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

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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.

CUL­TURE CLASH

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.

DRIVE TIME

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

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