First world trucks for third world markets

We’ve all heard about it time and time again: Africa is a dumping ground for products that are – quite frankly – rubbish. CHARLEEN CLARKE says not all companies believe in supplying third world trucks to this third world market …


UD Trucks Southern Africa recently held its highly informative annual media conference and, if there was one piece of news that truly struck home, it was this: Setting an example to all those “fly-by-nighters” out there who see Africa as a dumping ground – where they can make a quick buck off sub-standard products – UD Trucks has made a point of providing African customers with world-class products and services.

According to Johan Richards, chief executive of UD Trucks Southern Africa, the company does not believe in merely dumping sub-standard products and services in Africa. “We are in effect mirroring our activities and services here in South Africa to efficiently support our dealers and customers in sub-Saharan Africa,” he says. “We are continuously aiming to get the fundamentals right across the region, which includes the local manufacturing of quality products at competitive prices, an effective parts supply and unrelenting aftermarket support.”

This policy is good news for two parties. First and foremost, it’s paid dividends for UD Trucks. The company was the top local truck exporter in 2010. With 240 units exported during the year, it claimed a 27.87% share of the market – an increase of 48.15% over the previous year. (As an aside, UD Trucks also ruled the heavy commercial vehicle roost in South Africa last year, selling 1 173 units.) Jolly well done, guys.

The company’s approach to the African market is, of course, also good news for its customer base, which stretches across some of the more harsh African regions, such as Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, among others. According to Richards, one of the most critical tasks is the development and introduction of models for each specific country. This has led to research and product development projects across the sub-Saharan region, which could double the current product line-up of 20 derivatives in order for the various and unique requirements to be met.

These trucks will also offer better fuel economy, efficiency and as such have less of an impact on the environment. According to Richards, the fuel efficiency of trucks plays a major role in reducing greenhouse effects around the globe. In addition to customers considering fuel consumption figures of trucks, he suggests that aspects such as driver training, route planning and load optimisation be carefully considered in order to ensure efficient operation of vehicles.

All good and well, but there is one snag. Road transport accounts for approximately 75% of the local transport sector’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and, despite policies being put in place to meet mandatory national targets for the reduction of GHG emissions for which the transport sector is responsible, vehicles only have to be Euro II compliant. Hence the much maligned low availability of 50ppm low-sulphur diesel, and the inability to comply with more stringent requirements – such as Euro IV regulations.

Unfortunately, this has prevented UD Trucks from introducing some of its more advanced Euro IV and Euro V trucks to the African market. “The presence of sulphur in diesel fuel can lead to corrosion and wear of engine components, and this can have a significant effect on engine life. In short, as the sulphur level in fuel decreases, the relative life of an engine increases,” says Richards. “UD Trucks Southern Africa will continually invest in producing trucks that not only suit our customers’ requirements, but also don’t add to the already burdened environment.”

In 2004 we attended the launch of the Quon extra-heavy truck range in Japan and we scuttled back to South Africa mightily impressed. With those vehicles, UD Trucks (Nissan Diesel at the time) became the first company in the world to introduce the new Urea Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system commercially – a system that was way ahead of international long-term diesel emission regulations. The company has now, again in Japan, recently introduced a new Quon extra-heavy commercial vehicle, and a new medium commercial vehicle called the Condor in the eight-ton weight class. Like its predecessors we saw in 2004, these vehicles use the SCR technology, but the Condor range is also fitted with the UD Particulate Cleaning System (UDPC). Together, these systems reduce emissions and ensure that the trucks sip diesel slower than ever before. Furthermore, the trucks are also equipped with a guidance system (confidently dubbed the “Fuel Economy King”) that advises the driver on optimal driving techniques.

The good news in all this is that, come 2012, much of this new technology will be available in South Africa and some sub-Saharan regions.

But back to 2011. So what of this year? Well UD Trucks seems determined to reign supreme on the African continent. Hopefully the company will teach the “dumpsters” a thing or two!

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