Ford Cargo: the Chinese connection!

Ford Cargo: the Chinese connection!

In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON digs out an intriguing new Chinese twist to Ford’s re-awakened commercial vehicle activities, wraps up Volvo’s recent European launch programme and reports on a history-reversing GM/Nissan co-operation.

Two years ago, Global Focus unearthed some extremely interesting evidence suggesting that the Ford Motor Company was entering the very early stages of a significant comeback in the global truck business. Quite apart from a logical rationalisation of integral light/medium van platforms, which subsequently translated into the migration of the European Transit family to the North American market, the main object of our interest resided in a new family of Cargo-branded trucks that had appeared first in Turkey and then Brazil.

This was surprising, given that Ford had started disposing of its substantial, and previously successful European truck business to Iveco in 1986, and had sold its American Louisville heavy truck line-up to Daimler’s Freightliner subsidiary in 1996. It then became apparent that some global Ford companies – including several South American operations and Turkish joint venture, Ford Otosan – had decided to remain active in their local commercial vehicle markets using elements of the original European Cargo range, before carrying the Cargo name forward on to more modern product iterations.

Another significant revelation was that Ford Otosan had launched its indigenised new Cargo range in 2003 with its own in-house designed and built engine. By 2008, this had evolved into a unique new nine-litre Ecotorq “parent bore” power unit, with compacted graphite-iron cylinder block and heads, with outputs of 240, 270 and 285 kW (320, 360 and 380 hp), while an updated 195 kW (260 hp) version of the earlier smaller displacement 7,3-litre unit was also retained.

To recap, the Ford Otosan Cargo line-up now consisted of 20 model variants, in 4×2, 6×2, 6×4, 8×2 and 8×4 configurations, covering the Gross Vehicle Mass spectrum from 18 to 32 tonnes, and Gross Combination Mass ratings up to 40 tonnes. Some of the Turkish Cargo design features also found their way into the new South American product, but, notably, that eleven-model line-up is powered by Cummins ISBe4, ISBe6 and ISC diesels, presumably in recognition of local market preferences.

Subsequently, this story has entered another, highly significant, phase. Late in April, it was announced that Ford Otosan had licensed engine technology to Jiangling Motors Corporation (JMC) Limited, and its affiliate JMC Heavy Duty Vehicle Co., Limited for a 12-year period. The technology relates to the abovementioned Ecotorq range, and reportedly covers its use in Ford- and JMC-branded vehicles produced in China for the domestic and, yet to be agreed, export territories. Notably, Ford holds a 31,5 percent stake in Jiangling Motors, and the two companies have co-operated in the Chinese production of Transit vans since 1995. Envisaged truck and engine volumes reportedly run to 100 000 units per annum.

Some of the sharpness in the reporting of this news has been lost in multiple translations, but it remains too important to be ignored. It is puzzling to the interested observer, however, why major motor companies expend vast amounts of energy and money to get out of the truck business, and then, relatively soon afterwards, expend equally huge amounts to get back in again, knowing how demanding this business can be.

Possibly, in Ford’s case, the answer lies in the geographic locations of these markets in South America, the Middle East and China, well away from Europe and North America where its previous truck operations were centred. As we said in our earlier analysis, the past shedding of truck interests may well have been driven by plans to move into more diversified passenger car niches through Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover, but those brands have now been sold off to new owners, and the current “One Ford” strategy has provided the space for a return to selected markets with medium and heavy truck products.

Whether this strategy will eventually be rolled out into other areas where Ford previously conducted truck business is not yet evident, but, as both the American company and JMC are currently active in South Africa, we will watch developments with much interest.

Volvo’s new city slickers and construction toughies

The veritable tidal wave of new European truck introductions ahead of final Euro-6 implementation at the end of 2013 has continued unabated. While earlier we expressed surprise, and even admiration, for the complete renewal of Daimler’s home market commercial line-up over a period of less than two years, similar efforts have also been made by its significant competitors.

Two issues back, we traced Volvo’s progress through to the FM Series renewal, but, since then, there have also
been announcements relating to this manufacturer’s construction-specific FMX range, and its FE and FL models that are intended for city and suburban distribution duties.

Volvo’s new low-line 12 tonne GVM FL model brings a lighter and lower option to the distribution environment.The FMX derivative range was first added to the Volvo product catalogue during 2010, bringing features aimed specifically at optimising the product for construction duties. Three years later, the latest version adds Volvo’s “Dynamic Steering” system, which was first seen on the recently announced FM range, but this technology is said to bring even more benefits at the lower operating speeds generally associated with construction duties.

To recap, Dynamic Steering brings together the functions of an electric motor generating 25 Nm of torque, an electronic control unit, and hydraulic power steering. Dynamic qualities include automatic self-centring when reversing, compensation for heavily cambered roads and side winds, and minimising the impact of road surface cracks and potholes. In the construction environment, Dynamic Steering is also claimed to reduce the likelihood of occupational injuries to drivers.

The latest FMX line-up is available with a choice of 11-litre D11 or 13-litre D13 engines, with power ratings covering the spectrum from 250 kW (330 hp) to 400 kW (540 hp). Euro-6 emissions compliance is achieved through the use of non-cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), and an automatically regenerated particulate filter. Volvo has also retained Euro-3, -4 and -5 versions for export markets not subject to European regulation.

Available FMX axle/drive configurations include 4×2, 4×4, 6×4, 6×6, 8×4, 8×6 and 10×4 layouts. The 4×2, 6×4 and 8×4 models feature a new rear air-suspension setup, specifically designed for construction duties, with automatic ride-height control and 300 mm ground clearance, while the 10×4 model utilises a hydraulically steered trailing axle with lift capability. Volvo’s I-Shift automated transmission can now be used in applications with a driven front axle, and the front suspension geometry of these models has been altered to improve approach angle clearance.

In the case to the FE and FL distribution specialist ranges, the most significant change is the adoption of the Volvo Group’s new engine family by this medium to heavy payload category of products. Previous versions were powered by Deutz-supplied four- and six-cylinder power units, but the advent of Euro-6 emission standards has prompted a change to new in-house engines carrying the designations D5 and D8. These present as slightly longer-stroke 5,1- and 7,7-litre versions of the 4,7-litre GH5 and seven-litre GH7 power units that were initially launched in the latest UD Condor MK and LK series during 2010.

Outputs for the European engines range from 154 kW (210 hp) to 235 kW (320 hp), and Euro-6 compliance has been achieved by a combination of Selective Catalytic Reduction, variable-geometry turbocharger, cooled EGR and a particulate filter.

Transmission options include six- or nine-speed manual, 12-speed automated or six-speed full automatic, with a distribution-specific shift profile being available for the automated gearbox.

Volvo has developed a special lighter and lower version of the FL which has been optimised at 12 tonnes GVM. This is equipped with a 177 kW (240 hp) version of the D5 engine, driving through the six-speed I-Sinc automated transmission, and this model is claimed to weigh 500 kg less than an equivalent six-cylinder truck. Other generic range features include a restyled frontal aspect to the suspension cab, revised lighting, electronic stability and enhanced driver environment, with the FE being available with short day, extended comfort or single-bunk sleeper cabs, while the FL adds a seven-person crew cab option to the range. 

GM buys a van from Nissan

In recent years, we have noted a tendency for equity-based merger and acquisition activity in the global motor industry to have become less frequent, and, in some instances, the practice has given way to programme-specific cooperation between independent manufacturers. The most recent example to emerge has been the agreement between General Motors Company and Nissan, which will allow the former to sell a version of the latter’s NV200 light van through Chevrolet dealer network in the United States (US) and Canada from the third quarter of 2014.

The decision to source a product from outside of the GM family has reportedly been taken as an urgent response to requests from Chevrolet fleet customers for a European-style light van to be made available by their regular supplier. This recognises the success of Ford’s Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200 in the US, together with expectations that Chrysler will bring the Fiat Doblo to the US for sale through its Ram light commercial brand, and the possibility that Mercedes-Benz may be considering a similar action with its Citan van.

The Chevrolet City Express is GM’s version of the Nissan NV200 van for the North American market.The Nissan NV200, which is based on Nissan’s B type front-wheel drive passenger car platform, was initially launched on to the European market at the 2009 Geneva International Motor Show, as a 4,1 m³ panel van, seven-seat functional Combi, or more luxurious seven-seat people carrier.

Power for the European NV200 model is provided by Nissan’s 1,6-litre HR 16 petrol engine, or Renault’s 1.5dCi diesel, driving through a five-speed manual gearbox, and this version is built at Nissan’s Barcelona plant. The Spanish production location also manufactures an all-electric drive variant for global markets.

The US market NV200 and Chevrolet City Express versions will be built at Nissan’s Cuernavaca plant in Mexico, with a driveline specification made up of 2,0-litre DOHC four-cylinder petrol engine and continuously variable transmission. Other features of these models include four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control, six air bags, power door locks and mirrors, and remote keyless entry, while the Chevrolet-branded product will be distinguished by unique frontal styling.

GM’s choice of Nissan as a van-supplying partner is not without its own irony. Back in 2006, the American manufacturer and Renault-Nissan unsuccessfully terminated three months of intense negotiation intended to explore the possibility of a global alliance. It was reported at the time that the final deal-breaker was GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s opinion that Renault-Nissan would benefit more from the synergies flowing from a link-up than his own company, and his demand that Renault/Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn, should make an upfront payment of US$5 billion (R50 billion) to GM before any agreement would be possible.

Now, in 2013, Wagoner is long gone from GM (while Ghosn is still very much in charge at Renault-Nissan), and the present GM management team, led by Dan Akerson, clearly has a different view on the benefits of co-operation. This was confirmed by GM’s recently announced European tie-up with PSA Peugeot-Citroën, which also includes a modest equity exchange, and has been further cemented by this arrangement with Nissan, which appears to be entirely product-specific.


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.

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