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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.