Former DAF Trucks MD Ray Ashworth (second left) receives the trophy from David Hunt, MD of sponsor Ryder Europe

Ray Ashworth had an illustrious career at DAF Trucks but it was his work to improve the industry’s image, promote career opportunities and develop apprenticeships that won over the judges.

Ray Ashworth was with Leyland and then DAF Trucks for 48 years, the last eight as MD, until he hung up his spurs and retired in May 2017. While Ashworth undoubtedly had an illustrious career, that is not what wins the Service to Industry award. The judges were more impressed by his efforts to improve the

industry’s image, promote its many career opportunities to young people and develop apprenticeships.

That is perhaps because – although he subsequently did go to college – Ashworth himself started out as an apprentice in 1969.

“I was living in Lancashire and my father was a police officer,” he recounted. “I went to a good grammar school and academically was doing very well. There were all these stories at the time of people going to university and coming out without any real job prospects.

“Our next door neighbour worked for Leyland Motors and he said ‘they do apprenticeship schemes over here and you have an opportunity to go to university through that’. So at the age of 16 I left school with seven good O-levels, much to the distress of my headmaster who thought I was university material.”

Ashworth joined Leyland on a three-year engineering apprenticeship, working on manufacturing in the plant that made trucks, buses and agricultural tractors.

“They took 100 apprentices every year,” said Ashworth. “We were learning how to file and use a lathe and then, in the second year, we went out into the factory and could be doing anything. “There were two highlights in my apprenticeship. One was I worked on the famous – or is it infamous – 500 series engine, which was a prototype, and the other was climbing inside the shot blast machine to inspect it. I opened the door and walked in, and I was thinking, if somebody just turned on the button here, that’s it, I’m gone!”

The apprenticeship included one day a week day-release at college, and at the end of the three years Ashworth was one of only two top apprentices who was deemed – as his headmaster predicted – university material.

“So I went to Loughborough University,” he said, “which was great, because I moved from being a shop floor apprentice to a student apprentice. That meant when I came back from university I was working in finance, sales and marketing. I had done three years through the factory and now I was doing a four-year sandwich degree course in automotive engineering.”

The year Ashworth joined Leyland Motors it merged with British Motor Holdings to form the ill-fated British Leyland. Despite the obvious problems, Ashworth never contemplated leaving Leyland.

“I guess it was loyalty,” he said. “I’d been successful and achieved what I wanted, which was to go to university and get a degree. My ambition at the time was always to be the service director, and when I graduated from university I wanted to work in the service department.”

Playing a part

There Ashworth’s experience with the development of the 500 engine bore fruit. “We had lots of reliability problems so I got used to talking to customers who were very upset,” he said. “My engineering degree meant I had empathy with customers and I felt I could play a part in making it right. And eventually, fast forward 48 years, I did.”

One reason DAF, and before that Leyland, won so many MT Fleet Truck of the Year awards – together they have collected 18 trophies in the past 31 years – is that the manufacturer has always stood by its products, dealers and customers, giving them the support they need when things go wrong.

“That’s something Leyland brought to DAF, and we’ve kept that way of doing business,” said Ashworth. “I as a manufacturer supply you with a truck, so I’ll deal with you and your problems and all your issues. I can’t talk to every single customer, but if a customer wants to pick up the phone, we will always talk to that customer, whether they have one truck or one thousand, it doesn’t matter.

“I believe that strengthens the triangle between us, the dealer and the customer. Because the core is making sure the customer’s satisfied, and we are working towards the same objective.”

By 1987, the year DAF acquired Leyland, Ashworth was heading up the Leyland aftersales team. The Leyland trucks sales operation was relocated to DAF’s new headquarters in Thame and Ashworth soon met his counterpart at DAF, Peter Cutmore.

“We discussed how Leyland did it and how DAF did it and asked how Leyland DAF was going to do it,” said Ashworth. “The DAF aftersales service was called DAFaid, so it became Leyland DAFaid, and then ultimately when the Leyland name was dropped, DAFaid again.

“But the telephone number that DAF had got was something like 0800 713962, whereas Leyland had 0800 919395. So I said ‘all right, we’ll call it Leyland DAFaid, but we’ll use the Leyland number’. That was true integration of the best of both worlds.”

In 2001 Ashworth became sales director responsible for the whole sales team and under his leadership DAF’s sales gradually crept up, increasing its leadership of the truck market.

Ray Ashworth

In 2009 he was appointed MD – just as the credit crunch sent the world’s finances into meltdown. “The biggest thing was the effect on exchange rates,” said Ashworth. “The euro had been running at 1.43 to the pound and now suddenly it was going down day by day. We were going to our customers and saying ‘I know we have a serious recession here, but we’re going to put our prices up by 10%’.”

Almost overnight the UK truck market dropped from around 55,000 units a year to 26,000, before rising back up to last year’s strong performance of 46,000 registrations. “We went down to less than half what it was,” said Ashworth. “Then it was something of a rollercoaster, but we gradually worked our way through it and eventually the market began to stabilise. The good thing was that all the dealers came through it – one of the objectives I wanted to achieve was profitable dealers, because then they look after the customers.”

Over the course of his career Ashworth has seen increasingly stringent emissions legislation, culminating in Euro-6 in 2014. While he believes the concept of making trucks cleaner is a good one, the focus should have shifted earlier from local pollutants to the bigger issue of carbon emissions.

“At the beginning, the emissions standards were a good thing,” he opined. “By the time we had all developed Euro-6, the whole world had moved on from NOx and particulates to CO2.

“How do you get carbon down? You just burn less fuel. Everything we’ve done so far to get NOx and particulates down has slightly improved fuel economy. In hindsight if we hadn’t done Euro-6, we could have had a step change in fuel economy. That is self-policing because all operators want to spend less on fuel so you don’t need the government to set legislation for that.”

Ashworth believes diesel will remain the fuel of choice for heavy trucks for some time.

“Electric will be the future for cars and maybe small vans, but the diesel engine’s got a long way to go yet,” he said. “We’ve achieved Euro-6, now let’s get the economy up. Maybe it will be in combination with electric, but diesel still has a future.”

Hard act to follow

Ashworth also remains a great believer in apprenticeships, harking back to his own roots.

“When I was MD I could stand up and say to our apprentices ‘I was one of you. You could be me’. I tried as MD to get the message across that this is a great industry to be in, it’s not all greasy, messy and dirty,” said Ashworth. “It’s clean, you’re working on computers, it is all the things that a car dealership would have.”

On the night of the MT Awards in July, Ashworth nearly missed his 15 minutes of fame, having got stuck in heavy traffic on his way down South. He had no idea that his name was about to be read out by David Hunt, MD of sponsor Ryder Europe.

“I was gobsmacked because David had kindly taken me out to dinner the night before, and I knew he was presenting it, but he gave me no indication at all,” said Ashworth. “I thought a little bit later, Steve [Hobson, MT editor] must have been panicking and wondering if I was going to turn up. It’s a great honour. I was doubly overawed.”


Since his retirement, Ashworth has gone into property renovation, and his first project was rebuilding a cottage in the Lake District. He went into his local Ford dealer to buy a sensible Ranger pick-up truck to carry his building materials – but came out with a bright yellow V8 Ford Mustang instead. Top man!

Service winner