JAC of all trades

Chi­nese trucks are on the way, writes James Stan­ford in Shang­hai

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

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.

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