Spirit of Thailand

Isuzu’s D-MAX limits its appeal


The Country of Smiles is the largest global market for utes, and hosts the world’s ute makers in a move that sees Thailand as fast becoming the Detroit of Asia.

Isuzu Ute rivals Toyota in the Thai market as the overall leader in sales, and this has led to an enthusiasm amongst the Thai team, to achieve better performance for its products, than we are used to seeing from the Japanese parents.

When your product range is restricted basically to one vehicle, such as the Isuzu D-MAX, you’ve got to be very sure that you get the product right, from a universal appeal point of view, and also from a practical, solid and reliable reputation.

As Delivery Magazine’s Ute of the Year for 2010, the D-MAX won its award in the face of tough competition, but it won for a combination of reasons that required it to step up to the plate, not just for looks and standard features but also for the way it performs its function in life, that of being a tough, versatile workhorse.

Towards the end of next year the company will take the wraps off the replacement for the D-MAX, bringing a totally new look vehicle onto the global stage. Although details are very sketchy at present, we believe the basic chassis and suspension will remain largely unchanged but that, cosmetically, the body will be totally redesigned.

Keeping up the excitement in the present model has resulted in Isuzu Ute Australia arranging rather a special Limited Edition version of the current D-MAX, which includes all sorts of goodies, previously unavailable in this market.Isuzu-D-Max_1

To celebrate its first two years on sale in Australia, the company has released the high-spec Limited Edition II 4×4 Crew Cab Ute.

Like last year’s D-MAX ‘Pearler’, this year’s ‘LE II’ is a real limited edition, at just 180 units.

Two new and exclusive pearlescent mica exterior colours are offered, 140 models in Lunar White and 40 models in Solar Bronze.

Based on the best-equipped and most popular D-MAX, the LS-U 4×4 crew cab ute, LE II comes equipped with around $9,000 retail value worth of unique features and accessories, for only around $5,000 over LS-U typical pricing. It retains the highly impressive 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel and matches the Limited Edition drivetrain with both automatic and manual transmissions. Torque output is 360 Nm, with the manual gearbox, from 1,800-2,600 rpm and 333 Nm, with the automatic transmission, from 1,600-3,200 rpm, while maximum power output is identical in both models at 120 kW produced at 3,600 rpm.

In all the comparative testing of different utes we’ve completed at Delivery Magazine, the Isuzu comes out on top for fuel economy. Given that all models share the same engine and driveline, the 4×2 offers a combined economy figure of 7.9 l/100 km (manual transmission) and this rises to 8.4 l/100 km for the 4×4 model. For the extra urban figure you can expect to see consumption drop further to a best level of 6.5 l/100 km. The exhaust emissions combined figure runs from a C02 content of 208 g/km.

LE II’s premium unique feature is its Kenwood touch-screen hi-fi head unit with Garmin® SatNav, reversing camera view, DVD, USB and iPod® /iPhone® and Bluetooth® connectivity, as well as CD/FM/AM audio with AAC/MP3/WMA compatibility, played through LE II’s six speakers. The unit integrates a DFS (Detachable Face Security) and includes remote control.

LE II’s exclusive exterior colours extend to its special styled side steps, which also integrate polished aluminium step inserts with rubber grip stipples.

Approximately half of the LE IIs will feature silver-stitched Charcoal Italian leather trim on seats, door trim inserts and the centre console padded elbow rest. The leather front backrests will be monogrammed. Also inside, there’s branded polished aluminum doorsill scuff plates and custom carpet mats—the front pair monogrammed.

Isuzu-D-Max_2Other exterior LE II features include a lockable hard tonneau and chrome nudge and sports bars, bonnet protector, fog light recess bezels and taillight guards, plus you get to show off to the neighbours with ‘Limited Edition II’ badging on the tub rear flanks and an ‘LE II’ graphic integrated into custom striping on the lower doors.

All LE IIs come with standard air-conditioning, ABS with EBD, dual airbags, fold-in power door mirrors with turn indicators, cruise control, projector headlights, remote entry, electric windows with one-touch driver’s glass up and down, dual-bin padded centre console, electro-luminescent instrument display, rear Limited Slip Differential, lockable tailgate, rubber tub floor mat, chrome rear step bumper and alloy wheels, including the spare.

Only available as a 4×4 model, the LE II is rated for maximum laden weight towing, with a braked trailer, of three-tonnes. You also get high-ride suspension, 225 mm ground clearance despite underslung rear springs and consequently lower loading height, an ultra-low, low-range crawler first gear with anti-stall, steel plate sump and transfer case guards, fuel tank shield, wide track 16”x7” wheels with 245/70R16 LT tyres, wheel arch flares, plus push-button dash controls for 2WD/4WD/low range selection and shift-on-the-fly, up to 100 km/h, between 2WD and 4WD High. Payload including occupants and all the additions is just over the 1,000 kg mark.

Considering the really high level of interior trim and accessories, the pricing comes in at a very competitive level. Starting from $47,300 for the manual LE II with cloth trim, an automatic transmission adds a further $2,000. Those wanting the full Monty, of seats covered in Italian leather, will be paying $49,700 for the manual version, and again a further $2,000 for the automatic option.

Hitoshi Kono, the head of Isuzu Ute Australia’s operations, has achieved a considerable amount since he launched the brand under the Isuzu name back in October 2008. Currently the distribution and service requirements are handled by 64 dealerships, but Mr. Kono expects this number to increase to around 80 outlets within the next six months.

“To achieve greater sales we have to increase our availability to our public,” said Mr. Kono. “Fleet sales now account for up to 60 percent of our overall volumes, and we are seeing a strong increase from our first year as we now draw to the end of our second year in operation,” he added.

The achievement of Isuzu Ute Australia is well illustrated when comparing the number of outlets of its competition. The market leader is of course Toyota’s HiLux, and, with 331 dealerships throughout the country, the product is much more accessible to the buying public. Nissan’s Navara, in second place, is retailed through 191 dealerships, while third placed Mitsubishi Triton is available through 200 dealerships.

Total sales for 2010 (August YTD V-Facts) show Isuzu Ute achieving 3,196 registrations, up from the figure of 1,822 for the same period of 2009, putting the importer into the black as far as financial figures are concerned, and guaranteeing the future for the brand. Mr. Kono expects sales of 5,000 units per annum to be the next goal.

No mention of the Isuzu D-MAX would be complete with applauding the abilities of Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki, the international success story of high speed off-road competition.

Competing against factory-backed works teams, with vast operational budgets, the duo of Bruce and Harry have brought in their race prepared D-Max, consistently, as the first diesel home in the results table, and a definite thorn in the side of the high profile, high budget competitors.

In the recent Australian Safari Rally, Garland and Suzuki brought in their D-MAX to first overall diesel and scored third outright placing. This was despite having to cope with 28 punctures, during the special stages, as they ran with standard tyres as opposed to the ultra-competitive race tyres of their opposition, which cost in the region of $800 apiece.

The race-prepared D-MAX is basically stock standard, with the engine simply being run with higher turbocharger pressures to achieve in the region of 190 kW of power and 620 Nm of torque. Considering the duo were competing against the first place overall winner, of a 5.7-litre V8-engined Holden Colorado and a twin turbo Nissan Patrol in second place, the result is even more amazing.

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