Hybrid Revisited

It’s been two years since Hino launched its latest 300 Series, and its appeal continues to grow

Of all the Japanese manufacturers, the Hino brand is unique for its ability to leverage its success from the strength of a major car brand. In this case it happens to be Toyota, and, as Australia’s leading vehicle brand, it’s not a bad sibling to have for an aspiring truck maker.

The 300 Series range encompasses both conventional diesel engine technology with that of the parallel hybrid, combining a diesel engine with an electric motor to gain ground in fuel economy.

Refreshed two years ago, the 300 range underwent a complete redesign, both inside and out. This has certainly assisted the brand’s development on a global basis, and it now stands equal to its competition and, in some cases, especially those of in-built safety, it easily exceeds the abilities of others.

All models have dual Light_Truck_2011 Hino 300 Series narrow bodySRS airbags, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes incorporating ABS braking, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and vehicle stability control.

Occasionally, we find that professional drivers at the big end of town dismiss these attributes as being unnecessary, citing the ability and experience of the driver as outweighing the need, and, in some cases, added cost of technology that can prevent accidents or minimise injury. We see this rather blinkered approach as being self-defeating, as irrespective of the driver ability, accidents can occur, and technology intervention is a well-proven benefit.

The light-truck segment doesn’t tend to attract drivers with a wealth of training or familiarity with the different behavioural patterns of commercial vehicles under load. At the light end of the licence requirements that enables car drivers to get behind the wheel, there is very little driver professionalism evident, making the inclusion of safety intervention systems even more relevant, especially to those operators in the light-truck rental market.

The 300 Series is now offering a complete solution for the light end of the truck market. The Hybrid version covers the narrow cab at a GVM of 4495 kg and extends up to 5500 kg. After that it’s the wide cab on offer with GVMs of 4500 kg, 5500 kg, 6500 kg, 7500 kg and 7995 kg.

It’s this latter offering that also adds a point of difference in this segment, providing the option to a buyer of obtaining the highest payload of any light truck on a light-truck driving licence. Those possessing a medium-rigid driver’s licence can operate the truck with the same specification but rated at the higher level of 8,500 kg.

Cris Gillespie, Hino’s Marketing and Communications Manager, told Delivery that the company had now moved on into new territory with the aim of growing market share in areas such as Indonesia, Russia, China and India.

“Where a Japanese truck maker has a European partner it is often the case that the company is restricted from offering highly competitive products where it duplicates the specification or features of an already existing product from the parent company. That is obviously not a limitation for Hino as Toyota shares its experience to provide a major benefit for future growth in all markets,” Mr. Gillespie said.

“The sophistication of the Australian market means that Hino and Toyota can work together to determine future product development, rather than providing any restrictions,” he added.

The buyer of a Hino Hybrid light truck certainly gets a lot of “bang for their buck”. The obvious benefits of improved safety systems are a major advantage, but so too is the ease of driving that’s of particular importance, given the general lower training of drivers in this category.

Light_Truck_2011 Hino 300 Series Hybrid electric motor and battery

Light_Truck_2011 Hino 300 Series Hybrid electric motor and battery

It’s unfortunate that fuel economy is not a purchase criterion for rental fleets. As one major rental fleet operator told Delivery: “We don’t put fuel in the vehicle, so our major concern is cost of ownership, ease of servicing and reliability.”

That may change as buyers or renters in the light-truck segment start to take the environment more seriously. If that happens, the hybrid light truck is ready and waiting to make a greater impact in that segment.

There are of course some major operators that do appreciate the benefits of lower pollution, and companies such as TNT are already expanding their hybrid fleets as part of their global approach to implementing greener technologies.

It’s certainly an easy truck to drive, and even a novice can quickly adjust to the driving style. With the ECO mode selected, the Hybrid starts on electrical power, quietly moving off from stationary. The diesel engine then joins in as the truck demands more performance. Select Normal mode and the truck starts off under diesel power, but has the added benefit of a performance boost that comes from the electric motor.

The 4.0-litre, turbocharged and intercooled, four-cylinder diesel engine runs to Euro V emissions standards. It produces a power output of 110 kW at 2,500 rpm with a peak torque rating of 420 Nm at 1,400 rpm. When the electric motor kicks in to add its own performance to the driveline, the outputs increase by a further 36 kW of power and 333 Nm of torque. That’s why the result is impressive.

The general performance levels of the light-truck contenders has always tended to be on the minimalist side, but, with the electric motor boosting acceleration rates, the driver soon comes to accept the advantages provided by the hybrid parallel drive.

It’s particularly noticeable in hilly areas, such as around Brisbane or when tackling steep city climbs such as the run from Spit Bridge in Sydney up to Manly.

Where once the climb resulted in slogging up a long hill basically in one gear at a set speed, the hybrid intervention cuts the climb time down, improving efficiency and justifying the extra investment by getting the delivery completed in a shorter time. The other benefit is of course the chance to reduce fuel consumption.

2011 Hino 300 Series wide body

2011 Hino 300 Series wide body

Hino makes it easier for drivers to move from a car into a light truck by including benefits such as the hill-start assist. Now also introduced on many passenger cars, hill-start assist holds the brakes on momentarily as the driver moves their foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator. This reduces the chance of vehicle roll back, a common fault with new drivers.

The transmission is a five-speed automated manual that works well, without any sudden shift surprises. Some drivers may take a little time getting accustomed to the idle start/stop system that turns off the engine when the vehicle is waiting in traffic. After a while, though, it becomes just something else that the truck does on its own behalf, with the benefit that silence reigns when the engine shuts itself down. It restarts quickly as the driver prepares to move off, and remains a benefit, rather than one of those annoying examples of technology that can niggle through a long day behind the wheel.

Getting back behind the wheel of the hybrid and trudging through heavy inner-city traffic reminded Delivery just how good this technology has become and that it does have a place in fleet selection. Service intervals are identical with those of a conventional diesel driveline, but the benefit is that clutch wear is reduced through the intervention of the electric motor.

The standard warranty is three-years/100,000 km and includes 24/7 breakdown and recovery support. Contract maintenance is available and all genuine Hino parts and accessories are covered by a further three years warranty applicable from the date of fitment.

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