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Focus: Global Supply Chain and Logistics

Our Weekly Feature Article on Topics Related to Global SupplyChain Logistics

From SCDigest's On-Target e-Magazine

July 27, 2011


Global Logistics News: When Shipping in Pakistan, be Ready for an Artsy Experience

The Decorated Trucks of Pakistan are Like a Moving Art Museum; Truckers may Spend more On Vehicles than their Homes


SCDigest Editorial Staff


Logistics and art may seem like a very unlikely combination, and so it is, with one exception - the country of Pakistan.

There, many trucks are literally moving works of art, painted and decorated with loving care and attention for years and years (see picture below), creating a gallery on wheels across the country's roads and highways.

SCDigest Says:


It's an ongoing thing - you decorate your truck and then you see some other truck which looks more beautiful then you start planning how you can improve looks of your truck. I want my truck to look super cool

Truck Driver Naseer Khan.

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The vast majority of trucks and buses there are extensively adornished with mural-like paintings and many other accouterments to add beauty or style to the vehicle - for example, one driver had a chain of hammered steel leaves strung to dangle around the chassis. When the truck is under way, these metal leaves clang together, creating a loud noise that is music to the driver’s ears.

The largest 18-wheelers operating in the country generally escape the artistic touch, in part because they are often owned by larger companies not individuals, but visitors say they look absolutely bland by comparison.

The truck decorating culture itself has created an industry in Pakistan of artists skilled in doing the work, where aspiring decorators begin as apprentices and move up to become "masters" years later. The skills applied to the work can include not only painting but metal work and carpentry.

In Karachi alone, a port city of 14 million on the Arabian Sea, more than 50,000 people toil in small, family-run workshops, with each worker often having with a well-defined specialty. Though many decorating jobs share some signs and symbols, the goal is always uniqueness.

It can take 6-10 weeks to fully paint and decorate a truck for the first time. Most truckers will add ornaments or other features or redo part of the paint job each year after that.

“Truckers don’t even spend so much money on their own houses,” said Durriya Kazi, head of the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi several years ago. “I remember one driver who told me that he put his life and livelihood into the truck. If he didn’t honor it with the proper paint job, he would feel he was being ungrateful.”

The tradition apparently dates all the way back to ancient traders who moved goods from the coast of Pakistan inland to Central Asia, using heavily decorated camel caravans. Today, the paint jobs often identify different ethnic groups. You can often look at a truck and tell exactly what region it comes from and what ethnic group the driver belongs to.

But the truck tableaus cover the gamut, often mixing the sacred, pop culture and more in a single, flowing design.


(Global Supply Chain Article Continued Below)




Through a local associate, SCDigest was able to interview Naseer Khan, a truck driver at Lahore Dry Port who owns a Bedford Truck. Khan is 39 and he has been a driver for almost 16 years. He bought his truck used for 600,000 rupees (about US $7050.00) some 10 years ago.

Before that, Khan spent 7 years painting trucks but left that job because it did not pay well. So he sold some family land and purchased his truck.

Below is our Q&A with Khan about the truck painting culture in Pakistan.

SCDigest: How much does it costs to get a large truck painted or outfitted this way?

Khan: I love to decorate my truck and I have spent some good money first when I bought it and then whenever I get some money to spend I spend on decorating it further. It's an ongoing thing - you decorate your truck and then you see some other truck which looks more beautiful then you start planning how you can improve looks of your truck. I want my truck to look super cool.

But, my truck and most of the trucks are old and require regular maintenance, so you can never fulfill your desire to decorate your truck to the level you want.

About the cost, it is difficult to say - it depends on the owner and how much he wants to put in decorating, but usually owners spend something like 100,000- 150,000 rupees [US $ 1200-1800.00] the first time and then 10,000 - 20,000 rupees [US $ 120-240.00] on regular basis for improvement and repair.

SCDigest: Do only individuals owning their own trucks do this, or do logistics companies or other companies do it across a fleet of trucks?

Khan: Yes, individuals are more interested in decorating the truck because they have a special bond with the truck. As a driver you are mostly on road and spend most of your time in your truck so it is like a second home, and we decorate it like it is our home...

I have spent 7 years doing the paint jobs and decoration work and I have never heard of a logistics company interested in decorating trucks.

Companies are more interested in saving costs then spending money decorating trucks. The other thing is companies usually buy new trucks so they don't need all the decoration or probably they are not interested. But truck owners such as me, we buy used trucks and those do not look good and we need to put some money on it to make it look nice. [SCDigest note: the used trucks may come from other countries and hence do not have decoration.]

SCDigest What percent of trucks would you say are decorated this way?

Khan: I think about 80-85 % trucks are decorated. Usually the trucks that are not decorated are from the logistic companies and those are new trucks. It is not just about the trucks - old buses are also decorated same way.

SCDigest: Is the trend growing, declining, staying the same?

Khan: It has always been like this...Since my childhood this is same. I think it will stay like this.

SCDigest: Does it bother the customers of the trucking companies at all, or they don’t care?

Khan (Smiling): No it does not bother customers because customers are from Pakistan and they are used to seeing these trucks. I work with different trucking companies and they like nice well decorated trucks, so I guess customers like it as well.

Have you ever seen the Pakistani painted trucks? What was your impression? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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