heavy AM­BI­TIONS

While its Ja­panese com­peti­tors founded their Aus­tralian op­er­a­tions on light and medium-duty trucks, UD from the out­set built its busi­ness on the heav­ier end. And it’s the heav­ier end of the rigid truck mar­ket now square in UD’s sights fol­low­ing the re­leas

Deals on Wheels - - New Truck Review - Steve Brooks re­ports

Af­ter many months putting the fi­nal touches to well-pub­li­cised plans for the launch of a ded­i­cated tan­dem-drive rigid truck, UD has now re­vealed its new Con­dor PW model.

First im­pres­sions from short stints be­hind the wheel of sev­eral ver­sions on sealed and un­sealed roads at Bris­bane’s Mt Cot­ton Driver Train­ing Cen­tre were highly pos­i­tive, re­veal­ing a sim­ple yet smart spec­i­fi­ca­tion de­signed to sat­isfy a broad range of largely metro roles.

In fact, so good was the truck’s per­for­mance around Mt Cot­ton, that we asked UD for a re­run, this time in the real world. We’ll get to that shortly.

There is, how­ever, more to the ar­rival of the PW than first meets the eye and, de­spite the bla­tant ab­sence of Volvo Group Aus­tralia (VGA) ex­ec­u­tives from this im­por­tant new model’s launch, the ex­u­ber­ance of UD’s lo­cal lead­ers at least sig­nalled a pos­i­tive turn­ing point in the brand’s as­pi­ra­tions and ap­peal.

The sim­ple fact is that UD is in great need of a truck such as the PW for sev­eral crit­i­cal rea­sons. One is that it marks a stronger pres­ence and re­newed fo­cus on the heavy-duty sec­tor (al­beit the lighter end of the heavy-duty class) on which UD first cut its teeth in the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

The other is that num­bers don’t lie and, no mat­ter how they’re an­a­lysed or as­sessed, UD sales fig­ures are mod­est. At best! And they’ve now been that way for a long time, with 2016 re­sults show­ing lit­tle or no im­prove­ment.

At the end of the third quar­ter of 2016, for in­stance, UD’s take of the heavy-duty class was

a mea­gre 1.5 per cent. By the end of Novem­ber, a slight up­surge had pushed it to a tad less than 2 per cent.

The num­bers were at least brighter in the medium-duty sec­tor, where UD’s re­silient MK and PK mod­els col­lec­tively recorded 7.6 per cent at the end of Novem­ber. Bet­ter, but hardly in­spir­ing to once again fin­ish a dis­tant fourth in the fourhorse race of Ja­panese brands con­test­ing the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

So, given these fac­tors, and the no­table noshow of VGA lead­ers from the launch of the PW, it’s per­haps easy to see why Volvo’s Ja­panese brand is per­ceived in some minds as the poor cousin, the un­der­ling, in a cor­po­rate three­some dom­i­nated by Volvo and Mack.

It’s a per­cep­tion made all the more vi­able by Volvo’s stub­born re­fusal to fit its hugely pop­u­lar 13-litre en­gine into UD’s flag­ship Quon se­ries, de­spite the muf­fled and some­times muz­zled pleas of UD pro­po­nents yearn­ing for more fire­power.

As it cur­rently stands, though, the big­gest en­gine in the UD line-up is the GH11, rated up to 420hp. Don’t get me wrong, the 11-litre is a fine and thrifty work­horse, and, cou­pled to a su­per-slick adap­ta­tion of Volvo’s highly re­garded 12-speed au­to­mated trans­mis­sion, it makes a strong case for the ti­tle of best Ja­panese prime mover on the mar­ket.

The funny thing, though, is that both the GH11 and the au­to­mated shifter are de­rived from UD’s Swedish mas­ter, beg­ging the ques­tion: why is fit­ting Volvo’s D13 en­gine into Quon such an is­sue when Swedish hard­ware is al­ready such a strong part of UD’s heavy-duty prod­uct base?

The an­swer, ap­par­ently, is two-fold. First, there’s no call for a 13-litre en­gine in the Ja­panese home mar­ket and, there­fore, ac­cord­ing to some Volvo sources, lim­ited eco­nomic ra­tio­nale for slot­ting the en­gine into Quon purely for the low vol­umes of the Aus­tralian and New Zealand mar­kets.

Sec­ond, and per­haps most sig­nif­i­cant, it’s ap­par­ent some Volvo ex­ec­u­tives both here and over­seas – some past, some present – are of the opin­ion that a D13 equiv­a­lent with 500-plus horsepower in Quon would po­ten­tially in­fringe on sales of Volvo’s su­per-suc­cess­ful FM range.

Yet, when you think of the vastly dif­fer­ent cul­tures and buyer de­mo­graph­ics of the two brands, it’s an opin­ion wide open to con­jec­ture.

What’s more, with UD’s stated in­ten­tion to get back to its roots with a con­certed ef­fort to im­prove its heavy-duty num­bers, it’s a de­ci­sion seem­ingly ig­no­rant of the fact that an ad­vanced, fuel-ef­fi­cient and strong 13-litre en­gine of Euro­pean de­sign would give UD a dis­tinct edge over Ja­panese ri­vals. Ri­vals that rarely go headto-head in a com­mer­cial con­test with Volvo any­way.

For now, though, Volvo is show­ing no signs of soft­en­ing its de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep 13 litres away from its Ja­panese off­shoot. Go fig­ure!

ON THE RISE

Even so, de­spite the ob­sta­cles and the sales stats, there’s an energy and en­thu­si­asm within UD ranks that’s en­tirely up­beat, and right now it’s the new PW 24 280 model driv­ing a high level of con­fi­dence that the fu­ture will be de­cid­edly brighter.

With UD’s ex­u­ber­ant vice-pres­i­dent Jon McLean cur­rently fight­ing ill­ness, stand­ing in his big shoes is act­ing vice pres­i­dent Mark Strambi, who

… there’s an energy and en­thu­si­asm within UD ranks that’s en­tirely up­beat and right now it’s the new PW 24 280 model driv­ing a high level of con­fi­dence.

em­pha­sised the PW’s crit­i­cal role in push­ing the brand to higher rungs on the heavy-duty sales lad­der.

Equally, though, Strambi con­firmed that, as Volvo pro­duc­tion pro­cesses are be­ing more widely im­ple­mented at UD’s Ageo plant in Ja­pan, the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Aus­tralia and the fac­tory are lead­ing to much faster re­ac­tion times and greater con­sid­er­a­tion for the spe­cific re­quire­ments of Aus­tralian cus­tomers.

It’s an im­por­tant point, per­haps best high­lighted by the as­ser­tion it took just 12 months to take the PW from de­sign con­cept to pro­duc­tion re­al­ity. Push­ing the point fur­ther, UD is now able to sup­ply a full range of cab colours – up to three colours per cab – di­rect from the fac­tory for prices said to be far less than paint jobs done lo­cally.

“We’ve needed a bet­ter prod­uct line-up brought faster to mar­ket, and stronger col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Aus­tralia and Ja­pan is de­liv­er­ing ex­actly that,” an adamant Mark Strambi says, adding that the PW rep­re­sents UD’s “wave of ex­pan­sion” to­wards a higher stake in the heavy-duty sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to com­pany in­sid­ers, the aim is to sell around 180 PW units in 2017. Given a clever spec­i­fi­ca­tion tar­get­ing a di­verse range of metro and re­gional ap­pli­ca­tions, UD’s as­pi­ra­tions with the PW may seem a tad timid but, as Strambi was quick to ex­plain, on the cur­rent state of the heavy-duty mar­ket, the ad­di­tion of 180 PW sales would be enough to push the brand to around

4.5 per cent of the sec­tor. Com­ing off such a low base, it would be a big jump in­deed.

The new model, how­ever, is one of sev­eral ex­ist­ing and up­com­ing devel­op­ments hon­ing in on a stronger heavy-duty pres­ence. Prior to the re­cent launch of the tan­dem-drive PW, for ex­am­ple, UD in­tro­duced its sin­gle-drive PD 6x2 model, which now comes di­rect from Ageo as a fac­tory-built model rather than a lo­cally adapted ver­sion of the PK medium-duty truck with an ex­tra axle at­tached.

It’s worth noth­ing, though, that both the PD and PW are based on beefed-up ver­sions of the triedand-tested PK chas­sis.

Asked if an eight wheeler with a load-shar­ing twin-steer assem­bly is among fu­ture prod­uct plans, specif­i­cally to com­bat Isuzu’s rag­ing suc­cess with its 4-axle F-se­ries rigids, a cau­tious Mark Strambi said an 8x4 is def­i­nitely on the wish list but would not com­ment on pos­si­ble tim­ing.

Mean­time, the next step in UD’s heavy-duty plans is a sig­nif­i­cantly up­dated Quon model. For now, de­tails of the next-gen­er­a­tion flag­ship are be­ing kept close to the chest, but it’s a fair bet the first ver­sions will ap­pear at the Bris­bane Truck Show in May, and an even bet­ter bet the 13-litre en­gine will not be mak­ing a sur­prise ap­pear­ance un­der the Quon cab. Again, go fig­ure!

How­ever, don’t be sur­prised if a higher-pow­ered ver­sion of the cur­rent GH11 en­gine ar­rives in the re­vamped Quon. We’re tip­ping 460hp or there­abouts.

Right now, though, it’s all about the PW 24 280, and the five demo units at Mt Cot­ton were fit­ted with a range of bod­ies – hook-lift, tilt tray, skip bin, flat-top with self-load­ing crane, and fridge pan – which cer­tainly show­cased UD’s in­ten­tion to tar­get a di­verse range of niche ap­pli­ca­tions.

SHARP SPEC

Even a quick glance of the specs sheet sug­gests the PW spec­i­fi­ca­tion is both smart

and sur­pris­ingly sim­ple, with the brand’s solid rep­u­ta­tion for dura­bil­ity ob­vi­ously a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion in the de­vel­op­ment process.

For starters, there are two wheel­base lengths – 5.3 and 6.71 me­tres – built on a suit­ably re­in­forced PK chas­sis to sup­port a gross ve­hi­cle mass (GVM) of 23.5 tonnes and gross com­bi­na­tion mass (GCM) of 28 tonnes. Soon to be added is a 32-tonne GCM rat­ing for rel­a­tively light-duty truck and dog com­bi­na­tions.

Pro­vid­ing the punch is the same UD-de­signed GH7 7-litre en­gine that pow­ers all MK, PK, PD and now PW mod­els. Tur­bocharged and in­ter­cooled, it’s a Euro 5 en­gine us­ing high-pres­sure com­mon­rail fuel in­jec­tion to dis­pense peak out­puts of 206kW (280hp) at 2500rpm and 883Nm (651lb-ft) of torque at 1400rpm.

It’ll prob­a­bly sur­prise some to learn there’s no man­ual trans­mis­sion of­fer­ing in the PW, but, given its tar­get au­di­ence in metro ar­eas, the stan­dard fit­ment of Al­li­son’s widely re­garded

3500 se­ries 6-speed auto trans­mis­sion is un­ques­tion­ably a wise move. Af­ter all, the logic, in­tu­ition and re­li­a­bil­ity of the mod­ern-day Al­li­son auto are to­day find­ing favour in a mul­ti­tude of medium and heavy-duty metro roles where traf­fic den­sity and driver skills are greater in­flu­ences on ve­hi­cle choice than ever be­fore.

The Al­li­son feeds into an in­dus­try stan­dard Mer­i­tor drive tan­dem (MT 44-144GP) run­ning a 6.14:1 fi­nal-drive ra­tio equipped with power di­vider and a diff lock op­er­at­ing on the front-drive axle.

One of the few vari­a­tions in the driv­e­line spec is the rear sus­pen­sion, where the 5.3m ‘P’ wheel­base uses UD’s well-proven and well­man­nered six-rod me­chan­i­cal sus­pen­sion, while the longer ‘W’ spread em­ploys Hen­drick­son’s

HAS 460 air bag lay­out. In both cases, ride qual­ity on both sealed and un­sealed sec­tions of the Mt Cot­ton circuits was pre­dictably good.

Also dif­fer­ing be­tween the two wheel­bases is fuel ca­pac­ity, with the shorter ‘P’ ver­sion hav­ing a sin­gle 200-litre tank on the pas­sen­ger side, and its longer si­b­ling run­ning twin 200-litre tanks on the same side. In both cases, a 50-litre AdBlue tank is also fit­ted on the pas­sen­ger side which, given the model’s metro work environment and claims for re­spectable fuel economy, should be more than am­ple.

For the record, UD was the first Ja­panese brand to use se­lec­tive cat­alytic re­duc­tion (SCR) for emis­sions com­pli­ance, so, like its kin, the PW achieves Euro 5 through an SCR sys­tem sup­ported by a cat­alytic con­verter and muf­fler com­bi­na­tion.

It’s no sur­prise the PW also shares the same cab as its rigid sib­lings and, typ­i­cally, prac­ti­cal­ity rates high. For starters, it’s an easy climb in and out, all-round vis­i­bil­ity is good, and the gen­eral lay­out of gauges and switchgear is func­tional and quickly fa­mil­iar.

Still, there’s room for im­prove­ment. The ab­sence of elec­tric or hy­draulic cab tilt as­sis­tance means it can be a hefty lift on any­thing other than a flat sur­face or, prefer­ably, fac­ing down­hill.

And while the stan­dard fit­ment of au­to­matic slack ad­justers on the brakes is wel­come, taps for air drainage are ob­so­lete in this day and age of au­to­matic air-drain sys­tems. Be­sides, I’d be more than a lit­tle sur­prised if most driv­ers in metro roles would these days even think to drain brake air tanks, par­tic­u­larly when the pull ring for the ‘wet tank’ on the UD is located a long way in­board from the side of the truck.

Yet, that said, it’s also a cab with plenty of mod­ern fea­tures in­cluded as stan­dard equip­ment, not least an ECE R29 crash strength rat­ing, a driver’s side airbag, Wabco anti-lock (ABS) brak­ing sys­tem, an on-board ‘Fleet Max’ telem­at­ics sys­tem, air-sus­pended driver’s seat, cruise con­trol, touch­screen mul­ti­me­dia sys­tem, elec­tric win­dows, and heated and elec­tri­cally con­trolled side mir­rors.

Fit­ted with a skinny foam mat­tress, it’s a cab also deemed ‘sleeper com­pli­ant’ ac­cord­ing to

We’ve needed a bet­ter prod­uct line-up brought faster to mar­ket and stronger col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Aus­tralia and Ja­pan is de­liv­er­ing ex­actly that.

the rel­e­vant Aus­tralian De­sign Rule (ADR42). By any mea­sure, though, it’s far more suited to short naps than overnight snores.

Even so, there was cer­tainly no in­ten­tion of an overnight camp in the PW when, a few weeks af­ter the launch event at Mt Cot­ton, UD ea­gerly agreed to pro­vide the tilt-tray model loaded with an ex­ca­va­tor from Volvo Con­struc­tion Equip­ment for a re­turn run be­tween Bris­bane and Toowoomba.

ON TEST

To get straight to the point, if your daily grind is driv­ing a tan­dem-drive rigid truck in and around a metropoli­tan area with an oc­ca­sional re­gional run thrown in, you could do worse than spend your days be­hind the wheel of the new PW. A lot worse!

For starters, the fundamentals are a truck with easy ac­cess in and out of a cab that has now been around for quite some time yet re­mains com­fort­able, quiet and en­tirely prac­ti­cal. Crit­i­cally, all-round vi­sion is ex­tremely good and made even bet­ter with a rev­ers­ing cam­era send­ing the rear view to the stan­dard mul­ti­me­dia screen in the dash.

Like­wise, on-road man­ners are im­pres­sive, high­lighted by a steer­ing sys­tem that’s both light and pos­i­tive at all speeds and with an ex­cel­lent turn­ing cir­cle for tight spots.

Mean­while, daily checks of oil and wa­ter are sim­ple enough with the oil dip­stick be­hind the pas­sen­ger side of the cab and coolant eas­ily checked be­hind a lift-up panel above the grille, un­locked via a latch in­side the cab near the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal.

On the open road, though, in par­tic­u­lar un­du­lat­ing coun­try, don’t ex­pect barn­storm­ing per­for­mance. With 280hp and a some­what timid torque peak, the GH7 en­gine is ar­guably at the up­per level of its per­for­mance po­ten­tial in the

PW. At the up­com­ing GCM of 32 tonnes, the en­gine will be work­ing hard.

In a nut­shell, the PW will han­dle re­gional runs, but its true vo­ca­tion is in metro work where it does the job with smooth, sub­tle ef­fi­ciency.

And the key to the model’s ap­ti­tude for life in the city and the ‘burbs is un­ques­tion­ably the 6-speed Al­li­son auto. Driv­ing into the deep 6.14:1 diff ra­tio and gross­ing around 18 tonnes, the PW ac­cel­er­ated smoothly and quickly from traf­fic lights, and made pre­dictably easy work of dawdling traf­fic flows.

Yet de­spite the Al­li­son’s dou­ble over­drive gear­ing – top gear is a tall 0.65:1 – the PW notches 100km/h at a twitch un­der 2100rpm.

Still, any thoughts this rel­a­tively high en­gine speed would take a thirsty toll on fuel ef­fi­ciency were soundly quashed at the end of the day, when UD’s telem­at­ics sys­tem re­ported a highly re­spectable av­er­age of 3.1km/litre (8.76 mpg) for the 255km round trip.

It’s a trip, of course, which in­cluded the long, sharp drag up Toowoomba Range, where the PW quickly set­tled into sec­ond gear, though it needed to be locked into sec­ond to avoid mo­men­tary mi­gra­tions into third. Even so, the truck was able to hold 30km/h or there­abouts for al­most the en­tire climb.

On the down­hill run, sec­ond was again locked in. First gear was sim­ply too low and slow, and third ob­vi­ously too tall. Even in sec­ond, though, with revs al­lowed to run high into the rev range to pro­voke max­i­mum re­tar­da­tion ef­fort from the en­gine’s ex­haust brake, fre­quent jabs on the ser­vice brakes were a ne­ces­sity.

Con­se­quently, the over­all con­clu­sion is that while UD’s new PW model is a fun­da­men­tally ver­sa­tile truck with the po­ten­tial for a wide range of roles, there’s no ques­tion it is best suited to short-haul slogs where driv­ing ease, en­vi­able ef­fi­ciency and en­trenched dura­bil­ity are the foun­da­tions for suc­cess.

From all ap­pear­ances, UD has kicked a goal with the new PW and, ac­cord­ing to our sources, is lin­ing up to kick a few more.

For the record, UD was the first Ja­panese brand to use se­lec­tive cat­alytic re­duc­tion (SCR) for emis­sions com­pli­ance.

UD Aus­tralia’s Mark Strambi. New PW rep­re­sents UD’s “wave of ex­pan­sion” to­wards a higher stake in the heavy-duty sec­tor.

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1. Heart of the mat­ter. UD GH7 en­gine pow­ers cov­ers a lot of bases but prob­a­bly hits the peak of po­ten­tial as a tan­dem-drive rigid.

2. Plain, prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able. Al­li­son auto is the only trans­mis­sion. A wise move for the PW’s tar­get mar­kets.

3. Old world. One of few neg­a­tives are taps for air drainage. Brakes have auto slack ad­justers, so why not auto air drain? 1

3

Above: Tan­dem tasks. UD’s new PW 24 280 6x4 tar­gets a wide range of niche ap­pli­ca­tions.

Above: Test truck. PW tilt tray model did well in a day of di­verse de­mands. Fuel economy was a big fea­ture.

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