An Automatic Success

Isuzu adopts improved levels of automation to increase appeal. 

The achievement of being the leading supplier of trucks in the Australian market for 27 consecutive years comes from continually modifying and improving the product range in a market that is one of the world’s most competitive. Isuzu is the company in question, and it has achieved its enviable sales position through investing continually in its products and its people on the ground.


Unlike the current crop of Chinese and Third World country brands that are clamouring to enter the Australian transport scene, Isuzu has invested in its infrastructure, recruited the best dealer group to represent it, and developed what is probably considered to be the best customer service team to provide support to the end users.

At the lighter end of the product range, the N-Series is Australia’s favourite light-duty truck and forms the basis of rental fleets around the country that rely on the attraction for operators of being driven on a standard car licence at a GVM of 4500 kg. In making the N-Series very car-like to drive, the manufacturer has not overlooked including car-like safety features, and the 2016 N-Series updates include the adoption of Isuzu Electronic Stability Control (IESC) across the 4×2 light-duty range.

Isuzu’s IESC on-board system gathers information from a range of sensors to detect and help correct an unexpected loss of control. Data from sensors throughout the truck controls automated engine torque and braking reactions to respond to any risky driving scenario. If the IESC detects any wheel slippage it cuts power to the drive wheels, while automatically applying brakes to whichever wheel is required for correction. Vehicle and driver safety features also include anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, anti-slip regulator and hill assist.

With the IESC system adding its raft of safety features to the N-Series, the company has also taken steps to reduce driver fatigue and traffic-induced stress by introducing Isuzu’s third-generation automated manual transmission with torque converter (TC-AMT) to all AMT models with the 3.0-litre (150 PS) 4JJ1 engine.

Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) chief engineer for product strategy, Simon Humphries, told Delivery Magazine that the new TC-AMT provides the shift quality and launch feeling of a full auto with the added fuel economy benefits of a well-driven manual.

The torque converter provides a torque multiplication factor of 1.55 times, resulting in improved response from a standing start and a smoother overall drive.

“The new transmission has been developed after benchmark testing in Australia, with shift timing and logic designed to suit Australian driving conditions and styles, including roundabouts, with a kick-down feature operated by the accelerator pedal when pressed beyond a detent, allowing for swifter roundabout exiting,” said Simon.

The TC-AMT also features a P-position shift lever, which engages a new, substantial park pawl and gear at the rear of the transmission. The ratio spread has also been adjusted to reduce the gaps from 2nd to 3rd gears, and also 3rd to 4th gears, resulting in improved fuel economy and smoother operation at partial throttle.

Once P is selected, the parking pawl engages the gear with a capacity able to hold a fully laden truck when parked on a reasonable slope.

While it’s still imperative the parking brake is engaged as a standard driving practice, this inclusion of a P position makes it much more familiar to standard car licence holders that are used to automatic transmissions on passenger cars.

Figures from the Australian Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (AFCAI) show just 13 percent of all passenger cars sold in 2014 had a manual transmission, down from 33 percent in 2000.

The trend is similar in many international markets, with US automotive research companies reporting that manual transmission sales accounted for only 7.0 percent of new car sales in 2012. That figure dropped to 3.9 percent by August 2013.

Latest figures from Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) show that sales of two-pedal trucks have finally surpassed the three-pedal models’ traditional dominance of Australia’s light and medium-duty markets.

This isn’t a surprise shift, but rather a landmark moment as light trucks mirror the overall trends in the automotive market, as more and more Australians choose a car with two-pedal controls over three.

Phil Taylor, IAL director and chief operating officer, attributes the switch in trucking to ease of application.

“We’re seeing a lot of businesses, especially those operating in urban PUD applications, making the switch to two-pedal trucks because of the much broader employment pool it offers,” he said.

“Automatics and automated manual transmissions (AMTs) require less training than a manual, which immediately creates more options in staffing and a reduction in training costs.

“Since only 17 percent of Victorians who sat their licence test in 2014 used a manual vehicle, removing a clutch pedal means lengthening the list of potential employees considerably,” added Mr. Taylor.

Recent technological advances also mean there are opportunities for an AMT to provide up to five percent better fuel economy compared with a manual transmission driven by an average driver. Features such as Idle Stop Start (ISS) – a technology common in many modern cars – also help reduce fuel consumption in stationary traffic.

North American company, Allison, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial-duty automatic transmissions, claims the powered shift of an automatic transmission gains anywhere from four to seven seconds every 400 metres travelled. There are also reduced maintenance costs in the wear and tear on clutch and driveline components.

The latest updates align with broader industry trends towards low displacement engines that deliver on performance. As an example, the Isuzu 3.0-litre 4JJ1 engine, with its peak power of 110 kW is now powering models from 4.5 to 6.5 tonnes GVM across the N-Series range.

A total of six new model variants join the N-Series range, including the NNR 65-150 MWB and the NNR 65-150 AMT MWB models, both rated at 6500 kg and powered by the four-cylinder 4JJ1 engine.

Another addition is the NNR 55/45-150. Available at 5500 kg GVM as standard – with the option to de-rate to 4500 kg GVM – the updated model also boasts larger rear disc brakes than the lesser rated models and new TC-AMT with P-position transmission option.

With an expectation that Australia’s freight task will triple by 2050, any opportunity to reduce driving complexity and increase the appeal of driving trucks is worthwhile following through.

In a much shorter timeframe, it is estimated that by 2020 the Australian road freight task will have doubled in size in only two decades, growing at a rate of around 3.6 percent annually. Faster growth still (approximately 4.0 percent over the same period) has been projected for the inter-capital corridors according to forecasts from the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics.

In order to stay ahead of this growing mission on our roads, it’s imperative that businesses and fleet owners utilise intelligent transport systems (ITS) such as telematics.

According to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) findings, rigid and articulated trucks moved over two billion tonnes of freight around Australia in 2014, 95 percent of which was delivered within the same state it originated.

Businesses are demanding an innovative and hassle-free solution to the logistical, economical and safety challenges created by a task of this magnitude, firmly positioning Isuzu Telematics systems as a key element in the future of trucking within the commercial transport industry.

“Adopting new technology has always been an integral part of the Isuzu mantra, and the telematics space represents the next opportunity for productivity and efficiency gains for the industry more broadly,” said, Phil Taylor.

Isuzu Telematics is an integrated intelligent trucking solution. A black box installed behind the truck’s dash panel works with a server and wireless devices to provide a range of operational and driver safety management efficiencies, such as live positioning, trip playback, geo-fencing and fleet and engine data information tools.

The system is developed in Australia and made specifically to suit Isuzu trucks operating in Australian conditions. It is connected to the Telstra mobile network and uses fully licensed Google Maps for the broadest national footprint in Australia, both in metro and rural areas.

A fully functional telematics system links Isuzu Connect and Connect Plus to offer a wide array of features, all visible on a clear, user-friendly dashboard.

The Isuzu Telematics Connect product (which can be retrofitted to older models) comprises vehicle positioning and fleet management capability. Features include live locating capability, mechanical checks, theft alert, and service reminders. As well, this package includes some aspects of analysing how the vehicle is driven: speeding, harsh braking and acceleration, and adherence to geo-fenced boundaries.

Isuzu Connect Plus ups the ante on the Connect offering by adding engine management data readings to the mix, from clutch activation and fuel consumption to how long the engine is idling. There are also driver-security features, such as an assist button, collision alert and door-open monitor.

On the Connect Plus package, Isuzu Telematics integrates with Isuzu’s DAVE (Digital Audio Visual Equipment) touchscreen, enabling tracking of individual drivers’ performance through a personalised identification number (PIN), and two-way messaging between fleet despatcher and driver.

The telematics technology collects and collates information on each vehicle’s location, speed, idle time, engine rpm and performance as well as vehicle braking.

Operators can then use this information to access driver behaviour, vehicle performance management and fuel economy, and incorporate maintenance scheduling and electronic proof of delivery into their daily business.

The manager can then get a clearer picture of driver performance and that of the fleet in general, identifying issues like fuel consumption and harsh acceleration or braking.

Improving these seemingly minor inefficiencies can boost a fleet’s all-round operations and translate to real savings. Elements such as truck location tracking are useful to all sizes of businesses, as it enables fleet managers to plan routes and schedules, and meet customers’ increasing demand for real-time information on their freight and deliveries.

“If you’re running a 10, 20 or 100-vehicle strong fleet, trying to stay on top of maintenance and service scheduling is a task in itself – let alone analysing driver behaviour and promoting improvements,” Mr. Taylor said.

“With telematics, the hard work is done for you, and the data is reported back so you can make the changes to improve your business.

“This data can be used to streamline routes, improve fuel consumption, reduce engine wear and reduce costs such as traffic infringements by improving driver performance.

“Better trained drivers and closer monitoring means greater safety on the road, while in-depth engine performance monitoring and vehicle diagnostics help catch potential mechanical issues well before they pose any risk to a driver or vehicle’s well-being,” he added.

First Impressions

Chris Mullett takes the first drive of the latest N-Series

There’s certainly something to be said for a company that backs its knowledge with a drive appraisal of its latest addition to the light truck brigade, to judge the reaction to its upgrades of the N-Series for the fourth quarter of the year.

A day spent driving seven different models with representative payloads of a typical working roster provided plenty of opportunity to find out at firsthand how a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel works in the cut and thrust of the inner city confines.

This Euro V rated engine pumps out 110 kW at 2800 rpm and produces a peak torque rating of 375 Nm from 1600 rpm through to 2800 rpm. With a variable nozzle turbocharger and an air-to-air intercooler, this is a 16-valve design with chain driven double overhead camshafts. Well proven in the N-Series, and with a double act going on as the basis for the heart of the Isuzu D-Max, albeit being slightly de-rated in truck format when compared to the ute, there’s nothing to complain about in terms of performance and ability.

In the D-Max the drivetrain features a five-speed manual or fluid automatic alternative, whilst, in the move to light truck land and the N-Series, the transmission choice stays with a five-speed manual but offers up a six-speed automated manual with torque converter.

For those wanting a greater number of horses under the cab floor, the NQR 80-190 stays with four cylinders but with increased capacity to 5193 cc to produce 140 kW at 2600 rpm with peak torque of 513 Nm rated from 1,600 to 2600 rpm. The GVM for the NQR is 8000 kg and it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Up for grabs were two NLR 45-150 medium-wheelbase chassisx with box bodies, one featuring the new TC-AMT and the second with the five-speed manual; the NNR 45-150 medium-wheelbase fitted with a box body, again in manual form or TC-AMT xconfiguration; the NNR 65-150 in AMT form, with its higher GVM of 6500 kg; the NQR 80-190 with a dropside tray body and manual transmission; and the NLS 45-150 Crew, fitted with a Servicepack body and five-speed manual gearbox and available with all-wheel-drive.

For the most part, the front axle through the range is a reverse Elliott I-beam, but with the NLS and NLR it changes to an independent wishbone design with coil springs. The NLR and NNR get disc brakes all-round, while the NLS has discs on the front and drums on the rear.

With a common architecture throughout the different models, the driving characteristics are very similar, albeit with the coil-sprung front-end being a little more compliant. Noise levels are low inside the cab and seat comfort is about as good as it’s going to get with a non-suspension driver’s seat. Visibility is excellent, whichever model you steer around town.

The torque converter AMT was indeed the star of the show, indicating what can be achieved by matching fluid technology with an automated manual gearbox. So too, did the 3.0-litre, four-cylinder acquit itself with distinction, never really suggesting it was overstressed and not up to the job.

A final word about the on-board telematics options and the opportunity to link in different camera inputs to remove blind-spot distractions.

With up to four different camera inputs, and with reverse sensors, there is no excuse for coming back to base with a dented rear step and damaged doorframe. Similarly, with the optional tyre pressure monitoring system the destruction of a tyre through low-pressure running should be a thing of the past. Those lucky enough to have the built-in satellite navigation system receive three years of free mapping updates.

Isuzu has stayed well ahead in the race to keep safety and efficiency a part of everyday life behind the wheel of a light truck used on PUD work, or for the less-skilled rental driver.

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