Needing only a car driving licence, the latest light trucks offer the next step up for load carrying.
As technology moves forwards faster than the legislators, the truck industry has managed to produce some serious anomalies when it comes to vehicle application and driver accreditation. The need for a light rigid truck driving licence to drive a vehicle with a GVM over 4500 kg makes sense, but not when a higher rated model can be downrated to fit the licence criteria.
Driving a light truck is, for the most part, the first step towards learning the ropes (literally), and being able to load correctly, appreciate how to secure that load and to drive according to the influences placed on the truck by the load.
The domain of the light truck is no longer confined to Japanese cabover products from Hino, Isuzu and Mitsubishi Fuso. These three brands gain the advantage of having been in the marketplace longer than the newcomers, and to some extent have covered all the bases of weights, chassis and body configurations and wheelbase lengths.
What has changed the game in this category is the arrival of the Chinese truck makers intent on capturing a share of this segment, and the more sophisticated products from European manufacturers that bring with them higher interior cabin comfort and car-like driving attributes.
Each of the Japanese brands comes with impeccable engineering resources that produce strong and reliable products. This is the only sector of the light commercial market that has been actively introducing alternative power sources such as hybrid technology or alternative fuels such as CNG or LNG as a serious option for buyers. Admittedly, some of the van makers have introduced electric drive options overseas, but it’s only the Japanese that have so far offered a choice in our market.
Fuso’s Canter starts off with a 3.0-litre turbo diesel and a 3,510 kg payload in the Canter 413. This has great appeal for those that generally overload a standard one-tonne ute to the point that the chassis bends. As payload limits increase, so too do the engine power and torque outputs, ranging from 96 kW and 300 Nm of torque up to 129 kW and 430 Nm.
If you head off road there’s a 4WD version called the FG, and if you want to demonstrate a greener approach to transport you can opt for the Canter ECO Hybrid. Transmission choices vary between a five-speed manual and a six-speed AMT.
Fuso has the benefit of being part of the Daimler Trucks empire, a group that includes Freightliner Trucks, Mercedes-Benz vans and trucks and also Western Star. As the brands become more closely aligned, you’ll find all the products grouping together in one mega dealership, with the exception of the Western Star heavy-truck brand, which is distributed in Australia by Penske Commercial Vehicles.
Hino has the backing of Japanese giant Toyota, and its light truck range runs with 4.0-litre turbo diesels with power and torque outputs varying from 110 kW and 420 Nm up to 121 kW and 464 Nm.
Selection is made easier by the availability of pre-bodied models that come as a factory-bodied tipper or with a local tray or box body sourced within the Australian market. Hino was also the first to incorporate stability control with ABS, an important safety advantage.
There’s a choice of six-speed manual gearboxes or five-speed AMT options, and almost 50 percent of its light truck product range can be downrated from 5500 kg to the car-licence level of 4495 kg. Just remember that downrating the gross vehicle weight rating doesn’t mean you then have a free hand to then load it according to the original limits. If you get caught on a mobile weight check the penalties are high.
Hino was one of the first to offer a Hybrid version, and the technology leverages off the Toyota systems used in Camry and Prius hybrids. It’s undoubtedly efficient, easy to adapt to for the driver and it really does reduce fuel costs and emissions. It also has the added benefit for those operating in very hilly areas of enabling the electric motor to boost the hill climbing and acceleration of the truck. It may not sound much, but it’s a very noticeable benefit and cuts journey times.
With 25 consecutive years as the overall market leader in truck sales within the Australian market, the Isuzu brand has a highly enviable reputation, not only for its strong product range, but also for its high focus on customer service.
Isuzu stayed with diesel engine technology rather than moving into hybrids and offers a range of power and torque outputs with capacities of 3.0 litres to 5.2 litres and outputs of 110 kW and 375 Nm of torque running up to 114 kW and 419 Nm.
The company was the originator of the pre-bodied concept and now has a broader range that includes box bodies, dropside trays, steel bodied tippers, crew cabs and 4×4 versions.
For those seeking alternative fuels, Isuzu Trucks has been an early adopter of CNG and was probably ahead of its time considering that fuelling stations are only now starting to open up on the eastern seaboard. Whatever the chosen model, Isuzu seems to have every base covered, from car licence entry-level light trucks right up to heavy haulage prime movers.
Digital radios are already available for Isuzu, and these link together with external cameras to provide blind spot monitoring with displays on the radio screen that also doubles up as a Sat/Nav unit. Everything you buy should have Bluetooth connectivity, and Isuzu was again one of the first to include that as a standard feature.
From Japanese to Chinese trucks, and the difference is similar to the old comparison of chalk and cheese. JAC started the Chinese onslaught and failed completely, so much so that Delivery understands that of the initial import of 115 trucks, there are still 95 in a paddock or warehouse somewhere, trying to find a buyer or a suitable Third World recipient.
Also from China is the Foton Trucks brand, and, with a new distributor in the form of ATECO Industries, the brand stands its best chance yet of finding a niche in the market. Again, Delivery understands that early imports were found to be lacking in build quality, and the Chinese manufacturer has had to significantly lift its game to raise quality, fit and finish levels for our sophisticated market.
A new marketing team has been appointed comprising truck people that actually know what they are doing and understand the Australian industry, so the future for Foton is suddenly not so bleak as that of JAC.
Now to South Korea, and the Hyundai light truck product. Launched a couple of years ago, the brand stalled completely due to supply problems and restricted availability of Euro V compliant vehicles. The potential for Hyundai is limitless, if it works to the principles established by its car division. A preview by PowerTorque Magazine of its heavy-duty prime mover, the Xcient, on display pre-Christmas at the Tokyo Motor Show, gives just a small indication of what may lie ahead.
There is a big shake up heading for the light truck market, and it’s all down to new products coming out of Europe. It’s really worth taking a close look at what’s on offer from Fiat with the Ducato, IVECO with a brand-new Daily, Ford with a new Transit, Mercedes-Benz with the latest Sprinter, Renault with the new Master, and Volkswagen with the Transporter and Crafter.
Most of these products provide the choice of single and dual cabs with large trays, very high interior comfort levels, more seat capacity and interior space, and a very car-like driving experience.
The European designers have created interior cabin appointments that offer great storage space beneath seats and in dashboard lockers, inbuilt desks included into the backrests of centre seats, and even computer laptop tables.
Renault seems at this stage to have the edge on the competition when it comes to clever cab interior design. Mercedes-Benz needs to increase its availability of the 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission from the current position of just one model variant, and Ford and Volkswagen both need to find a suitable automatic transmission from somewhere in their global empires to suit the Transit and Crafter. With IVECO just about to launch its completely new Daily range in Europe, the next issue of Delivery may well show IVECO to be a game changer.