BACK TO before
When the first issue of Deals on Wheels’ sister title Owner//Driver hit the truck stops and newsstands of Australia in 1992, trucks might have looked much the same as they do now but as anyone who’s been around a while will know, things aren’t what they were. Not by a long shot. Celebrating Owner//Driver’s 25th anniversary, Steve Brooks backs up a bit
It’s a quarter of a century since Owner//Driver came into existence and that, in itself, is a huge achievement. Publishing truck magazines, much like the truck business itself, is a tough enterprise full of fierce competition driven by the endless pursuits of profit and market might.
As in most undertakings, though, survival and success are ultimately determined by passion, experience and service. In effect, giving customers what they need and want. Anyway, after almost 40 years writing about trucks and road transport, the worst thing for me about a stroll down memory lane is that the lane nowadays stretches a fearfully long way.
Yet while some may rue the endless passage of progress, the pace of change was well and truly on the boil by the time Owner//
Driver first appeared in 1992. The old ways were disappearing fast and across the board, Australian industry was hauling itself out of the so-called ‘recession we had to have’ and into a slow but certain period of economic growth. Even the global financial crisis 15 years later would prove to be little more than a speed bump on the Australian trucking landscape.
Whether by good planning or simply good fortune, the timing of Owner//Driver’s first issue was opportune as economic growth drove increasingly strong demand for road transport and, of course, trucks. The rush was on! After the hiatus and hardships of the previous few years, truck and component suppliers were pumped and primed to make the most of better times, though some were quicker out of the blocks than others.
Heavy-duty specialist Kenworth certainly wasn’t caught napping and in the same year as Owner//
Driver came into being so, too, did the much admired and proudly home-grown T950 make its debut, arriving almost two years after the launch of the original T900.
Classics in the making, the T900 and T950 would not, however, be Kenworth’s greatest initiative of the era. That title would emerge from the arrival of Cat’s C12 engine and Kenworth’s subsequent ability to take its ‘baby’ T4 model and create an entirely new platform which would become the most diverse and successful model range in the brand’s Australian history. There’s no question the foundations of the heavy-duty market leadership Kenworth continues to enjoy today were in large part cast throughout the ’90s, driven by clever engineering and an uncompromisingly strong and stable management culture.
It was also in the ’90s, 1998 to be exact, that Kenworth parent Paccar added another string to the Australian bow with the introduction of the DAF brand. With an unenviable pre-Paccar
history in this country, DAF has been a hard sell in a market riddled with strong European brands. Nonetheless, more than 4000 of the Dutch trucks have now been sold into Australia since joining the Paccar portfolio and, despite assertions of being Kenworth’s poor cousin, the brand has become an increasingly valuable contributor to the Paccar purse.
Nobody’s poor cousin is Isuzu. Success came early and by 1992 the Japanese maker was already looking at close to five consecutive years as the number-one truck supplier in the country. Today it’s eyeing 30 straight years at the top, which is no mean feat in a market as fiercely competitive as ours.
The reasons for such extraordinary success were blatantly apparent from the start; trucks of exceptional durability, a product range constantly evolving and expanding to cover every possible crevice in the light- and medium-duty categories, and by no means least in those early days, the distribution afforded by the Holden dealer network.
The same platforms still drive the brand today but with one massive difference. Back in ’92, Isuzu’s Australian operation was part of an entity called Isuzu-General Motors but, by 2005, with the Japanese parent gradually dragging itself out of an economic abyss in which extinction had been a very real possibility, Isuzu parted from its American ally.
On the local front, this led to the formation of Isuzu Australia Ltd and from here on Isuzu has been the absolute master of its own destiny. And the destiny, it seems, is to remain Australia’s top truck supplier forever and a day.
Still, Isuzu hasn’t had things all its own way and there have certainly been companies and individuals keen to knock the market leader off its perch. None more than Hino and never more than when the brand’s Australian operation was run by a wily, mercurial and often erratic individual named Roger Hall. Like him or loathe him – and there were plenty on both sides of the fence – ‘the Dodger’ had a passion for the Hino brand which could sometimes appear fanatical.
By hook or by crook, whatever it took, Roger Hall’s goal in life appeared to be nothing less than snatching the top gong from Isuzu’s grip, and several times he came close. Very close. Closer than anyone before or since.
Hino is, of course, part of the gargantuan
Toyota empire and it was perhaps inevitable that Hall’s unique business antics and management methods would one day go under the microscope and, ultimately, never be seen again
as Toyota principals installed more compliant executives with a greater appreciation for corporate systems and sensitivities. These days, Hino hangs tenaciously to its hard-won second spot in the overall rankings of Australia’s truck suppliers, seemingly secure and satisfied in its place as the perennial bridesmaid.
The other big player from Japan which underwent a massive swing throughout the
’90s and beyond was Fuso. Formerly known only as Mitsubishi, by the end of the ’90s it was being touted as a Volvo acquisition until Daimler stepped in and took control, forming in 2003 the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation. Yet other than the supremely successful ‘not-sosqueezy’ campaign for its enduring Canter lightduty truck, Fuso has been something of a silent partner in the Daimler conglomerate.
However, the Japanese brand today shines bright on the radar, notably as the epicentre of Daimler’s push into a revolutionary era of electrically driven trucks, complete with a new brand called E-Fuso spearheaded by the e-Canter light truck and, most exciting of all, the ‘Vision One’ medium-duty model. On the local front,
Fuso has certainly been the rock for Daimler’s truck business in Australia. In fact, without
Fuso, Daimler’s overall truck numbers would be significantly less than they already are.
Take Freightliner, for instance, a brand which has promised so much yet in many ways, delivered so little. Freightliner came to Australia on the back of the amazingly durable FLC112 model. A considerable presence was forged throughout the ’90s, aided by a couple of smaller heavy-duty models and an aged FLB cab-over which at least added to the brand’s collective volume.
Then, late in the back half of the ’90s, a new era exploded onto the Australian market with the launch of the slick Century Class conventional and its cab-over stablemate, Argosy.
It would be a big fib to say this new Freightliner family didn’t have the competition worried, particularly Kenworth. The potential was tremendous, especially for the inspiring Argosy, a cab-over which for many years made Kenworth’s K-series appear archaic in comparison.
Unfortunately, reality never quite matched the potential due mainly to a succession of durability issues which progressively battered the brand’s reputation to the point where Freightliner today accounts for just 4 per cent or thereabouts of the heavy-duty sector. Right now, Freightliner’s best hopes rest with greater uptake of the well-credentialed Coronado 114 model and, in another few years, the local introduction of the Cascadia conventional that currently dominates the US heavy-duty market.
As for Argosy, it is today a better truck than ever before but with cab-overs about as popular as square tyres in the US market, the model’s future development and ultimate survival remain highly uncertain beyond the next couple of years.
Still, no story on Daimler’s last few decades would be complete without some reference to
Even the global financial crisis … would prove to be little more than a speed bump.
the Sterling brand and on a broader scale, the so-called ‘merger of equals’ which led to the company called DaimlerChrysler.
When Freightliner (Daimler) bought Ford’s heavy truck business in 1997, two things happened: the classic Louisville name disappeared and the Sterling brand was born. Ford had already launched its HN80 successor to the ubiquitous Louisville and it was from this platform – minus the Louisville name which Ford refused to part with – that Sterling emerged.
In durability terms, Sterling certainly had its early issues but while engineering evolution many times appeared to move at snail’s pace, over the following decade the product improved markedly. Then, late in 2008, with the brand doing respectable business in the US and here, a strange thing happened. Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) dumped Sterling altogether
“to consolidate manufacturing operations with Freightliner and Western Star”.
Many pundits suggested DTNA would’ve been better served by dumping the low-volume Western Star brand but, as former DTNA chief Martin Daum conceded in an interview, there was far more to be gained (and saved) by slicing Sterling from the fold rather than Western Star.
As for DaimlerChrysler, probably the only thing remotely equal in this alleged ‘merger of equals’ was the expenses of the executives running each brand. Fortunately, sanity eventually prevailed and DaimlerChrysler was no more.
However, the good news for Daimler Trucks these days is its star brand, Mercedes-Benz. There’s little value in recalling the dismal history of the original Actros range beyond saying it did more to dim the star than anything ever before it.
After a decade of dilemmas and with its reputation in tatters, Benz needed something spectacular to turn its Australian fortunes around and so far, that appears to be the case following the launch little more than a year ago of an entirely new family of trucks. There’s still a long way to go but, from all appearances, Benz is back. Big time!
Like Daimler, Volvo Group Australia also boasts trucks with European, American and Japanese heritage – Volvo, Mack, UD – and while each had its own history long before becoming part of the corporate triumvirate, each has also evolved dramatically under the group banner.
In the eyes of many, UD has always been the best Japanese heavy-duty truck on the Australian market and that opinion has only intensified since Volvo’s 2007 purchase of the brand from Nissan Diesel. Even so, UD’s early CK and CWA models at least showed the Japanese maker knew what it took to build a heavy-duty truck capable of meeting Australian needs and expectations.
Fast forward to the present and the latest Quon is unquestionably a far cry from its predecessors, yet in many estimations is easily the best Japanese truck for prime mover roles, especially
The ailing dog would today be dead and buried if Volvo had not stepped in
with Volvo’s input into so many areas of the truck’s design.
As for Volvo’s purchase in 2000 of the iconic Mack brand, it’s hard to think of two more culturally disparate entities than the Swede and the Yank. Those inherent differences were blatantly evident during the difficult and complex integration of the bulldog breed into the Swedish system. The thing is, though, despite Mack’s long heritage and what some might see as a glorious past, the ailing dog would today be dead and buried if Volvo had not stepped in and bought Renault’s troubled truck business which then included Mack.
In product terms, Volvo’s plans for Mack were relatively simple: Mack’s Australian production was moved into Volvo’s Wacol (Brisbane) truck plant, producing and selling conventional models only, leaving Volvo and, to a lesser extent UD (purposefully limited to an 11-litre engine to avoid clashing with Volvo’s popular 13-litre FM model), to tackle the cab-over business. There are those who say Mack is today nothing like its forebears, and they’re right. However, Mack today also produces and sells more trucks than any time in its ‘glorious past’.
As for Volvo, the journey to the new millennium was not particularly smooth. Try as it might, a succession of product issues hamstrung the Swedish maker during the ’90s. Its initial 16-litre engine, for example, was so unreliable the Swedes stopped making it just as the B-double business in this country started to build momentum. Then, keen to offer something around 500hp for B-double duties, Volvo introduced a turbo-compound version of its 12-litre engine only to discover it was basically a boy on a man’s errand.
Any organisation is only as good as the people driving it.
Consequently, struggling for something to satisfy the big end of the business, Volvo introduced a 14-litre Cummins option. Executives in Gothenburg were probably convulsing in horror. Whatever, Cummins was never part of Volvo’s long-range plans and, with the advent of a 13-litre engine and a new 16-litre design along with smart FM and FH cabs – the latter with a locally designed enlarged sleeper – plus a string of innovative technical advances ultimately led by the I-shift automated transmission, the new century brought a bold and bountiful future to Volvo’s Australian operation.
The crowning glory of Volvo’s ascent was unquestionably the arrival of the latest FH and FM models a few years back. While the FH currently lacks the big XXL sleeper cab of its predecessor, there can be no question that Volvo is on a roll like never before. In fact, the collective sales of Volvo, Mack and UD easily make the group the biggest supplier of heavy-duty trucks to the Australian market.
Strangely perhaps, Volvo also figures in the early history of Western Star. In 1980, Volvo bought White Trucks but declined to buy its Canadian offshoot, Western Star, which staggered along precariously until 1990 when it was bought on the cusp of collapse by businessman Terry Peabody. Over the next decade, Peabody turned the brand’s fortunes around, with Star becoming a serious heavy-duty contender, particularly in Australia.
He did, however, also do some odd things with the brand. In an apparent bid to cash in on B-double growth, Peabody pursued a couple of Star-branded cab-overs based on ERF and DAF cabs and chassis, powered by Cummins and Detroit Series 60 engines respectively. They did not do well and, unsurprisingly, fell quickly into oblivion.
Later, in what was obviously an offer too good to refuse considering his warm regard for the brand he’d saved from extinction, in 2000 Peabody sold Western Star to Daimler. Yet in a move which still defies understanding, if not logic, Terry Peabody somehow convinced Daimler principals he should, for a relatively modest
$60 million or so, retain the brand’s Australian and New Zealand business.
Operating as a commercial vehicle offshoot of Peabody’s extensive Transpacific group, Western Star continued to shine bright in our neck of the
woods, even after he lost control of Transpacific. By this time, Germany’s MAN and UK’s Dennis Eagle waste truck had also joined the business. Even so, the Transpacific board decided trucks weren’t its main game and in the back half of 2013 sold the commercial vehicle division to US motoring mogul and billionaire businessman Roger Penske.
Penske’s record of commercial success is legendary yet under his ownership Western Star sales in Australia have fallen dramatically, with pricing and product issues causing the brand’s slide to less than half of what it was when
Penske took over.
On the other hand, MAN is today achieving the greatest success of its chequered Australian history, due to some degree by a TGX D38 flagship which has surprised and impressed in equal measure.
As for Dennis Eagle, it’s a waste specialist which ranks only one rung from the bottom of the heavy-duty sales ladder. In fact, only Cat cringes lower but that’s something we’ll come to shortly.
The other European brand with a chequered history in this country over the past quarter century and more is ‘the other Swede’, Scania. Rarely, if ever, coming close to the market strength of its Volvo countryman, Scania’s performance over the past 25 years or so is as much about people as it is about product. In fact, the product has largely been more predictable than most of the people sent to Australia to guide the brand’s business.
For whatever reason, Scania’s Swedish masters have historically appointed and replaced more managing directors here than any other brand and, of course, each new MD came with a new agenda and a new formula for the future.
Stability, and in its wake greater market success than ever before, finally arrived when an articulate, commercially astute and patient Pom named Roger McCarthy arrived in 2009 to become the brand’s fourth managing director in little more than two years.
McCarthy, too, was recently replaced but not before building the brand’s business over the past eight years to its best ever results with a mix of marketing guile and product initiative.
Carefully targeting niche markets he also made Euro 6 something of a Scania exclusive long before it will be required on the Australian market.
Roger McCarthy was, in effect, absolute proof
that any organisation is only as good as the people driving it.
And that, perhaps, is an opportune introduction to arguably the most fascinating and perplexing story of the past 25 years: Iveco and its somewhat tumultuous association with International.
It was 1992 when Iveco first took ownership of the company then known as International Trucks Australia.
From then on, only the enduring ACCO survived the process of replacing stalwart International models with a mix of locally assembled and fully imported Iveco trucks. Iveco’s heavy-duty product was not, however, kicking enough goals and, with viability of the historic Dandenong (Vic) factory as motivation, former Iveco Australia boss Alain Gajnik engineered a new deal with the US for locally assembled International models.
With respectable sales of the 9200, 9900 and 7600 models, everything appeared to be going well until around 2010 when International parent Navistar did its dubious deal with Cat and, almost overnight, the Iveco and International relationship came to a shuddering stop.
At the other end of the scale, though, Iveco is at least continuing to build a good business in the light end with its innovative Daily range.
Meanwhile, sales still remain negligible in
Iveco’s heavy league with the brand currently struggling to capture 5 per cent of the category.
Consequently, with the Cat debacle dwindling to certain death, the Iveco and International relationship is again back on the books, this time featuring the slippery ProStar model which formed the basis for the Cat Trucks exercise.
Confused? Me too! It’s more than a year since the deal was announced and only now come the first tentative signs of International’s reemergence.
As for Cat, well, what’s left to say? Just as those loyal individuals with yellow blood were flummoxed beyond belief by Cat’s 2008 decision to suddenly quit the on-highway engine business, so, too, have most people been dismayed by the decision to walk away from the truck project after so much initial hype and hubris. In many estimations, both the Cat truck and its local advocates deserved better. Much better!
Still, maybe it’s best to look on the bright side. After all, when it comes to punching out a highquality publication every month, the last 25 years certainly haven’t been short of things to write about. Nor, I feel, will the next 25.
old-timers who grew misty eyed as they’d recalled the sound and feel of steering a V8 Mack.
However, I’m a bit young to have ever driven one in anger. I’d admired clouds of diesel smoke erupting from twin stacks and I’d delighted in the deep-throated slow-revving bop of the bulldog 8 huffing and hauling. But I never had the chance to take one for a drive, until now.
Nick Radford owns both trucks you see here, a 1981 Series 1 Superliner and a 1990 Valueliner. A childhood spent hanging around the workshop of the Radford family’s Broken Hill-based earthmoving and transport business fed a desire for diesel dreams in an impressionable young
“I was out in the yard whenever I could as a kid,” Nick recalls. “I used to like getting out there, washing the trucks and talking to the drivers.”
He smiles at the memory. “I’d ride the pushy out there and annoy the mechanics. I liked Macks when I was younger, while they liked Kenworths … it was like a Holden-Ford showdown.”
“I don’t think there were many trucks in Broken Hill at the time with polished tanks and bullbars, but I’d go and pinch a packet of steelos from under Mum’s sink and try and polish a bull bar.”
It’s pretty clear that Nick was somewhat truck obsessed as a kid. “If you asked my teachers, I was always going to drive a truck,” he says. “In art class, if they asked me to draw an object, it was a truck. If they asked me to draw something made of steel, I’d draw a truck. If I had to draw something organic, I’d draw a truck in a forest!”
Naturally, I had to ask what truck Nick drew back then. With a laugh he replies: “A Series 2 Mack Superliner!” Of course he did.
On leaving school, Nick went to work on the family station, however drought saw him move back to town and work in the Radford trucking and earthmoving business.
Growing up in big truck territory on the edge of the outback was a hell of an apprenticeship. But I did have to ask what drew him to trucking in the first place. Was it just the machinery? Or was it life on the road?
“It was a bit of both, really. I mean there was nothing better than being at the wheel of a shiny red and white Superliner,” Nick says. “But when I was younger I’d go out with the drivers if they were on a livestock job, and on those back dirt roads you were the gate opener.
“I’d take my swag, tag along, talk shit. I’d help load sheep then come home again.”
While Nick’s father Gary had built the family’s earthmoving and transport concerns into a sizeable business, Nick still had to learn the ropes of outback trucking along the way.
“The job entailed a bit of everything,” Nick says.
“Gas pipeline work, bulk cement and livestock, there was also the earthmoving gear. There was a lot of variety.”
These days, however, Nick is based in the south east of South Australia and looks after Radford Pastoral, a sprawling 3720ha concern spread over three properties in the Penola area. While Nick may spend the bulk of his time tending to pasture and looking after 4000 head of Angus, he has never lost the trucking bug.
As a farmer now he reflects that his trucking passion really is about the machines themselves: “Nowadays it really is just about the trucks. Actually, it’s more about the trucks that were king of the road back then.”
His passion for old-school heavy metal has clearly been influenced by his family trucking heritage. In fact, the trucks you see on these pages have been restored as a tribute to that history.
His father Gary has a beautifully restored W model Kenworth at home in Broken Hill, which has been painted in the original Radford fleet colours. Nick has followed suit with these two Macks. “Dad’s W model is what gave me the bug, just seeing it restored and in the old fleet colours.”
The Series 1 Superliner was the first of the two trucks pictured here to find its way into Nick’s possession. He’d seen the truck in Mildura a number of times over the years, where it worked seasonally during the grape harvest.
“It’s got a million kays on the clock – though I’m not sure how accurate that is. But we haven’t touched any of the driveline.”
Back when Nick was a young fella working out of Broken Hill, his first big company truck was an ’83 Series 1 Superliner.
“It did 85 kays an hour at 1900 revs but I thought I had it made,” he recalls. “Dad said, ‘Have a go at this one, you shouldn’t tip it over,’” he laughs. “It got about one litre per kilometre, but I loved it!”
Before hitting the road solo, however, Nick had spent many an hour in the passenger seat watching and learning from other company drivers.
“I used to go for runs with Peter ‘Peterborough Pete’ Malycha,” he says. “Pete died a while ago so we called this Superliner Peterborough Pete as a kind of tribute.”
This truck is fitted with a 42-inch Bayline bunk. As you’d expect, an EA9 Mack V8 sits under the bulldog bonnet and is rated at 400hp. Behind that sits a 12-speed Mack ‘box.
A couple of years later Nick came across this 1990 model V8 Valueliner. This old girl had definitely done some hard yards; it started out hauling road trains for Petherick Transport before they were bought out by RTA.
After a couple of years in the wilderness, Adelaide-based Horry Nicholls used it to haul triples out to Moomba. The old 500hp donk grenaded at some stage so a 400hp V8 now resides under the bonnet. Behind the 16-litre beast sits an 18-speed Roadie.
“Because of the double-skinned chassis rails there was a bit of rust around the rear of the chassis,” Nick says. “It needed a bit of love and a bit of tidying up.”
Two fuel tanks were re-engineered and the front bar was sandblasted and painted. A new interior was also fitted. The restored Vauleliner was christened the ‘Petho-Liner’ as a nod to its original owners. And as you can see, both trucks have been faithfully re-sprayed in the Radford fleet livery.
As a farmer, you may be wondering if Nick keeps these trucks purely as toys. However, everything in the shed here in SA has to earn its keep, along with two Kenworth T908s, a set of B-double side tippers, a set of road train step decks and dolly, a water tanker, B-double stock crates and two single side tippers.
There was nothing better than being at the wheel of a shiny red and white Super-Liner.
The fertile yet silty clay soil of this area makes road building a challenge, however a while back Nick stumbled across a large limestone deposit of their Waterfield property. These days the farm is also home to limestone quarry and crushing plant that makes perfect road base for both the local council and private property access roads. Hence the selection of tippers in the farm fleet.
Of course, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go hauling dirt in a couple of old dogs, so with a side tipper behind both trucks we set to work moving hauling road base out of the Waterfield quarry.
I climbed into the Superliner first. The Series 1 cab sits about five inches lower than the later Series 2 model. But once in the driver’s seat, it’s hard not to admire that big square bonnet out front.
MACK ’BOX VIRGIN
The E9 grumbled away as I pondered the 12-speed ‘box. This was the first time I’d had a crack at one. I’ve driven Spicers but mainly Eatons, and was keen to take my best shot.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take too long to get it. The main thing I picked up was using a bit of clutch when using the splitter.
The slow-revving nature of the E9 engine makes it very forgiving. But with these old dogs it really is about the sound. Aside from old GMs or possibly a Commer Knocker, there’s probably no more distinctive engine sound than one of these old 16.4-litre V8s.
In this day and age of low torque curves, the Mack V8 feels a little strange. It’s a low-revving lugger, yet needs to be kept above 1300-1400 revs to stop it from labouring. Trying to idle along in too high a gear results in the engine hunting and surging. At 1600rpm, with a load of dirt on the back, this thing sounded glorious.
As a cold front slammed into the south-east, wind and rain started to hammer in earnest. This still didn’t make me wind the window up! I was too enamoured with the lazy bop-bop exhaust note of the big bent 8.
I soon found that a downside to these old bangers is the pneumatic windscreen wipers. As water sluiced down the screen, I struggled to find a wiper speed that didn’t result in the blades slashing violently at the screen. That said, it seemed a small price to pay for the joys of piloting such a classic.
With one load under my belt, I climbed aboard the Valueliner. What a bit of gear this thing is! The howl of the air start pierced the curtain of wind and rain as the engine sprang to life. The 18-speed and E9 combo seemed perfectly matched, and this truck is as tight as a drum.
The only niggle is that the stacks are mounted behind the bunk so you don’t have the same immersion in the V8 burble that you got with the old Series 1.
After the Superliner, this later model dog felt a little twitchier – mainly due to the set-back steer axle. However, I’d honestly have to rate this as one of the best trucks I’ve driven. It had plenty of grunt for the application and just sat beautifully on the road, whether dirt or asphalt.
Both these trucks are a credit to their owner’s passion to preserve his own small part of Australian road transport history. And they are a fitting tribute to the Radford family’s heritage of trucking.
At the end of the day, with the trucks parked up, we have a yak over a Bundy or two. I nod towards the now mud-streaked Macks, the setting sun flaring on bulldog mascots and chrome.
I ask if he has a favourite. Nick grimaces, and looks down at his boots before meeting my question. “Don’t make me choose, mate,” he says, looking back out the shed door. “Don’t make me choose.”
It’s more about the trucks that were king of the road back then.
donations from companies and individuals around Australia to, as Brian puts it, “Just lend a hand.”
And so it was that over a couple of screaming hot December mornings, a new UD Quon hooked to a flat-top trailer could be found in Aussie Helpers’ Charleville depot being loaded with donated Victorian hay, bound for parched properties across a wide expanse of country.
Sure, in the big scheme of things, it’s probably not a big deal to take a new truck and deliver a couple of relatively modest loads of hay. Still, we certainly couldn’t see any harm in at least contributing something to a worthy cause while, at the same time, determining if the new UD was as good in the dust and heat of the backblocks as it had certainly shown itself to be in earlier drives around the Brisbane ’burbs. Besides, Brian Egan and his ‘clients’ are happy to take all the help they can get.
Anyway, it’s an exercise that simply grew from the wisp of an idea at the 2017 Brisbane Truck Show, where the reinvigorated Quon made its public debut.
With its striking new ‘face’, the new Quon’s appearance was, in effect, the next step in what UD senior executives were confidently predicting would be a significant increase in sales as the brand pursued a carefully constructed return to its heavy-duty roots.
Unlike its Japanese rivals, whose initial thrust into the Australian market was with light- and mediumduty trucks, UD (or Nissan Diesel as it was formerly known) was a heavy-duty specialist from the start. The product portfolio has long included medium-duty models, and that will certainly continue. But make no mistake, the heavy-duty market is the major focus for a revitalised UD.
The first step came in late 2016 with the launch of the Condor PW tandem-drive rigid model. Together with its PD 6x2 sibling, the PW has pulled the brand at least some way out of the heavy-duty bog where, for more years than not, it has struggled to scratch barely 2 per cent of the market.
In fact, UD operatives are elated with the brand’s 2017 sales performance. Along with 524 units sold into the medium-duty class, the brand notched its best year ever in heavy-duty sales with 3.3 per cent (393 units) of the sector, in the process finishing ahead of Fuso, DAF and Western Star.
For what it’s worth, it also beat Hino by a single unit, but, as for threatening the heavy-duty stake of Isuzu with its hugely successful six-wheeler and eight-wheeler models, that might be a bridge too far at this early stage of a UD resurgence. Whatever, UD insiders are adamant the best is yet to come and, given early impressions of the new Quon, it’s easy to believe.
While the PW showed from the outset it had the goods to win more business in the lighter end of the heavy-duty class, there was no escaping the fact that the flagship Quon was the model needing a substantial boost in both performance and overall appeal if the brand was to score the numbers needed for a sharp step up the sales charts.
Given the extent of competition, it won’t be easy but UD insiders aren’t short on optimism, eagerly declaring in the lead-up to the Brisbane Truck Show that the arrival of a fully revamped Quon would set an entirely new standard for a Japanese heavy-duty truck.
They weren’t exaggerating. Even a cursory glance in and around the show truck left no doubt that, finally, a decade after UD actually became part of the Volvo conglomerate, the group assets of its corporate master have taken Quon to a substantially higher plane.
Sure, the absence of Volvo’s 13-litre engine remains a notable omission but, even so, this is a truck with the potential to turn UD’s heavy-duty aspirations into bold reality. More to the point, a truck that not only further broadens the gap on its Japanese competitors in prime mover and truck-and-dog configurations, but, for the first time, provides a Japanese heavy-duty truck with the operational armoury and technical smarts to make it truly competitive with European models of similar output. And therein, arguably, is a prime reason why Volvo Group principals have steadfastly refused to allow Quon to be fitted with the 13-litre engine so immensely popular in Volvo’s FM and FH models, and as the MP8 in Mack’s range.
Viewed cynically, it’s easy to see how the continued absence of a 13-litre option gives rise to the opinion that UD is indeed the poor cousin of corporate kinsmen Mack and Volvo. However, viewed from a more pragmatic angle, it’s not difficult to understand Volvo’s thinking. Given the new Quon’s many features, a 13-litre version with up to 540hp would indeed be a formidable challenger to any Euro brand, including Volvo’s highly successful FM and, obviously enough, that’s the sort of internal contest corporate powerbrokers want to avoid at all cost. As Volvo sees it, there are already enough competitors in the market without creating one of their own.
Consequently, there will be no 13-litre engine in Quon. Not now, nor any time in the foreseeable future. End of story. As UD senior executive Mark Strambi comments: “UD has a very clear focus on where it’s going in product terms.”
Even without a 13-litre engine, it’s a focus that now, more than ever, draws on Volvo Group technology across the board, from engine to
There will be no 13-litre engine in Quon … end of story.
transmission, axles, technology and safety. What’s more, UD claims between 150 and 250kg have been trimmed out of the tare weight of various Quon models.
As for future developments, we hear that in, maybe, a year from now we’ll see an eightwheeler derivative with a load-sharing twin-steer. What we won’t see, however, is the addition of UD’s low-budget Quester model. According to Volvo Group Australia (VGA), Quester was designed primarily for Asia and that’s where it’ll largely stay, though VGA does sell the model into Papua New Guinea.
So, as things stand at the moment and probably for some years to come, the UD focus is squarely on Quon. Given the broad range of targeted applications, there’s nothing to suggest the new model misses out on anything, including more muscle.
MORE THAN BEFORE
Under the heavily revamped cab, for instance, is the same Volvo-designed, Japan-built GH11 10.8-litre engine that has served the previous Quon well at 390 and 420hp. The big difference in this case is that the new model adds the lively and exceptionally responsive 460hp (309kW) version with peak torque of 1623ft-lb (2200Nm) on tap at 1200rpm.
Sure, it’s not 500hp, but as the top power rating in the range, the 460 certainly gives more than before. Meantime, both the 420hp version with 1401ft-lb (1900Nm) of torque and the 390hp (287kW) setting with 1290ft-lb (1750Nm) are retained in the new line-up.
Predictably, all three versions of the GH11 use an SCR emissions system to comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. As UD likes to point out, the first Quon was shown to the world at the 2004 Tokyo Motor Show and was the first truck model in the world to base emissions compliance on a strange and poorly understood technology called selective catalytic reduction, or SCR. There were plenty of pundits who poo-poo’d (and yes, I was one) the idea of adding liquid urea (AdBlue) to a truck’s inventory but, as time and technology have subsequently shown, UD was bravely ahead of its time with its faith in SCR.
Yet despite the hype of last year’s Brisbane Truck Show, UD certainly wasn’t prepared to rush its new flagship to market, spending most of 2017 fine-tuning specifications and ensuring that all the durability boxes had been ticked several times over. Then, finally, with the year quickly drawing to a close, and confident it had the right products and plans in place, UD bit the bullet and assembled a wide range of configurations for a day of test drives around Brisbane.
IN THE ’BURBS
UD had done its homework well, supplying demo units configured as a six-wheeler body truck, truck-and-dog combinations, single- and tandemdrive prime movers pulling tri-axle trailers, and a B-double outfit – all loaded at or near full weight.
It surprised no one that all models have the
GH11 engine coupled to the Escot-VI 12-speed automated transmission, which is, of course, UD’s version of Volvo’s super-successful I-Shift stirrer. As expected, the harmony between engine and transmission is exceptional, controlled by the same shift lever assembly used in Volvo models and employing fuel-saving features such as ‘Escot Roll’ (sounds more like a trendy snail sandwich), which allows the truck to roll in neutral under the right conditions. Smart and very effective!
Also derived from Volvo is a comprehensive standard safety package across all models, which includes electronic disc brakes, a four-stage retarder, stability control system, lane departure
port and airport precincts, the 460 rating isn’t without the resolve to cope effectively with short-haul distribution work, even at 60 tonnes.
Nor is the sleeper completely inadequate for the occasional overnight stay. That said, though, the truck’s capabilities as a short-haul B-double were, in our estimation, overshadowed by those combinations that more accurately reflect the likely workloads of UD’s new flagship.
For instance, as a tipper and three-axle dog combination or prime mover pulling a tri-axle trailer, the 460hp GW appeared to be totally in its element, delivering strong, responsive performance with levels of smooth, quiet ease that were nothing less than laudable. Indeed, one of the advantages of a relatively smalldisplacement engine is lively throttle response, and the GH11 certainly demonstrated that quality at weights up to 50 tonnes.
Again, the compatibility of the engine and transmission combination across the range is exceptional, while ride, steering and road manners of all models in the demo group were top shelf. Importantly, access in and out of the cab and things like seat comfort, driving position, all-round vision, switchgear identification and placement all rate well. One of few negatives, however, is the inconvenient siting of the mirror control switch on the left side of the dash behind the steering wheel. Most brands mount mirror switches on the door, making it easy to adjust mirrors when reversing into tight spots. UD would do well to follow suit.
Meanwhile, switches for cruise control and the integral vehicle information system are ideally sighted on the arms of the steering wheel. Best of all for us of an earlier generation, the function and logic of the information system are easily understood.
In short, it’s a cab layout that blends practicality with a commendable emphasis on comfort, function, and more than a hint of class thanks to some premium models sporting a smart two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel and woodgrain inserts. In our estimation, they’re a deserved touch for what is unquestionably a new standard among Japanese trucks in this class.
So, in a nutshell, the new Quon coped exceptionally well with the city and suburban vocations where the bulk of its business is sure to be done. Then again, not all trucks spend their life in the ’burbs, do they?
HOT TO TROT
Dwarfed by the big banger triples rolling through this part of the world, the UD seemed out of place heading out of Charleville towing two-high stacks of hay. But a stockpile of hay stretches only so far and, as with all goods donated to Aussie Helpers, Brian Egan is determined to keep the distribution fair. For us, that meant a couple of loads of square bales, which pushed gross weight to just 30 tonnes or thereabouts.
Still, arriving at the first property around midday with the mercury bubbling towards the mid-40s, the sight of a veteran UD rigid still earning its keep with a stock crate on the back was a quick reminder that life off the bitumen isn’t necessarily an issue for any brand when the fundamentals are sound. In fact, the first few hours on the run out of Charleville were already answering many of the questions about the new Quon’s aptitude for life beyond the ’burbs.
In this case, the GW 26 460 model was a preproduction unit with a tad more than 2000km on the clock and a few weeks earlier had been hooked to a curtain-sided tri-axle trailer as part of UD’s demo day. Out here, though, things were vastly different and several factors were quickly apparent as the truck headed south towards Cunnamulla before turning west into hours of
baked dirt, rutted creek beds and cooked rock.
For starters, the 4.5:1 diff ratio is essentially fine for stop-start suburban work but, at 100km/h with the engine pumping at 1800rpm, it’s far from ideal for fuel efficiency. The 4.13:1 final drive would obviously be the better option for country and regional work.
Even so, early figures suggest fuel economy is an inherent quality of the GH11 engine. After two days and almost 500km in the blistering heat of Queensland’s south-west, the truck’s trip computer reported an average consumption rate of 40 litres/100km (2.5km/litre, or 7.06mpg to us of an earlier era), while AdBlue was consumed at a miserly 1.9 litres/100km.
Likewise, while steering is effortlessly light for meandering through metro areas, it’s arguably a touch too sensitive at highway speeds. But then, at lower speeds on dirt roads, steering quality was fine. All things considered, though, a slightly firmer steering box ratio would probably benefit Quon’s overall versatility.
Hard to believe, but day two came with a degree or two extra in the air and, westbound towards Quilpie, the country seemed even more withered. Again, two-high stacks of hay certainly weren’t troubling the truck’s performance but the engine fan was being regularly called into service. So regular, in fact, that road speed on the blacktop was pulled back to 90km/h to moderate both engine speed and fan use. It had the desired effect, with fan engagement time dropping markedly.
A definite and perhaps surprising contributor in keeping things cool was the Escot-Roll function. At this point, I have to admit to being something of a sceptic when it comes to the practical value of these eco-roll systems, particularly in the varied workloads of trucks essentially designed for city and suburban applications.
Out here, though, on long, open stretches of road, I saw the light and joined the converted. With the engine brake off, the transmission in ‘D’ at any gear above seventh, and foot off the throttle, the system quickly slips into neutral. Then, on downhill stretches or running up to a turn, all it takes is a little confidence to let the system do its thing and it’s amazing how far the truck will roll under its own momentum. Over time and distance, the positive effect on fuel economy must surely be considerable, while in this scorched environment, there was the added benefit of reduced fan engagement whenever Escot-Roll was in play.
Meanwhile, the build quality Japanese trucks are so highly regarded for is certainly evident in UD’s new flagship. I must confess that, with this particular truck being a pre-production unit, there were initial thoughts that it would probably come with a few squeaks and squeals, rattles and bangs. But no, the cab was as tight as a drum and, incidentally, the only dust finding its way inside was when a certain dopey driver opened a door too soon after pulling up on a dusty pad.
As for ride quality, the combined buffers of parabolic leaf springs at the front and an eight-bag rear suspension did a great job of softening the lumps and bumps, with or without a load. Almost too good, perhaps, given the driver’s isolation from impacts at ground level. Still, I’ll take a soft, smooth ride over a bone-jarring back breaker anytime.
When it’s all boiled down, and in very simple terms, the latest Quon confirms UD has reached a point in its evolution that probably would not have been possible without the corporate connection to one of the trucking world’s biggest players. No question, UD has always built a strong truck for its intended markets, but with the reliability of Japanese workmanship combining with the technical resources of Volvo, it is today a better truck than ever before.
As for the ‘poor cousin’ tag in the corporate threesome, forget it! It won’t surprise if UD, over the next few years, achieves the greatest growth rate of all three brands in our neck of the Volvo kingdom. No surprise at all!
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Above left: Paccar pair. Kenworth rules but DAF came to play, and stay!
Above: Strange: Freightliner bought Ford, created Sterling, then dumped it
Above: Early Actros: Fortunately, the new version is burying the baggage of the past
Above: Tough: UD has long been regarded the best Japanese heavy-duty truck in the business
Above: Volvo’s first FH: It laid the platform for a dynamic future
Above: Clever: Scania’s Roger McCarthy achieved more than any of his many predecessors
Above: Together again: Iveco and International are rekindling the past
2012 Mack Super-Liner CLXT. MP10 eng@600hp,
M drive auto, D170 axles • VIC 03 5831 7007
1989 Mack Value-Liner. E6-4V 350HP, Mack T2090, Mack Diffs ratio 4:17 • NSW 02 8279 7058
1989 Mack Value-Liner. Tandem Service Truck. • VIC 03 8547 8574
Above left: This Valueliner would have to be one of the nicest trucks I’ve ever driven Above right: This Super-Liner would’ve been pretty swish back in ’81
Above left: The EA9 V8 sure is a big lump of iron!
Above right: Loading up for the first trip of the day
2014 UD PK 16 280 Condor. 4x2 prime mover, UD turbo diesel 280hp, 9 spd. • NSW 02 6171 3435
2004 UD CW385. 50T rated prime mover, 385hp turbo diesel, 13spd Eaton man • WA 08 6500 0936
2017 UD PD 24 280 Condor. New/ex
showtruck, 450 kms • VIC 03 8373 7118
Above and right: The Quon handled blacktop and dirt with equal ease, though searing temperatures kept the engine fan busy on the bitumen
Above left: Lively! At 460hp and with more than 1600ft-lb of torque, GH11 is extremely responsive. As for a 13-litre version, it won’t happen Above right: Aussie Helpers’ Brian Egan. Dedicated to simply lending a hand
Above: In the land of the big bangers, Quon might’ve seemed out of place but did everything asked of it, and then some