30 May 2024 · CMI Hino Adelaide

A study in business ethics with Adelaide Taxi Trucks

AJ Singh, part owner of Adelaide Taxi Trucks
AJ Singh, part owner of Adelaide Taxi Trucks. (Images: Prime Creative Media)

Adelaide transport operator Amarjeet Singh, better around town as AJ, initially set off from India in 2007 to continue his university studies overseas. The choice of destination came down to three countries – the USA, Canada or Australia.

However, it was AJ’s love for cricket that may have had swayed him into opting for the land ‘down under’. In retrospect it’s certainly proved to be a wise decision. The freight business he operates with his brother Nick Singh now runs a 50-strong fleet of mainly Hino, Volvo and Scania trucks out of Adelaide. But it wasn’t meant to be this way.

Arriving from India’s Kashmir region, AJ was focussed on studying for a masters’ degree in computer science. He’d completed his bachelors’ degree in India but his father, who was running a transport operation, suggested a move overseas.

“My dad was an illiterate man, he did only year four or something,” AJ explains. “Then he went straight on to the trucking business because that was a part of the family business with my granddad.

“He used to struggle with a lot of things and the only thing he wanted for me and my brother was not to go into the trucking business but do something else.”

Arriving in Adelaide at age 21, AJ needed to earn a living while at university, so he started driving taxis, just one day a week. That eventually led to starting his own taxi business. He admits, though, that the thought of running his own trucking operation was at the back of his mind.

Despite having no experience behind the wheel in India, AJ was well versed in the ways of trucking. His father ran a fleet of Tatas so AJ and Nick would spend their spare time and weekends cleaning the trucks, checking oil, tyre pressures as well as servicing.

“I was pretty familiar with what we were doing,” he says. “Coming here wasn’t a change.”


Hino trucks, including the 700 Series, play a big role at Adelaide Taxi Trucks.
Hino trucks, including the 700 Series, play a big role at Adelaide Taxi Trucks.

AJ began searching for a second-hand truck. Problem was, he only had around $16,000 in his bank account. He came across a 1980 Mitsubishi tautliner advertised for $15,500. “I negotiated it down to 14 and a half,” he says.

“In just over a month I recovered my money back so whatever I made I put it straight into the bank,” AJ says. “The truck paid for itself.”

AJ kept the Mitsubishi for three years, delivering groceries around Adelaide for Spectrum Transport. “Having an Indian background, they gave me all the Indian stores to deliver to,” he adds.

In 2013, with his workload increasing, AJ took the plunge and headed to CMI Hino in Adelaide where he bought his first brand new Hino truck.

“Nathan Chatfield is the general manager of the group, but back then he was a salesperson. He’s helped us a lot.

“That was the first fridge tautliner I bought. Ever since I’ve had the love for Hino. We’ve had Hinos that have done a million kilometres in four years and they’ve never let us down. We’ve found it to be a premium product.”

Running both taxis and trucks, AJ decided to call the business Adelaide Taxi Trucks. However, he opted out of the taxi business around 10 years ago but kept the name. “I just have a love for the name,” he admits.

AJ Singh occasionally gets behind the wheel during busy times.
AJ Singh occasionally gets behind the wheel during busy times.

A year or so earlier, brother Nick, who had been driving trucks out of Sydney, moved to Adelaide to be part of the business which runs out of the South Australian produce markets in Adelaide.

“I’m the managing director of the company, and Nick is the general manager,” AJ explains.

Now with up to 80 pieces of equipment, including more than 50 trucks, Adelaide Taxi Trucks’ business takes in interstate and intrastate around South Australia and regional Victoria. But when it comes to rigids, Hino is the go-to truck.

Included in the Hino fleet are four 700 Series models, including one 700 twin steer. As well as local deliveries, the Hinos venture as far as Murray Bridge, Mt Gambier and Kingston, hauling mainly fruit, vegetables and liquor for IGA and Foodland stores.

“It’s mostly the expensive booze that we carry,” AJ points out.

Pricey products require a truck to match, and Adelaide Taxi Trucks’ fleet is one of the smartest looking around the state. And that’s the image AJ is keen to present to his clients.

“If you can go to the customer with a presentable truck, it gives them the confidence that your stock is going to get from point A to point B. But if you are turning up with a truck that is looking like falling apart or yucky, they’re a little bit a little bit anxious whether that freight is going to make the journey or not.

“Even if you’re turning up in an old truck but it’s presentable, neat and tidy, it gives the customer confidence.”

AJ estimates that truck turnover in the business is generally around three to five years for prime movers, although some of the Hino rigids can stick around for over 10 years.


Southern Cross is the fridge van of choice for Adelaide Taxi Trucks.
Southern Cross is the fridge van of choice for Adelaide Taxi Trucks.

Experienced drivers

While AJ is more than happy with his brand choice of trucks, it’s his 50-odd casual and full-time drivers that have caused him some angst. And that’s not totally due to the driver shortage.

“Trucks are not the problem. It’s the people, it’s the team,” he says.

“You’ve got your values and ethics. How you’re going to pass on these values and ethics to your team is the biggest challenge.

“So it’s the vision, you want your team to have the same vision,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing.”

Nevertheless, AJ says he has many good drivers in his employ. Of interest is that the best and most reliable are generally 50 years of age or more.

“We’ve had young drivers in their 20s and 30s, but after five years we realised it’s better having people 50-plus. They’ll come to work on time, every time and before time.

“Yes, they have got a few appointments, they have to go to the doctors every month or so, but I don’t mind that. They have got great work ethics. They’re a little bit slow but they get the job done.

“We try and have the young kids as well, but they’re driving the smaller vans and doing a little bit of hand unloads to take the pressure off.”


Hino makes up to 50 per cent of the fleet with the 300 Series concentrating on local deliveries.
Hino makes up to 50 per cent of the fleet with the 300 Series concentrating on local deliveries.

AJ says he can relate to a time when he was “young and stupid”. “You do a lot of silly things and you come up with loads of excuses on Mondays and Fridays, with, ‘Oh, I’m sick’. We’ve done the same through the same stages.

“But we try and merge young and old in our teams. We send them with an old driver so at least he or she can learn about ethics.”

To keep the young brigade interested, Adelaide Taxi Truck has set up a system where it pays for truck driver licences.

“But there’s a catch as well,” AJ emphasises. “It’s not for free.”

“If we pay for somebody’s HR licence, then we expect them to stay with the company for 12 months. But if you have to leave within that time, you have to pay for your driving licence.

“It’s the same with HC. We pay for the HC licence, so it kind of works for both the parties and for the business.”

As with most reputable transport businesses, all trucks include tracking for monitoring over-speeding, harsh braking and fuel consumption. And that’s on top of the usual safety features.

“Every driver is given a tag so they can’t jump in any other truck and start it up. And if they’ve got to change, the ops manager has to change the settings before they can jump in the truck because we don’t want a Hino driver jumping into a Volvo truck. We get the drivers inducted for each and every thing.”

The success of the business can also be linked to the performance of its Hino fleet and the more than 10-year relationship AJ and Nick has had with CMI Hino, especially Nathan Chatfield.


The Hinos haul mainly fruit, veg and expensive liquor.
The Hinos haul mainly fruit, veg and expensive liquor.

“When we were running out of trucks, Hino has come and helped us,” AJ enthuses.

“The trucks have, literally, close to zero downtime. If there were problems, they’re out of the workshop in minimum time.

“And it’s not just the trucks, it’s the proper training. They’ve just been an amazing team to deal with.”

It’s all positive, despite shrinking profit margins across Australia’s transport network. But Adelaide Taxi Trucks is continuing to grow, coming a long way from that lone Mitsubishi to the fleet it is today. And much of that comes down to the enthusiasm and passion which AJ thrives in.

“I come to work happy, but every day is a challenge. Every day there are problems and how you’re going to solve those problems. Some days it might be a little bit stressful, but when you go home it’s a sense of accomplishment that you have achieved something today.”