Cummins-powered Internationals are a go
In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON updates the Stateside engine supply situation at Navistar International, reports on a lukewarm press response to JAC trucks Down Under, and provides details of some new Tata models recently launched in India.
That headline may seem a little inappropriate, seeing that Cummins-powered International trucks are the rule, rather than the exception, on South African roads. However, regular readers of Global FOCUS will be aware of the difficulties that recently confronted this important American diesel engine and truck manufacturer over the non-compliance of some of its power units with the EPA 2010 emission standards that are now in force for vehicles being sold in the United States. Briefly, this situation threatened to shut down deliveries of vehicles equipped with these non-compliant engines once the emission credits gained by the company prior to EPA 2010 implementation were exhausted.
Back in July 2012, Navistar International Corporation announced that it was planning to launch its new In-Cylinder Technology Plus in early 2013, to ensure full compliance with the EPA 2010 regulations. This ICT+ technique was to be combined with urea-based emissions after-treatment, marking a radical shift from Navistar’s previous concentration on Advanced Exhaust Gas Recirculation (A-EGR technology), which did not include any use of urea solution. However, it was evident that this fundamental and substantial change of direction might result in disrupted deliveries of some trucks, so it was necessary to tap an alternative engine source to keep production on track.
Accordingly, during October, Navistar announced that it had reached a definitive, long-term supply agreement with engine specialist manufacturer Cummins Inc, not only for engine procurement, but also for the provision of emissions after-treatment technologies. The short-term implications included the supply of Cummins ISX15 diesel engines for fitment in International ProStar Plus, PayStar and 9900 trucks, but over the longer term, Navistar will use the Cummins Emission Solutions Selective Catalytic Reduction-based system for its own range of heavy-duty big bore engines. Navistar MaxxForce engines using the Cummins Emission Solutions system are to be phased in to the company’s truck production programme from March/
The choice of Cummins as stop-gap engine supplier was fairly predictable, seeing that other US-based engine manufacturers, such as Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar, are no longer active in the quaintly termed “loose engine” market. However, the longer-term future association with Cummins as supplier of after-treatment technology possibly reflects the long-running relationship between Navistar and the Columbus engine builder which has seen Cummins engines as an available choice in the International truck catalogue going back to the previous incarnation of the company as International Harvester, and which still persists for important export markets such as South Africa.
It would be fair to say that recent events have somewhat disrupted Navistar’s strategy to become more self-sufficient in engine supply, particularly at the heavier end of the payload spectrum. However, the company still has its complete MaxxForce engine range, up to 15-litres in displacement, available for development, and it will be interesting to see if the indigenisation strategy is resumed with vigour anytime soon. Watch this space!
JAC gets a Lukewarm Media Response in Oz
The unfolding internationalisation of the Chinese motor industry is a subject that is likely to be with us for some time. Following a long period when Chinese plants had produced only extremely basic vehicles of archaic design, development has been extremely rapid over the past quarter of a century, and China has become the world’s most prolific producer of motor vehicles, some of which are at state-of-the-art levels of technological sophistication. Most of the growth and progress thus far has been driven by a burgeoning domestic vehicle market, which surpassed that of the US during 2009 to become the world’s largest. Up until now, Chinese involvement in exporting vehicles has been seen as secondary to fulfilling the needs of the country’s own demand, but during 2011, vehicle exports grew by nearly 50 percent year-on-year, with shipments totaling 814 300 units. The most important destinations for these vehicles were South America, Algeria, Vietnam, Egypt and Syria, while manufacturing and assembly plants for Chinese-owned brands have taken root in some of these established export markets, as well as other areas of intended participation, including Europe and Africa.
In the truck arena, observers have been watching the arrival of Chinese vehicles in Australia with great interest. The relatively small but sophisticated market in that country is dominated, from a volume perspective, by Japanese brands, which have earned a hard-won reputation for quality and efficiency coupled to good value over several decades. It can be expected, therefore, that efforts to dislodge their entrenched position would prove quite challenging to a new market entrant. For this reason, the early efforts of distributors such as the White Motor Corporation, offering Chinese brands to discriminating Australian buyers, have come under careful scrutiny. WMC’s initial efforts with Higer Buses enjoyed a notable degree of success, and the company was sufficiently encouraged to also take on the JAC range of light trucks manufactured by Jianghuai Automobile Company Limited. WMC’s next step will see the arrival of Shanghai Automotive Industry Company’s Maxus van, while the JAC Sunray panel van family is expected to join the line-up in 2013.
Recent reports in the Australian specialist press have suggested a lukewarm response to JAC’s product. Most of the criticism of the J75 models (7 995 kg GVM, Euro 5-compliant Cummins 3,8-litre ISF engine), which were road tested in loaded condition by the media in Queensland, has been directed at the driving experience – with participants citing poorly located and secured external rearview mirrors, electric window operation that is either fully open or shut, tricky gearshift selection, imprecise power steering with resulting directional behaviour issues, front-end vibration, harsh ride, and over-active braking response. The road testers’ impressions are expected to be endorsed by the relatively sophisticated driver community in Australia, which has become accustomed to the characteristics of Japanese vehicles in the two- to five-tonne payload class.
The distributor’s response to media criticism leaned heavily on the exceptionally low price at which this product is being offered to Australian operators (the reported differential to equivalent-specification Japanese models is in the region of $AUS 20 0000 to 30 000), and its profile of reputable specification aggregates, sourced from the likes of Cummins, ZF, Wabco and Bosch. The list of standard features is also impressive, including five-year driveline warranty, full air brakes with ABS and EBD, the aforementioned power windows, air conditioning, an audio system with CD and MP3 compatibility, and central locking. It was also suggested, however, that the JAC models were aimed at competing with late model used, as well as new trucks, and that the pricing level was expected to be a strong determinant of their success.
Clearly, drivers in a sophisticated market like Australia are likely to have a much greater influence over their employers’ choice of vehicles than in other countries where employees’ opinions are considered to be of less importance. However, it has been noted that even in markets like South Africa, the acceptance of vehicles sold with a highly attractive sticker price is largely dependent on the subsequent ownership experience, including that of owner-drivers and relatively small fleet operators, and their long-term success can be heavily compromised if any difficulty is experienced with parts availability, technical support from the manufacturer or distributor, or the competence of servicing dealers.
There is no suggestion that Chinese manufacturers are incapable of introducing the refinements necessary to make their commercial vehicles world class, but there is a distinct danger that rushing products into sophisticated markets before they meet the expected local standard could cause reputational damage to brands and considerably lengthen their acceptance process. In the previous issue of FOCUS, we wrote about the diesel engine joint-venture agreement signed between Navistar International and Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Company, the manufacturer of JAC trucks, in September 2010. It seems likely that an expansion of this arrangement to include truck manufacture in China, once ratified by the relevant local authorities, will lead to some redevelopment of the JAC truck range, and provide marketing support to global export opportunities for the manufacturer’s light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles in countries such as Mexico and Brazil. This process could provide an ideal opportunity for the introduction of upgrades to make JAC products more attractive in the world’s more sophisticated truck markets.
Tata introduces new domestic models
The appearance of models from Tata Motors’ new Prima “Global Truck” family at the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show whetted local appetites for more information about this significant range of products. First revealed in May 2009 as the manufacturer’s “World Truck” series, it was made clear from the outset that this line-up would carry a pricing premium of some five to 10 percent above the manufacturer’s “standard” products. To recap, target applications for the medium-to-heavy duty range were revealed as multi-axled units, truck-tractors, tippers, truck mixers and special application vehicles, in 4×2, 6×2, 8×2, 6×4, 8×4 and 10×4 configurations, ranging in size from 10 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM) to 75 tonnes gross combination mass (GCM). Power options were to be sourced from the Tata Cummins Indian joint venture (ratings up to 212 kW/285 hp) and Cummins India Limited (over 225 kW/300 hp), to cover the full power spectrum from 120 to 420 kW (150 to 560 hp), plus some additional options from Iveco’s Cursor engine family, while transmissions were to be drawn from Eaton and ZF, with the latter providing both Ecosplit manual and optional AS Tronic automated mechanical units. Other Prima range features included air suspensions, GPS-based navigation systems, air-conditioned cabs in three lengths, fully adjustable reclining suspension seats, adjustable steering columns and integrated seat belts.
More recently, Tata has introduced new Cummins ISBe 170 kW (230 hp) and Cummins ISLe 285 kW (380 hp) engine options to the Prima range. The smaller engine will be used to power new 4923 and 4023 truck-tractor models, while the larger unit will be utilised in 4938 tractor and 3138K tipper variants. The 170 kW models combine an electronically-controlled engine with a 430 mm clutch, Tata’s new inhouse-developed nine-speed manual overdrive gearbox, and a 10-tonne capacity single-drive rear axle. The LX cab is available with air-conditioning, four-point suspension, and double sleeper bunk options. The 285 kW 4938 tractor model has been designed for heavy and over dimensional cargo applications, and is claimed to be the most powerful truck currently built in India. Its Cummins ISLe engine has a torque output of 1 550 Nm, and standard cab equipment includes air-conditioning, double sleeper bunks, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering, pneumatic suspension seats, and power windows.
The Prima 3138K tipper is intended for use in off-road opencast mining operations. It is of four-axle, 8×4 configuration, and its Cummins ISLe CRDi engine drives through a choice of nine-speed Eaton manual or Allison fully automatic transmissions, to tandem drive hub-reduction rear axles. Standard superstructure fitment is a Hardox 19 m³ rock tipper body with “Half Pipe” integrated floor and side design, and the driver is accommodated in an air-conditioned day cab.
Tata has continued to develop new models for its lower-priced “standard” range; the five-axled rigid LPT 3723 was first described in the March 2012 edition of Global FOCUS. Designed for a 25-tonne payload of steel or cement, which is, reportedly, some 4,5 tonnes more than can be accommodated by conventional multi-axled vehicles in India, it is a long-wheelbase truck, equipped with an air-conditioned forward control cab. The LPT 3723 has a 10×4 axle configuration, with twin steering front axles, a tandem-drive rear bogie, and, at the extreme rear, a lifting trailing axle. Power comes from a 154 kW (210 hp) Tata Cummins 6BT 5,9-litre diesel, driving through the manufacturer’s own G1150-OD nine-speed manual transmission. The GVM rating is 37 tonnes, and the vehicle runs on 10R20-16 ply radial tyres.
Tata recently announced that a major Indian fleet operator, SVLL of Surat, has already placed a substantial order for these new models. This covers a total requirement of 1 314 units, made up of Prima 4923 LX truck-tractors and LPT 3723 rigid trucks. However, the specification details provided for this latest generation of Tata domestic Indian trucks makes one fact abundantly clear: Indian operators have much lower expectations than their South African counterparts when it comes to engine power outputs for their vehicles. The thought of a 154 kW 5,9-litre engine powering a 37-tonne gross unit would boggle local minds. By contrast, Mercedes-Benz’s Actros 3345 rigid 6×4 freight carrier, at 33 tonnes GCM and 26 tonnes all-up solo under South African legal constraints, has a 12-litre OM457LA engine developing 260 kW or 354 hp. Likewise, the 285 kW output of Tata’s 4938 flagship seems miniscule when compared to the 350-plus kW outputs frequently encountered on the South African linehaul. This disparity can only be logically explained by much lower expectations of average speed in India, where traffic congestion often takes on Biblical proportions. However, the need for more power in overseas markets seems to have been taken into account in Tata’s planning, and it will be interesting to see which engine outputs are eventually offered in equivalent export models.
Global FOCUS is a monthly update of international news relating to the commercial vehicle industry. It is compiled exclusively for FOCUS by Frank Beeton of Econometrix.