Isuzu updates F-Series in Australia
In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON takes a look at Isuzu’s latest F-Series revision for the Australian market, walks through the detail of Iveco’s latest Stralis family that includes a viable gas-fuelled long hauler, and ponders on the future of American trucks in South Africa
Isuzu’s 27-year domination of the Australian truck market is something that the Japanese manufacturer guards jealously. One of the tactics employed to safeguard this position has been to regularly update its product offerings to address operator requirements and preferences.
The cruiserweight F-Series is a key product range contributing to Isuzu’s success “down under”, and it was interesting to read recently that of all trucks sold there in 2015, Japanese trucks made up 95,1 percent of all medium-duty trucks (defined as two-axle vehicles with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of more than 8 000 kg, or a gross combination mass (GCM) of 39 0000 kg or less). Isuzu, alone, accounted for 40,8 percent of the total.
The new F-Series
Isuzu Australia Limited has announced details of its latest offerings in the F-Series range. The major interest lies in the technical specification, which includes a new 4HK1 four-cylinder diesel engine, a diesel oxidization catalyst (DOC) version of the six-cylinder 6HK1 diesel engine, and TC-AMT automated transmission with torque converter.
We first picked up mention of the 4HK1 power unit being used in an Isuzu F-Series application earlier in the year when reporting on the announcement of the new Spartan Motors-built FTR model to be launched into the North American market in mid-2017.
The Australian execution will see the 5,2-litre 4HK1 offered in 154 kW (207 hp) and 177 kW (237 hp) output versions in FRR, FRD, FSS and FSR models in the GVM spectrum from 10,7 to 14 t.
Isuzu’s use of a four-cylinder engine in applications up to 14-t GVM is noteworthy. Clearly, there are payload advantages to be gained from a lightweight, small-displacement engine, and modern technology such as twin-stage turbocharging, new intake cam design, higher injection pressure, diesel particulate diffuser and a larger intercooler to ensure that emissions are kept in check and a suitable power output is available.
The engine also features redesigned pistons and cylinder block, and has an Idle Stop System, which shuts down the power unit when the vehicle is stationary, and restarts it when a gear is engaged. The 4HK1 complies with the Japanese Post New Long Term emissions standard, which is similar to Euro 6, and should see it also comply with Australia’s ADR 80/04 standard due for implementation after 2020.
The larger 7,79-litre, six-cylinder “6HK1 with DOC” is claimed to be suitable for applications requiring high idle time, high power take-off (PTO) use and frequent stop-starts, and does not require the use of a diesel particulate filter or Selective Catalytic Reduction. This engine will be available as a higher output 191 kW (256 hp) option in FRR, FRD, FSR, FSD, FTR and FTS models, and as standard fitment to new 16,5-t GVM FVR and FVD variants.
AMT moves up a level
The incorporation of a torque converter into the third generation of Isuzu’s widely applied automated manual transmission (AMT) technology will be of particular interest to South African operators who have switched to automated transmissions in the interests of reduced maintenance costs and greater safety, particularly in shorter distance applications.
According to Isuzu, “the torque converter will significantly increase start-ability and driveability, replicating the take-off characteristics of a full automatic”. We have read reports in the Australian trade press where present-generation AMTs have been criticised for “clunkiness”, and an inability to select the most appropriate gear under some traffic conditions.
Isuzu’s decision to incorporate a torque converter into its AMT appears to be a response, but we will be interested to see what effect this will have on the price competitiveness of the company’s automated transmissions, and whether we will see this technology in South Africa.
The new TC-AMT gearbox will be available in models rated from 10,7 to 14-t GVM. The Australian F-Series model range also offers six-speed Isuzu manual, nine-speed ZF manual, Allison LCT2500 six-speed automatic, and Allison MD3000 six-speed automatic transmission options.
Isuzu Australia is also introducing a locally developed telematics system, called DAVE (digital audio visual equipment). This will provide owners and drivers with a platform for state-of-the-art data and information transfer, covering live positioning, trip playback, fleet and engine data.
IVECO LAUNCHES NEW STRALIS FAMILY
Iveco has launched the latest iteration of its flagship Stralis family. The range is made up of the New Stralis for regional and short-range applications, the New Stralis XP (extra performance) for international long-haul transportation, and the New Stralis NP (natural power), which is fuelled by compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas.
The range includes a completely redesigned driveline, new electrical and electronic architecture, a new transmission, rear axle and rear suspension, and the latest-generation GPS predictive functions and features to enhance fuel economy and reliability.
Power is provided by Fiat Powertrain Technologies’ Cursor 9-, 11- or 13-litre, six-cylinder engines with 230 to 425 kW (310 to 570 hp). Specification detail includes friction-reduction features designed into the engines and a function that switches off the power unit after a pre-set period of time to reduce fuel wastage through excessive idling.
Energy losses are also reduced by the use of a clutch compressor, air-pressure management, an energy-recovery alternator, intelligent battery monitoring and variable-flow steering pump.
Interestingly, Iveco’s Hi-SCR emission control system is employed on the New Stralis range, but on the 360 kW (480 hp) and 425 kW (570 hp) engines fitted to the XP models, “Smart EGR” is added to harness a small amount of exhaust gas recirculation. This still avoids the need for a larger radiator, or shorter servicing intervals, which usually characterise EGR installations.
Other XP features include: GPS-enabled predictive cruise control, which manages the Eco-Roll coasting functionality; speed and torque limiter; lower rolling resistance triple “A” Michelin eco-tyres; an all-new single reduction rear drive axle with 2,47:1 reduction; a redesigned, lighter rear suspension that provides an additional 45 kg payload capacity; and new-generation 12-speed, direct-drive Hi-Tronix automated transmission.
Based on ZF’s latest TraXon design, this transmission executes gearshifts ten percent faster than its AS Tronic-derived predecessor, has a creep manoeuvring mode, a rocking function to facilitate traction on slippery surfaces, and four reverse gears. It is also claimed to be more durable and quieter than its predecessor.
Viable gas-fuelled long hauler
In the New Stralis NP, Iveco claims that it has Europe’s first viable long-haul, gas-powered truck model. This 4×2 truck tractor is powered by a Cursor 9 engine adapted to run on liquified petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). It delivers outputs of 300 kW (400 hp) and 1 700 Nm, fuelled by twin 540-litre CNG or eight 115-litre LNG tanks, for an operating range of up to 1 500 km.
Initial transmission fitment is a 12-speed AS-Tronic automated unit, but plans are reportedly in place to offer the Hi-Tronix unit on this model, to further improve driveability, as soon as development of the installation has been completed.
It has been reported that the New Stralis NP will cost some 40 percent more than an equivalent diesel-powered model. Iveco claims that total cost of ownership will be seven percent lower in an operation covering 120 000 km per annum.
This is expected to create a high level of interest among European operators. Movement to the next level of emission standards beyond Euro 6 is expected to be very onerous and expensive for manufacturers of diesel-engined vehicles, and the availability of a viable gas-fuelled alternative could be very good news indeed for the road transport industry.
WHAT FUTURE FOR AMERCIAN TRUCKS IN SOUTH AFRICA?
In the post-Second World War era, when South African Railways (SAR) held a vice-like grip on the long-distance conveyance of goods and passengers, its Diamond T heavy haulers were just about the only big trucks you were likely to encounter out of the cities and towns on the country’s main roads.
Later, the SAR’s preference switched to International trucks, which continued the tradition of successful Cummins/Fuller/Rockwell major components.
As the country moved into a more liberal transport dispensation from the 1970s, many private operators opted for American trucks. Mack entered the fray and Ford also became a serious contender.
However, the compulsory introduction of Mercedes-Benz derived Atlantis Diesel Engine fitment to trucks in South Africa from 1982 onwards, and the punitive duties that were attracted by non-compliant vehicles, put a serious obstacle in the way of the American truck brands, and most of them drifted out of the local market.
The revival of International, and the arrival of Freightliner
One American make that managed to re-establish a foothold was International. By adopting a clever strategy of combining new “glider kits” (chassis, cab and axles) with locally reconditioned Cummins and Fuller driveline aggregates, importer Tyco International started to rebuild a local demand for the brand through its 9670 series forward-control model in the late 1980s.
This was consolidated and expanded once the importation of new trucks without undue financial penalty became possible once again in the 1990s, and monthly sales of up to 100 units of the successor 9700 and later 9800 series were registered.
The obvious popularity of this American product prompted local heavy-truck market leader Mercedes-Benz to bring in its United States (US)-manufactured Freightliner brand. Its forward-control Argosy model was introduced to local operators soon after it was launched at the end of the 20th century.
As we have frequently reported in Global Focus, the International 9800 and its bonneted Navistar siblings registered their last sales in South Africa during 2013, leaving Freightliner as the sole representative American mainstream on-highway marque available to local buyers.
The obstacle to wider American participation in the local market has been the advantage enjoyed by forward-control models in terms of South African legislation, which restricts the heaviest and largest dimensional legal payload envelopes to this configuration.
American truckers’ continued insistence on bonneted, or “conventional” haulers for their domestic long-haul applications, has meant that manufacturers primarily servicing that market no longer bother to include forward-control premium haulers in their home product catalogues.
However, the Argosy established a presence in export territories such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where it could compete directly and effectively with state-of-the-art, forward-control trucks from Europe and Japan.
The global perspective
Clearly, the volumes achieved by Freightliner with Argosy in these export territories are miniscule in comparison to the sales totals of conventional models in the US. Freightliner sold more than 100 000 Class-8 trucks in the US during 2015!
Mercedes-Benz currently does not publish detailed sales statistics for South Africa. However, it can be reasonably estimated that the total local Freightliner volume, to which Argosy is the major contributor, runs at about 80 units per month, while the 2015 Australian volume for all Freightliner models (including Argosy) was just more than half of that number.
South Africa’s continued adherence to Euro-2 emissions standards, and limited local availability of low-sulphur diesel fuel, has created a situation where Freightliner is obliged to continue fitting “old tech” engines, with associated componentry, to its South African models.
The more advanced markets, such as Australia, can, however, accept the latest engine technology, like parent company Daimler’s Detroit Diesel DD15 power unit, which is built on the group’s rationalised global heavy-duty engine platform.
Splitting the already relatively small Argosy volumes into different product executions for small volume markets will not be a popular choice with Freightliner, and could be a negative factor when the company considers the desirability of continuing the development of this product.
With Navistar International now absent from the local truck market, and the likelihood of its return with a dedicated forward control model to carry on the 9800’s legacy becoming increasingly remote with each passing year, plus the above scenario playing out at Freightliner, we have to question the future of American trucks in South Africa.
Just take a trip on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban, and note the total dominance of European brands in our local long-haul scenario, and the question becomes even more justified. The population of active American trucks, judging by the available evidence, appears to be shrinking.
Navistar International has maintained a product support presence in the local market, but with the absence of new products from its home plants to replace natural attrition, and total sales of American heavies now running at about half of the volume seen a few years back, the question posed at the beginning of this article needs to be asked.
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.