Thirty-five years ago the most famous trucking movie ever hit cinemas across the country: ‘Convoy’, starring Kris Kristofferson. With a slightly lower profile, meanwhile, Roy Owens was reporting for his first day’s work as a Mercedes-Benz truck sales executive.
Kristofferson’s wagons retired long ago, but Roy is still going strong with Newtownabbey Dealer Mercedes-Benz Truck & Van (NI) and is now one of Britain’s longest-serving and best known truck salesmen.
In the year Roy started his job, up-and-coming Northern Ireland punk band The Undertones had just released their first single, "Teenage Kicks", and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish scored the only goal to win the European Cup Final at Wembley.
Back then, says Roy, the truck industry was a far cry from today’s high-tech and highly regulated business landscape.
"I could visit a customer with my truck price list, work out any extras he wanted with a pencil and paper, tell him the cost and conclude the deal with a handshake," he recalls.
"Nowadays, of course, there’s really no such thing as a standard truck so every vehicle price has to be worked out from scratch, and operators expect a full, detailed quotation emailed to their computer."
Also changed out of all recognition are the Mercedes-Benz vehicles that Roy has supplied over the years to high-profile operators such as Andrew Ingredients, Brakes, Curran Transport, PRM Group and Express Distribution Services – and, more recently, to Carna Transport, McCulla (Ireland) and Mulgrew Haulage.
"One obvious factor is engine power," he says. "These days the driver of a 7.5-tonne Atego has anything up to 170 kW (231 hp) under his right foot – but in the equivalent model from the ’70s he had to make do with 58 kW (78 hp). At the same time fuel economy has improved drastically and modern vehicles produce much lower levels of emissions."
"A truck cab is a much nicer place to be these days too, and with the growth in popularity of automated gearboxes and new Mercedes-Benz developments like Predictive Powertrain Control, vehicles are evolving faster than ever."
Despite the ever-increasing use of technology, both in the design of vehicles and their operation, Roy insists that selling trucks is still very much a ‘people business’.
"Relationships are every bit as important as they ever were, not least because it’s very difficult to buy a truly bad truck these days – so service levels are a key differentiator.
"The complexity of modern vehicles means it’s more important than ever to get out there in person and do a proper, professional handover. Rather than just selling a vehicle and then walking away, we’re committed at Mercedes-Benz Truck & Van to helping our customers get the best performance and fuel efficiency from their trucks."
And even with 35 years’ experience under his belt, Roy shows no signs of slowing down. "I still love this job," he says. "The pace of change in the industry means it’s constantly evolving and everyday brings a new challenge."
Roy and his wife Rosemary live in Hillsborough, and have a 28-year-old son, David. The couple enjoy boating and keep a small cruiser on Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, while Roy is also a keen motorcycle enthusiast – he undertook a two-week, two-wheeled tour of Florida to celebrate his 50th birthday.