Foton’s Tunland single-cab opens up new areas for the brand

There’s never been greater competition in the ute segment, and, with new additions and upgrades coming from the established manufacturers, any newcomer is in for a rough ride as it tries to make its name known.

Foton is the latest Chinese manufacturer to enter the Australian market, and it has done so with two distinctly different sales operations. The Foton Truck products are being brought to market by the ATECO group, while the Foton ute models are being imported through Foton Automotive Australia (FAA), a totally separate business that is Australian owned by Queensland entrepreneurs the Phelan family.

After some selective marketing through a restricted number of automotive dealerships that took up the brand as a multi-franchise exercise, the Foton ute product is starting to find its own feet as further dealerships come on board.

We’ve already seen the introduction of the Foton Tunland dual-cab ute, with cab/chassis models aimed for release in April. Now FAA has added a single-cab version into the model mix.

While some ute manufacturers choose to drop a smaller capacity petrol four-cylinder into their single-cab variants, Foton with its Tunland single-cab has opted to keep with the same four-cylinder, 2.8-litre Cummins diesel that appears in the dual-cab models.Foton-Ute_4

There are, however, differences, with the 4×2 model using a de-rated version of the same engine from the 4×4 that results in a power drop from 120 kW to 96 kW, (both at 3,600 rpm). Similarly, there is also a torque reduction from 360 Nm between 1,800 and 3,000 rpm down to 280 Nm rated between 1,400 and 3,000 rpm.

According to Grant Phelan, director of vehicle compliance and services for Foton Automotive Australia, this variation in power and torque came as part of the package from the Chinese manufacturer and was effectively not a subject for negotiation.

“It would have been easier for us to stay with the same power and torque rating, but that option was not available. There is also a variation in the make of the five-speed manual, with Aisin/Tangshan supplying the gearbox for the 4×2 and Getrag providing the transmission for the 4×4 and linking that with a transfer box supplied by Borg Warner,” said Grant.

As you might imagine, the two different gearboxes also run with different ratios: the Aisin unit having 3.831:1, 2.33:1, 1.436:1, 1.0:1 and 0.789:1, compared to the Getrag with 4.016:1, 2318:1, 1.401:1, 1.0:1 and 0.778:1. The final drive ratio of the Dana Dongfeng rear axle, which is common to both models and features a limited slip differential, is 3.91:1.

With the 2.8-litre Cummins engine in the 4×4 version pushing out a respectable power and torque figure, it’s unfortunate for the buyer of the 4×2 version to be left minus a hefty 24 kW of power and 80 Nm of torque. So much so that, in our book, a buyer would be well advised to spend the additional $2,000 necessary to option up to the 4×4 and enjoy the better performance.

That may well be how FotoFoton-Ute_3n finds the sales performance heading, in which case there will probably be a good financial case to put forward that sees a greater variance between the pricing of these models.

Most of the other levels of specification, from the eight cross-member ladder frame chassis, to the 4-channel BOSCH ABS braking system with ABS and EBD, and the power-assisted rack and pinion steering with a boat-like 12.8 metres turning circle are shared between products.

Also identical are the front and rear suspension designs, with coil and wishbone with integral dampers on the front and alloy main semi-elliptical leaf spring on the rear, backed up by helper-springs that come into play as the load weight increases.

The idea of using helper springs comes from the more modern tendency towards parabolic leaf springs replacing shorter, multi-leaf spring packs. The former providing a softer ride, the latter being a better maximum weight load carrier.

The traditional tradie is going to like the tray size available with the single-cab model and there’s a choice of either alloy or steel fabrication with a deck length of 2.58 metres.

Foton’s Tunland appears to be a much more substantial creation than other utes of Chinese origin, such as the Great Wall. It’s an altogether larger vehicle in looks and interior space and shows a much closer leaning towards the designs of Mazda and Ford with the BT-50 and Ranger, or Volkswagen with the Amarok.

The interior cab design, even in the single-cab version, has plenty of space, and its switchgear and controls are well laid out and easy to reach. The construction of the body panels and chassis appears to also be of heavier grade material than we are coming to expect from some of the Chinese products.

The major point of difference lies in the choice of engine. Whereas Great Wall uses what is basically an old Mitsubishi design of powerplant, there’s nothing outdated or parochial about the Cummins product.Foton-Ute_1

The Cummins 2.8-litre brings with it a high degree of credibility, which it bestows upon the Foton Tunland range. Delivery has already visited the Cummins engine plant in Beijing and can confirm this is a first-class facility making engines to world-class standards. That will be the key to whether or not Foton manages to make its name known and create a following in our market.

As mentioned, Delivery suggests that buyers opt for the higher output version of the Cummins engine that is used in the 4×4 products, as there is a noticeable difference in on-road performance between the two options.

Time will tell how Foton will fare in this market, and, despite starting from small beginnings, there’s always an opening for a brand that tries harder that its competitors. That’s a plan that FAA will have to follow from the start and that Foton itself will have to support strongly to gain the momentum necessary for the brand to succeed.

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