It’s not easy starting your own business—especially an off-road cabover business with a niche market.
Hard Working Trucks reported last month on Acela Truck Company, which resets former U.S. Army 4×4 and 6×6 trucks for extreme environments, like the oil sands mines in Canada.
Acela debuted its Monterra truck line last month at the Global Petroleum Show in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“The show went really, really well. We closed a number of deals which is always fantastic,” Acela President and CEO David Ronsen told HWT.
Another windfall came from a company that will be using Monterra trucks in areas that otherwise would have cost the company over $2 million in road maintenance costs had they opted for less-capable trucks.
So, Acela is rolling along, but the ride hasn’t been easy.
Ronsen, a former fireman, first learned about the opportunity to rebuild these extreme cabovers when Canadian businessmen approached him with the idea.
The trucks had proven themselves to be exceptionally reliable in Canada’s tough oils sands mines, where one downed truck can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour because, after all, that sand’s not cheap. One load of the oil infused stuff is valued at around $250,000, Ronsen said.
So, Ronsen’s friends to the north wanted more of these reliable trucks, but there just wasn’t enough to go around. The trucks couldn’t be bought new so the hope was that Ronsen would be willing to refurbish them.
Though Ronsen has about 25 years experience in tackling some big refurbishing projects, including firetrucks, busses and mobile command centers, he didn’t exactly jump at the chance to rebuild these extreme cabovers.
“Honestly, I was a little reluctant. I didn’t know a lot about the vehicles, so we started looking into it,” Ronsen explained. “We started making contact with the original manufacturer and also some of their tier 1 suppliers to see what kind of parts availability we could get.”
Long story short, it took Ronsen and his crew about eight months to put key relationships in place, buy a couple of test vehicles and make some modifications for proof of concept.
“These things are burly enough and well-made enough that we felt very comfortable in standing up the company around them,” Ronsen added.
The trucks earned the Army’s coveted ultra-reliability status which has translated well into the oil sands business. Following seven years of work in the mines, the trucks have recorded uptimes in excess of 90 percent, which Ronsen says has never been achieved with other trucks.
The trucks were originally built as no-frills workhorses for the Army and though they proved themselves through the years, Acela studied Army reliability reports on the trucks to make them even better, especially for drivers.
A proprietary and well-documented process is used for truck tear-down and rebuild. Over 600 parts are replaced. The cabs get A/C, comfortable seats and digital dashboards which store engine and transmission history.
“What we’re trying to do is build the weak spots out of the trucks that we refurbish,” Ronsen said. “They are impressive. Our finished product really does look brand new.”
Testing is a constant at Acela and comes with an interesting reward.
“My guys take the trucks home at night. We’re still testing them. They take them out on the weekends and go four-wheeling,” Ronsen said. “I offered a hundred dollars to anyone who breaks one. That was seven months ago and I still have that hundred dollars.”
Acela plans on introducing a Monterra XL model in about a year. Some of the upgrades will include chrome trim and even more creature comforts in the cab.