NICHE MARKET NOMINEE
The way Iveco tells it, the Euro 6 version of its medium-duty Eurocargo brings an advanced level of technical refinement to local and regional distribution work. It’s true, but in a market where the Japanese juggernaut is all-powerful, it’s perhaps like w
LET’S FACE it, when it comes to the lighter ends of the truck business, if you’re not Japanese, you’re just fighting for scraps. It’s a plain, incontestable fact.
Ever since the Japanese first started asserting their strength in the midto-late ’70s with trucks that were generally well made, well priced and remarkably reliable, anything from anywhere else has had a horrendously hard time.
Going way back, brands like Bedford, Dodge and Leyland were probably headed for extinction anyway, but there’s no question the Japanese onslaught fast-tracked the trip to oblivion. The biggest scalp of all, however, was International. Light- and medium-duty Inters were once common as cockies in this country but, under a deluge of dilemmas, the seemingly indomitable International Harvester company went into corporate collapse just as the Japanese were ramping up the competitive crescendo. The double whammy was deadly.
True, International heavy-duty models managed to hang on to some semblance of market strength for a while. Down the scale, though, the light- and medium-duty trucks, which were once a mainstay of metro and country businesses large and small, fell out of favour with spectacular speed as Japan kept pounding away with trucks that simply offered more.
Ironically, it was Iveco that came to save International from complete collapse and, today, with medium-duty specialists like its latest Eurocargo sporting Euro 6 emissions compliance among a number of technological treats, it’s Iveco yearning to fill any niche the Japanese may have missed.
Yet Iveco certainly isn’t alone in its bid to offer the market something outside the Japanese square.
Volvo, MAN, DAF and MercedesBenz have been toiling in the medium-duty mix for many years but, individually and collectively, the numbers tell a tale of scant success for the European brands. In the first half of this year, for instance, continental contenders accounted for a threadbare 5.6 per cent of the total medium-duty market. In other words, just 188 of the 3322 medium-duty trucks delivered to the Australian market up to the end of June bore a European badge. Worse, those 188 trucks are split between five brands, with Iveco notching just 42 sales.
Even so, you have to admire the determination. Offered alongside its Euro 5 counterpart, the Euro 6 Eurocargo represents another brick in the wall of Iveco Australia’s intention to offer something for everyone in the
“At odds with its Australian experience, Eurocargo is actually a big player in Europe”
truck industry – from the lightweight Daily to the latest Eurocargo, the ever-reliable ACCO and the flagship Powerstar and Stralis models.
At odds with its Australian experience, Eurocargo is actually a big player in Europe, where trucks of this size and calibre are regular runners between borders. Here, medium-duty invariably means life in a metro environment.
Therein, perhaps, is a clue to why medium-duty trucks of European and Japanese origin fare so differently in our parts. Japanese medium-duty models have largely evolved from the demands of short-haul Asian operations, where ruggedness has long been a greater engineering focus than technical refinement. Meantime, better operating conditions, the general absence of chronic overloading, concern for driver comfort and safety, and an intense pursuit for operational efficiency have driven European product development along a notably more technical path.
That’s not to suggest Japanese trucks haven’t become more refined – or European models aren’t reliable or strong. Not at all. It just highlights the different development strategies of the two cultures and, as the numbers demonstrate in raw detail, Australia long ago decided to tread the Japanese path of reliability first and everything else second. Again, though, Iveco isn’t shy about promoting the features of its latest toiler, not least the fact that the Euro 6 Eurocargo was winner of the 2016 International Truck of the Year title.
Sure, it’s an accolade that may not count for much down here but it certainly means plenty in Europe, where the model’s advanced safety and efficiency features made it the judges’ choice. Consequently, Iveco Australia’s senior people were keen to push the safety mantra at the launch of the Euro 6 Eurocargo earlier this year, claiming a safety benchmark in the medium-duty truck market with a range of innovative features not normally seen in this segment, especially amongst its Japanese competitors.
Since then, however, Hino has taken a significant step in the safety stakes with the standard inclusion of a vehicle stability control (VSC) system in its heavily revamped 500-series wide-cab range. If Hino can do it, you can bet pounds to peanuts that Isuzu and co. won’t be left out in the cold.
Back at Iveco Australia headquarters in Dandenong (Vic), Australia and New Zealand product manager Marco Quaranta was quick to assert: “Notable safety advancements in recent years across light commercial vehicles are leading buyers to question why many of these features have not been available in the medium-duty market. The safety equipment in the Eurocargo is comparable to what you would find in high-end European passenger cars.”
For starters, the Euro 6 model, with its distinctive cab design, has the stopping power of front and rear disc brakes with ABS anti-lock as well as an anti-slip regulator (ASR), electronic stability program (ESP), hill-hold function, driver’s airbag and daytime running lights.
There’s also an advanced emergency braking system (AEBS) using radar technology to measure the distance to a vehicle in front and, if necessary, apply the brakes to prevent or at least minimise impact with another vehicle. Adaptive cruise control and a lane departure warning can also be specified as part of AEBS.
As we reported some months back, there are three models in the mix and all are 4x2 rigids: the ML120, ML160 and ML180 with respective gross vehicle weight ratings of 12, 16 and 18 tonnes, and each available in day cab, sleeper (with a high roof option) and crew cab layouts. Powering all versions is Iveco’s latest 6.7-litre Tector 7 turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, using high-pressure common-
rail fuel injection to produce peak outputs in the ML120 of 250hp (185kW) at 2500rpm and 627ft-lb (850Nm) of torque at 1250rpm, and 280hp (206kW) at 2500rpm and 738ft-lb (1000Nm) at 1250rpm in ML160 and ML180 models.
Apart from strong claims for sharp performance and thrifty fuel economy, Iveco emphasises the engine’s ability to achieve Euro 6 emissions compliance – a standard not yet mandated in Australia – without requiring any exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) input. Instead, the engine uses what Iveco calls its ‘Hi-SCR’ selective catalytic reduction system combined with a passive diesel particulate filter, or DPF.
The ‘passive’ tag simply points to the fact that no driver involvement is required for regeneration of the particulate filter.
Describing ‘Hi-SCR’ as simple, lightweight and efficient, Iveco insists the system provides many benefits over those designs using a combination of EGR and SCR to achieve Euro 6 compliance.
Other reported attributes of the Tector 7 engine are generous oil change intervals of up to 80,000 kilometres and an electronically controlled, 2-speed electromagnetic engine fan, which is automatically engaged or disengaged according to cooling requirements to further assist fuel efficiency.
Coupled to the engine is a ZF 9-speed overdrive manual transmission with a dashmounted gear shift or the optional Allison S3000 5-speed automatic.
Critical for a truck intended for city and suburban work, access to and from the cab is made easy with well-placed steps and doors opening a full 90 degrees.
There has also been a major makeover on the inside, with Iveco citing a quality Isri suspension seat for the driver, practical placement of all controls and switchgear, a linear dashboard design featuring an electronic antiglare instrument panel, and a relatively unobtrusive engine tunnel allowing the driver to move easily from one side of the cab to the other.
Storage space and driver convenience also rated highly in the design process. The centre console, for instance, has space to comfortably accommodate a laptop, tablet and the like, while there are two USB connectors and a 12-volt power socket for charging electronic devices. For fleets wanting to run telematics, Iveco says the new Eurocargo has the necessary hardware for easy integration of third-party systems, allowing operators the versatility to choose the system best suited to their requirements.
Underneath, the new models ride on a combination of parabolic springs on the front and electronically controlled air bag assemblies under the rear; two bags under the ML120 and four under the ML160 and ML180. All models also have a front stabiliser bar as standard equipment.
As Iveco’s Marco Quaranta mentioned, the Euro 6 Eurocargo will be sold alongside existing Euro 5 models that in due course will adopt the new cab exterior design and many of the new interior appointments.
Of the two models provided for short drives during the launch of the new trucks – ML160 day cab auto and ML180 sleeper cab manual – it was probably inevitable that Iveco would eventually make the ML180 available for a more comprehensive run. Why? Because the first drive did not go well due to a faulty power steering pump that gave the truck all the handling quality of a house brick.
Anyway, with faulty pump fixed and more than 7000km on the clock, Iveco recently provided the same ML180-280 high-roof sleeper model for a test run in and around Sydney’s dense western fringes.
Loaded to a gross weight just shy of 14 tonnes, I admit it didn’t take long to form a liking for this particular truck, much at odds with impressions formed during the launch event. In short, the truck did most things exceptionally well. First up, it’s a simple, unfussed climb in and out; it’s easy to find a good driving position; all-round vision through a deep windscreen and ample mirrors leaves little to be desired; and steering, handling and overall ride quality are especially good. In fact, there’s a gentle firmness about the steering, which gives the truck a positive sense of direction at any speed and without any of the vagueness that comes from steering systems that are simply too light.
In performance terms, the Tector engine’s relatively modest displacement delivers brisk throttle
“All this technology invariably comes at a cost”
response and a level of tenacity that can certainly surprise. And surprise it did on the run up the brutal 13 per cent grade of Bellbird Hill on the unforgiving Bell’s Line of Road.
This stretch of road tests the mettle of any truck, yet the Eurocargo managed to drop no lower than fifth gear – admittedly by the skin of its teeth at 1100rpm – on the sharpest pinch of the climb. A truly gritty effort.
Unfortunately the story’s not quite so positive on the downhill run, where the slight displacement does little to generate a high level of retardation from the exhaust brake. That aside, and, as expected, general stopping performance with the electronic disc brake package is impressively smooth and strong.
As for the 9-speed manual shifter, it’s a ZF box operating on a double-H pattern with a dash-mounted lever falling easy to hand and delivering light, precise shift movements. What’s more, given the engine’s broad rev range and slick response, skip shifts in low range were easily accommodated. In most instances, second gear lift-offs were followed by a jump to fourth then straight into high range. On slight downgrades, third gear starts and a swap straight into high range were just as easily accommodated.
Still, one particular concern with the synchro box is the possibility for an accidental shift into low range from a high gear. The range change is operated by flicking a collar on the lever and, while an inappropriate shift to low range will cause a warning buzzer to screech, there’s still the risk of sending revs through the roof.
For example, the combination of a heavy hand and an accidental knock of the collar as you’re downshifting from, say, sixth to fifth, could end up being a jump from sixth to second. Whoops!
Again, though, there was plenty to like about this truck and, in the right application, the high-roof sleeper version certainly adds an opportunity for Iveco. I would, in fact, argue the high-roof model is the best equipped standard sleeper cab in the mediumduty 4x2 rigid class.
I’d also argue that, given the results shown by the truck’s on-board information system, it is also one the most fuel-efficient mediumduty models in the business with an excellent return of 4.39km/litre (12.4mpg) over widely varying terrain and bouts of dense traffic.
However, for short-haul delivery duties in cities and the ‘burbs, the day cab version with the optional Allison auto would almost certainly be a far more practical and versatile alternative to the high-roof manual model. After all, both day cab and sleeper versions are available on a generous 6.57m wheelbase, with the day cab unit also offered on a shorter 5.67m spread.
Importantly, the Allison auto also takes away the onus of changing gear in a medium-duty market facing evertighter traffic flows and increasingly limited driver skills.
It’s also worth noting the Allison versions run a lower 4.3:1 ratio in the standard Meritor rear axle whereas manual models use a taller 4.1:1 diff ratio that delivers 100km/h at a twitch over 1900rpm.
So in the final wash-up, while the Euro 6 Eurocargo test truck was undeniably impressive in so many ways, you have to wonder how much call there is for a highroof sleeper cab with a multi-speed manual box in the 4x2 rigid class. Not a lot, I’d suggest. Sure, there are certainly those niche applications such as overnight regional runs where a truck of this type would suit some operators, particularly with those freight customers who demand top-shelf emissions compliance.
However, niches don’t often equate to high demand, especially in our neck of the woods. Besides, all this technology invariably comes at a cost and, in a hugely competitive market where a few dollars can make all the difference, asking more for advanced features can often be a very one-sided discussion.
Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is.
Winner: It may not mean much in Australia but Euro 6 Eurocargo’s 2016 Truck of the Year title is a big accolade in Europe
For the time being, the current Euro 5 model will be offered alongside new Euro 6 version but eventually both will share the updated cab
Slimline day cab and high-roof sleeper: The slimline model is the obvious choice for metro work but the sleeper has some appeal for niche applications
Both slimline and sleeper Eurocargo models are built on a lengthy 6.57m wheelbase. The slimline also comes on a 5.67m spread