Hino is aiming high with its 500 wide cab series
SURE, IT WAS a blunt question. Maybe even antagonistic. Still, the occasion and the opportunity were too good to ignore, especially with one of Hino’s most senior Japanese executives seated among the mass of media and local Hino executives gathered for the much-anticipated launch of the new 500 Series wide-cab models.
“Do you feel you get enough support in terms of product development from Hino in Japan to be anything other than the perennial bridesmaid to Isuzu?”
It was a question directed at Hino Motor Sales Australia (HMSA) chairman and chief executive officer Steve Lotter. To his considerable credit, the response was immediate and to the point.
“Would we like more product from Japan? Of course we would,” he declared.
However, as Lotter was just as quick to emphasise, Hino is part of the gargantuan Toyota empire, and, with operations in almost every part of the world, the needs and wants of HMSA are among many.
Basically, it’s all about priorities and resources, and, despite the vast development and engineering assets of the Japanese conglomerate, HMSA must take its place in a queue that stretches to markets across the globe.
Yet any hope the question might stir something other than a well-practiced corporate smile from Hino senior executive Kenji Nagakubo proved to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
Strange, really, particularly given Kenji-san’s high-ranking status as managing officer of Hino Motors Ltd and his previous history as head engineer of the new 500 Series project. Even something along the lines of, “We’re always looking at new products for all our markets,” would’ve sufficed.
But no, nothing except that quizzical smile so often seen on top-level Japanese executives faced with uncomfortable questions.
As for the ‘bridesmaid’ title, Lotter didn’t bite. Wisely, perhaps! Which goes to show times have certainly changed, because it’s not too many years back that Hino heavyweights here and abroad would never have missed an opportunity to boldly state a devout intention to displace Isuzu from its perch at the top of the Australian truck market. But that, too, has proved to be wishful thinking. Nowadays, conversations about aspirational ascendancy are few and far between in Hino ranks.
Funny thing, though, in a short chat in the cab of a truck with Nagakubo, I asked if a Hino eight-wheeler with a load-sharing twin-steer would appear in Australia
anytime soon in a bid to counter Isuzu’s runaway success with its 8x4 model.
“Not on the current agenda,” Kenji-san said without hesitation.
Fair enough, but is number one in the Australian market still on the Hino agenda? Silence for a moment. “Yes,” he replied sharply. When? “In five years.” As always, time will tell. Right now, though, Steve Lotter and his team at HMSA have far more immediate matters in mind, and the most immediate of all is to make the most of the new 500 Series wide-cab models.
It has, in fact, been a long time between drinks for new products at HMSA, with the last new model introduction being the 300-series light-duty range back in 2011.
Not surprisingly, the excitement and energy within Hino’s upper ranks at the launch of these 500 Series trucks was undeniable. Boosted by an upbeat, big-budget marketing campaign, it was also totally understandable.
These latest models are, after all, a long-overdue and hugely welcome addition to a brand which has struggled to maintain sales momentum over recent years, and Hino is intent on making plenty of noise about their arrival.
Making no secret of the company’s competitive need for trucks of this calibre, a forthright Steve Lotter conceded during a pre-drive presentation of the 500 Series wide-cab models that 2016 was not a memorable year for HMSA. Yes, it held on to number two in the total Australian truck market, but the gap between Isuzu at the top and runnerup Hino grew disturbingly wider.
All up, Isuzu delivered 8307 trucks for a 25.2 per cent take of last year’s total truck market, whereas Hino delivered 4405 units for 13.4 per cent.
Arguably the biggest concern is not the vision of Isuzu streaking further into the distance, but the
“Would we like more product from Japan? Of course we would”
view over the shoulder as Fuso drew perilously closer to second spot with 11.1 per cent of the total market and again kept Hino in third place in the fiercely fought light-duty league.
Worryingly, while both Isuzu and Fuso sold more trucks in 2016 compared to the previous year, Hino sold a handful less.
Consequently, there’s a lot swinging on the success of the new 500 Series wide-cab models – not to just hold Hino’s current place on the overall leader board, but to arrest the trend of the past few years and actually put the brand back on a growth path.
Again, time will tell, but from what we’ve seen and driven so far, the new trucks are a huge step in the right direction, with loads more muscle and a suite of smart safety initiatives.
Despite the somewhat confusing wording that can infer these trucks have a new, wider cab, the cab actually retains the same generous dimensions of the first 500 Series wide-cab models launched a decade ago.
There is, however, no confusion in the release of a model range, with a swathe of new and highly functional features including enhanced 8- and 9-litre engines, expanded manual and automatic transmission options, numerous drive train developments, improved chassis design, and safety advances headed by the standard fitment of a Wabco vehicle stability control (VSC) system in all models.
The standard inclusion of VSC across the new range is “an Australian first for this class”, Hino product strategy manager Daniel Petrovski says.
Yet with a standard safety list also containing ABS anti-lock, ASR skid control, a driver’s side airbag, reversing camera, an ‘Easy Start’ hill-hold function for manual models, and a cab meeting European crash test standards, Hino boasts it has the most comprehensive active safety package of any Japanese truck in the medium-duty category.
Available in 2- and 3-axle configurations, the new trucks offer gross vehicle mass (GVM) ratings from 16 to 18 and 26 tonnes, and gross combination mass (GCM) ratings from 32 to 45 tonnes.
“These trucks are a game changer for us,” an emphatic Steve Lotter said, “and we now offer the broadest
“It’s underneath where the greatest changes have been made”
range of trucks in these important market segments that straddle Australia’s competitive medium- and heavy-duty markets.
“By increasing the model range, it provides us with an opportunity to engage in different applications which previously hasn’t been possible.”
The new trucks are easily distinguished from the outgoing wide-cab models and, likewise, from the FC, FD and FE medium-duty specialists sporting Hino’s narrower ‘standard cab’.
The most notable external change is in a bold, dark grille but there are also relatively subtle changes in areas such as cab steps. On the inside, the changes are less apparent, with a new radio and redesigned digital dash being the most obvious.
However, it’s underneath where the greatest changes have been made, led by further development of Hino’s 7.7-litre J08E enginee and its 8.9-litre stablemate, the A09C.
In the case of the 6-cylinder J08E, maximum governed engine speed and compression ratio have been raised to deliver peak outputs of 206kW (280hp) at 2500rpm and top torque of 883Nm (651ft-lb) at 1500rpm.
Depending on the model, transmission choices are an Allison 6-speed auto, Hino 6-speed manual, or an Eaton 9-speed direct-drive manual. As for the A09C, also a 6-cylinder layout, Hino says it contains a new turbocharger, revised water pump and cooling fan, and a swap from Bosch to Denso common-rail fuel injection.
It’s an engine offering two performance ratings starting with 235kW (320hp) and 1275Nm (940ft-lb) coupled to an Allison automatic transmission, and a lively 257kW (350hp) rating supported by a potent 1422Nm (1049ft-lb) of torque stirring through a Hino 9-speed overdrive synchromesh transmission.
Critically, Hino says, both engines greatly benefit from the adoption of an SCR emissions system instead of the previous EGR and diesel particulate filter combination to achieve Euro 5 emissions compliance.
Several of the models provided for drives during the launch of the new trucks were equipped with the Hino 9-speed synchromesh manual shifter. Operating on a double-H (H-over-H) shift pattern, the Hino box wisely comes with an electronic control unit which won’t allow shifts into low range if road speed is above 30km/h, and a beeper which sounds when the range change button is used.
As a Hino operative explained, it’s all about protecting the engine from over-speeding in the event of an accidental downshift through the synchro box to a gear that’s simply too low.
Akin to Hino’s light-duty hybrid model, manual versions of the new 500 Series trucks are also equipped with an engine stop-start system to enhance fuel efficiency by switching the engine off when it would be otherwise idling.
The stop-start system is only activated when the dash-mounted control switch is ‘on’, the truck is stationary, the transmission is in neutral, and the park brake is engaged. Conversely, the engine automatically restarts when the clutch pedal is depressed.
Meantime, GH and FM models are now also equipped with cross diff locks as standard equipment.
Importantly, the new models also have a wider front axle with a tighter wheel cut angle, while at the back end electronically controlled air suspension (ECAS) is available on models with Hendrickson’s HAS air bag rear suspension.
A quick summary of the model line-up is:
• FG 1628 4x2: A 280hp (206kW) unit with the choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed Allison auto, and ratings of 16 tonnes GVM and 32 tonnes GCM
• FL 2628 6x2: A 280hp (206kW) model fitted with the 6-speed Allison auto, and weight ratings of 26 tonnes GVM and 38 tonnes GCM
• FM 2628 6x4: Another 280hp (206kW) model but offering an Eaton 9-speed manual or the 6-speed Allison. Ratings are 26 tonnes GVM and GCM of 33 tonnes with the auto box and 38 tonnes with the manual
• FM 2632 6x4: A model with 320hp (235kW) and the 6-speed Allison auto. Ratings are 26 tonnes GVM and 36.5 tonnes GCM
• FM 2635 6x4: Flagship of the range, this 350hp (257kW) sixwheeler is coupled to Hino’s 9-speed overdrive manual transmission. Weight ratings are 26 tonnes GVM and 45 tonnes GCM
• GH 1828 4x2: This 280hp (209kW) model has the choice of an Eaton 9-speed manual or 6-speed Allison auto, with a standard GVM of 16 tonnes and an optional 18 tonnes. GCM is 38 tonnes • GH 1832 4x2: A 320hp (235kW) model coupled to the 6-speed Allison auto, and also offering two GVM ratings of 16 tonnes and an optional 18 tonnes, along with a GCM of 38 tonnes
• GH 1835 4x2: The ‘flyer’ of the pack with 350hp (257kW) and Hino’s 9-speed overdrive manual. Again, there are two GVM ratings of 16 and 18 tonnes, and GCM of 38 tonnes.
Keen and confident to demonstrate the strength and versatility of its new models, Hino assembled a wide cross-section of partially loaded trucks for a comprehensive drive program that ranged from suburban slogs to freeway cruising and regional backroads.
But first things first: The drive program actually started with a 4x2 cab-chassis model doing laps on the skid pan of Sydney Motorsport Park at Eastern Creek, where the VSC system kept the truck completely under control no matter how hard some tried to get the truck sideways. And believe me, some tried very hard, so no matter how you weigh it up, adding VSC to the standard features list is a significant advantage for Hino.
Meantime, with well-spaced driver changeover points, four different models were able to be driven, which in our case started with a GH 1832 auto run through the filthy traffic of western Sydney and the woeful Pennant Hills Road. An hour or so behind the wheel can’t reveal everything about a truck, but the 1832 at least defined a model with ample power for haulin’ through the ‘burbs and highlighted the value of expanding the availability of Allison’s super-slick automatic in the new 500 Series models.
Seriously, if your daily grind is ferrying freight in a rigid truck around crowded cities and suburbs, the modern-day Allison auto is by far the best option.
The next truck was the GH 1835, big brother of the 1832, and, as the run north up the M1 Motorway and into the burgeoning Central Coast quickly revealed, this is the flyer of the Hino fleet. At this point it’s also worth mentioning that these two models are among a few offering the choice of a multi-leaf rear suspension or Hendrickson’s HAS air bag layout with electronic height control.
With the tall overdrive top gear of Hino’s 9-speed synchromesh box feeding into an 8.9-litre engine with potent power and torque outputs, the GH 1835 is a truck obviously designed more for regional runs than city snarls. Plentiful power and a gritty willingness to dig deep into the rev range saw the partly loaded 1835 hold top gear on the long slog up Joll’s Bridge from the Hawkesbury River. Impressive!
As for Hino’s 9-speed manual box, shifts are a tad on the heavy side as you might expect in a completely new truck but, overall, it’s an easy transmission to use and with plenty of power on tap, skip shifts in the bottom half of the box are comfortably accommodated.
Next truck was the 6x4 FM 2632, little brother to the FM 2635.
These two models also offer the choice of mechanical or air rear suspensions and, like their GH 4x2 counterparts, the ’32 uses an Allison auto while the ’35 comes with Hino’s 9-speed manual.
On an easy route, mainly running up the M1 Motorway, the 2632 sat comfortably at 100km/h and, like its siblings, simply did the job with a minimum of fuss and noise.
The final run of the day was in the baby of the bunch, the FG 1628 equipped with Hino’s 6-speed overdrive manual. This 280hp model also offers the 6-speed Allison auto and, while the manual version was easy and uncomplicated on the last leg over potted country backroads, it’s a model that would unquestionably benefit from the auto option in city and suburban work.
In summary, after driving Hino’s new 500 Series wide-cab models, it’s easy to appreciate the company’s strong confidence that better times are ahead.
As several insiders agreed during the drive program, these trucks are just what Hino needs to take the fight to the competition rather than just standing back and copping the blows.
Even so, it’s unlikely Hino will be changing out of its bridesmaid outfit anytime soon, but this time around it’s sporting an ensemble sure to get plenty of looks from the boys and girls with the bucks.
“The modern-day Allison auto is by far the best option”
Other than the dash layout, changes on the inside are few. The big changes are underneath and, wisely, availability of Allison’s slick six-speed automatic has been expanded
A reversing camera is one of many innovative standard features in the latest Hino models
Plenty of punch. Hino GH 1835 model sports 350hp and an overdrive 9-speed manual box. Good spec for a regional runner
Hino Motor Sales Australia chief Steve Lotter. “These trucks are a game changer for us.”
Face up. Bold new grille signals a much stronger range of Hino 500 Series widecab models
Among a suite of safety features and a first for Japanese trucks in this class, a vehicle stability control system is standard on Hino’s new 500 Series wide cab range
Part of Hino’s new 500 Series line-up during a recent drive program. There was plenty to like
Hino Motors managing officer Kenji Nagakubo. He ambitiously predicts Hino will be market leader in five years. Hmmm!