JAC of all trades
Chinese trucks are on the way, writes James Stanford in Shanghai
JAC will have pumped out at least two light-duty trucks before you finish reading this article. I’m witnessing the frenetic pace of the Chinese company’s production line in Hefei, 500km inland from Shanghai. A team of up to eight people is swarming over each truck as it moves along on a relatively fast production line.
With everything bolted in and tightened, the shining trucks approach the daylight at the end of the factory. In a few metres, the rolling metal production-line floor stops and the concrete starts.
A worker jumps into the cab, sits on the plastic-wrapped seat and turns the key. The diesel engine grumbles into life for the first time. There is a fair amount of smoke as it clears its throat.
The bright blue truck is eased out into the car park. Two minutes later the whole process is repeated. Yes, a new truck every two minutes.
We move on to the heavy-duty truck plant up the road where things are moving a bit slower. Several people are working on each truck and there is a lot of manual labour going on.
You do tend to cringe at some of the risks being taken, and the term OH&S means nothing. I witness an axle being moved over a worker’s head. He is wearing a hard-hat, but I’m not sure it is going to help much if the strap snaps.
Employees work hard, but they also get a decent break. There is a one-hour lunch break and then a half-hour nap time. Imagine that, sleeping on the job with the permission of the boss.
As is the case with cars, Chinese companies tend to ‘‘borrow’’ the design features of other vehicles and, in some cases, copy them completely. In the case of the heavyduty JAC trucks, the designers have paid ‘‘tribute’’ to Scania by copying the side vents next to the grille from the Swedish truck. In fact, the whole thing looks like a Scania.
The heavy-duty truck’s cabin is cheap plastic and basic. I am assured this is a low-grade spec model and that the ones bound for Australia will be much better.
The light-duty truck interior looks respectable. We don’t get to drive them, but the mechanical parts look well made and much of the technology is world-class.
JAC is the largest exporter of light-duty trucks in China, and is one of the top three in its home market. It has the capacity to build 250,000 light-duty trucks every year and 410,0000 commercial ve- hicles, including medium and heavy-duty truck, utes and vans.
It also builds passenger cars, which it is also thinking about exporting to Australia in a few years.
All up, JAC will soon have an annual production capacity of 1.3 million trucks and cars, which is more than the entire Australian new vehicle market.
It is also teaming up with NC2, the joint venture between CAT and Navistar, to build trucks wearing the CAT and International badges from 2013.
JAC is already exporting trucks to developing countries.
White Motor Corporation will start importing the first light-duty trucks from March and will distribute them through a network of 20 dealers, which includes the Adtrans and AHG groups.
Australia will not see the heavyduty JAC trucks for a while because WMC wants to get the light-duty trucks settled in the market first.
Like most Chinese companies, JAC is partly owned by the Chinese Government and it is encouraging the brand to find export markets.
The Australia-bound light-duty trucks will run brand-name components, including Cummins engines (meeting ADR83/03) and Allison transmissions.
Cummins has been operating a plant in China for three decades.
WMC sales and marketing chief Shannon Taylor says the trucks will be cheaper to buy than the key Japanese rivals, though not all that much cheaper.
He estimates running costs to be 25 per cent lower than comparable Hino, Mitsubishi Fuso and Isuzu trucks over a five-year period.
‘‘We need to give the market a reason to shift away from what they currently know,’’ Taylor says.
He says the trucks are tough, partly because they often run welloverloaded in their home market.
Rapid transit: workers swarm over a truck on the JAC assembly line and (below) the finished products.