currently in service. The project involves sourcing around 7,500 lightweight, light, medium and heavy protected and unprotected vehicles and trailers to enhance payload-carrying capability and modules to enable specialist functions.

LAND 121 Phase 3A Lightweight and Light Capability (LLC) is acquiring a fleet of lightweight and light vehicles for tactical training. The fleet will comprise 2,146 unprotected Mercedes-Benz G-Wagons, including specialist modules, and 1,799 Haulmark trailers. Together with the protected light vehicles that will be procured under LAND 121 Phase 4, the G-Wagons will replace the current fleet of Land Rovers. The G-Wagon fleet will comprise eight mission system variants and will be delivered to Army and Air Force units across Australia between July 2012 and June 2015.

Mark Dixon is the Senior Manager and Head of Military Business at Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific. In essence, he only has one customer – the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), the procurement division of the armed forces – and this customer has no need to place daily orders. Mark was very pleased to win the contract to supply G-Wagons. As an ex-military man, Mark and his team spend a lot of time in contact not only with the DMO but also with a wide variety of individuals and divisions with the army and air force throughout Australia. The team works to ensure the vehicle users are fully conversant with all of the vehicle’s requirements, the conditions under which they will be used, and the loads they will be subjected to.

It is inevitable that the vehicles used by the Australian defence forces will most likely come from Europe. It is not just a factor of the strong dollar or the state of domestic vehicle manufacture; it is a result of the global economy. In any case, Mercedes Benz has been supplying the DMO since 1978, starting with 911 rural fire tenders in 1978 and then the Unimog – still in service, mostly – for which it has been asked to guarantee supply of service and parts through 2020. It also supplies Sprinter vans to the air force, buses and Fuso light trucks, among other products, although these are generally commercially available. The company has even supplied Actros long-distance trucks to the air force but in this instance as a subcontractor with Lockheed Martin as the prime, supplying airfield radar systems.

Despite many other ongoing projects, the G-Wagons are the current focus of attention. Mercedes sells in the order of dozens of these SUVs each year in Australia. Right-hand drive production “has been revived right across the world,” says Mark. It was likely to have been curtailed at the Magna Steyr (formerly Steyr-Puch) factory in Austria because of low worldwide demand. Likewise, the 6×6 version has been developed by Mercedes-Benz at the request of DMO. This version has caught the eye of other defence forces and orders have already been received from Sweden.

The G-Wagons come from Europe as base models. The modules which make them into each of the variants for the DMO are then added locally, their development and production subcontracted to well-known engineering group GH Varley of Newcastle, NSW. Integration of the modules, testing and final assembly is carried out at Mercedes’ headquarters at Mulgrave, Victoria.

Australian specialist MOTEC was given the job of developing on-board data management systems for the project – the G-Wagon was the only model in this sector without its own – and the MOTEC system has been adopted and is available worldwide through Mercedes Benz.

The model lacks ESP, a form of electronic stability control that takes charge in extreme handling situations. This could hinder its adoption by major mining companies, but Mark says it is eminently suitable for suppliers in that sector too – anywhere where remote working is required.

There is also considerable interest in the model from state authorities around the country searching for forestry or emergency vehicles. They are attracted by the G-Wagon characteristics of immense strength and reliability combined with its off-road ability that includes, among other things, the ability to climb gradients of 80 per cent. They are also attracted by the G-Wagon’s load capacity, double the capacity of most competitors. “We have a number of vehicles in the field at the moment,” says Mark, “being trialled by parties interested in the professional version, which flows on from the fact that Defence have chosen the vehicle.”

There is the prospect of service and parts availability at commercial dealerships throughout the country. So the next time someone in uniform mentions his (or her) ‘new Mercedes’, they may not be referring to a flashy S-Class – it could be something much more practical, put to use in maintaining Australia’s defence capability.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 19, 2018, 2:07 PM AEST