Trying to find a happy medium

Trying to find a happy medium

The medium commercial vehicle (MCV) sector of the market has suffered a decline over the past few months. FOCUS asks some manufacturers what they are doing to liven up the segment

This decline, as noted by Frank Beeton in his review of 2015’s first quarter (FOCUS May), was attributed by-and-large to UD Trucks ceasing delivery of its long-standing U41 Series during this period – without the immediate availability of a successor.

The MCV segment fell away slightly, from a 36,8 percent market share recorded in the last three months of 2014, to 34,9 percent in the January to March 2015 period.

The Toyota Dyna/Hino 300 Series managed to achieve overall leadership of the segment, selling 601 units (in fact over half that total was realised in the month of March, with 333 units retailed – equating to 30,2 percent share of the market segment).

“We are very proud of our achievements in the first quarter of 2015, with the major contributing factor being that our factory near Durban is now running at planned capacity. During the first quarter of last year, Hino sales were hampered by stock shortages as we ramped up output at our relocated truck plant,” says Ernie Trautmann, vice president of Hino SA.

While crew cab and automatic transmissions have featured in the 300 Series offering for some time, additional versions are on the cards.

The next major MCV player, Isuzu Truck South Africa, suffered some overall market-share loss, which Beeton attributed almost entirely to a more than 50-percent reduction in MCV category N-Series deliveries during the first quarter. However, the company is adamant that its N-Series product offers a straightforward, no-compromise solution to the segment – especially considering its Crew Cab and AMT options.

The integrated Crew Cab seats up to seven people and offers seat belts for every passenger. Like all Isuzu vehicles, the Crew Cabs come standard with anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and are manufactured to global safety standards under the ISO 9001 certification.

The Crew Cab treatment is also available on the NPS 300 4×4 models.

“The NPR 400 Crew Cab model has a significant feature, not found on any other medium-class truck, providing unique technical advantage – an automated-manual transmission (AMT). A seamless Isuzu AMT gear shift turns an average driver into a good driver,” the company says.

This results in increased driver focus, improved fuel consumption and reduced downtime and lifecycle costs.

While the more established players in the MCV segment continue their push for market growth, the segment is also benefiting from the arrival of some new entrants. Launched during May was the FAW 8.140 FL, a new nine-tonne GVM 4×2 freight carrier.

“You may ask why FAW SA decided to introduce a range in a weight category that is severely under pressure in the market at the moment …” says FAW deputy CEO, Jianyu Hao.

“There is a Chinese proverb: In every crisis, there is opportunity. Our decision to introduce this medium-weight truck range was based on our customers’ demand and what we believe is a great market opportunity.

“Our market analysis confirmed the need for a vehicle as durable and rugged as our heavy and extra-heavy trucks, but with smaller dimensions to handle a different working environment,” he explains.

In designing the vehicle for local conditions, the company “prioritised cost-efficiency combined with the best possible payload and the best turnaround time, without forgetting FAW’s quality build standards for durability and reliability.” Priced at R239 000 (excluding VAT), FAW claims that the 8.140 FL chassis cab provides buyers with the “lowest cost per tonne”.

While the 8.140 FL has been designed for local conditions, and is built locally (imported in semi-knocked down format) at FAW’s Coega-based plant, the company has used componentry from respected international suppliers.

At its heart is a Euro-3, 3,8-litre Cummins ISF engine that produces 105 kW and 450 Nm. According to FAW, this particular powerplant offers exceptional performance, low operating costs, weight, noise and emissions. It drives through a six-speed ZF Ecolite manual transmission.

Braking is by a Wabco four-circuit protection valve, full-air brake system that includes ABS. “The addition of ABS and an air-cut parking brake on a medium-sized truck is invaluable for the safety of driver, truck and payload,” the company says.

A uniquely South African addition to the build process is that the chassis passes through a special paint station to enhance endurance and longevity against dust and dirt. The riveted ladder-frame chassis and smooth top-flange chassis construction has a distinct low-weight advantage, especially when mounting a steel sub-frame cargo body.

The 8.140 FL is available from FAW dealers with a number of body options; including dropside, taut-liner, van body, 3,5 m3 tipper, and rollback and dry-freight insulated body. A 5,5 m standard body length is permissible, while a six-tonne body and payload allowance and total gross combination mass of 14 t is allowed.

FAW is supporting the new range with a two-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

“The FAW 8.140 FL is a ‘true-blood South African’, built locally and uniquely engineered for the African environment. With the launch of this new medium truck range FAW has set the bar higher, yet again,” says Yusheng Zhang, CEO of FAW Vehicle Manufacturers SA.

While FAW is certain the 8.140 FL is what the South African MCV market needs, it will be interesting to see how the segment moves forward in months to come.

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