Fuso FV: corporate camaraderie

By: Steve Brooks


It may be viewed by some as the underling in Daimler’s corporate collective but, in our part of the world, Fuso outsells its more illustrious siblings by a hefty margin. And now, with a modernised cab and advanced heavy-duty powertrain in the wings, the Japanese giant is hungry for an even bigger bite of the cherry. But how big a bite will the corporate kingdom allow?

Fuso FV: corporate camaraderie
Australian trials over the past eight months and more have seen the Fuso FV cover a lot of country

 

In Fuso parlance it’s known as the ‘Black Panther’ project. A comprehensive corporate initiative based in Japan, designed to put more class, more comfort, more corporate componentry and, significantly, more safety into Fuso’s heavy-duty arsenal.

But seriously, hauling down the Hume from Albury to Melbourne on a bright and balmy day, this particular ‘panther’ looked more like a speckled rooster on ‘roids.

Seriously, if you were on the road that day and missed it, you definitely need a labrador.

Whatever, if the aim of the marketing minds behind the mottled montage was to attract attention and announce that this was no ordinary Fuso on the fly, then they certainly succeeded.

It was, indeed, a Fuso with a difference and as senior manager of product management and engineering Romesh Rodrigo was quick to point out, the FV 6x4 demonstrator with the gregarious graphics is one of several early evaluation units being trialled before a major heavy-duty product push later this year; a push that will see the flagship FV joined by its equally updated FP single-drive and FS eight-wheeler siblings.

Yet long before the speckled rooster ever hatched here, ‘Black Panther’ was a comprehensive work-in-progress for Japanese designers and engineers. In fact, first details came to our attention in late 2017 when, on Fuso’s Kitsuregawa proving ground about 150km north of Tokyo, an early development unit was rolled out for a quick once-over and a few laps around the facility’s test track.

Fuso 2.JPG

Time was short, but long enough to learn that Fuso was in the final throes of a project to not only substantially improve external and internal features of the heavy-duty model Japan ambitiously calls ‘Super Great’, but also introduce at least a portion of Daimler’s latest powertrain hardware and, importantly, a full suite of advanced safety systems.

The truck at Kitsuregawa, for instance, was equipped with Fuso’s version of the same 10.7-litre Daimler family engine known as the OM470, which also powers current Mercedes-Benz 2643 and 2646 models (430 and 455hp (321 and 339kW) respectively), stirring through the corporation’s widely-used 12-speed overdrive automated transmission.

Likewise, the presence of several Mercedes-Benz models in various parts of the sprawling Kitsuregawa compound certainly didn’t escape anyone’s attention. Nor was the Benz influence inside the extensively refashioned Fuso cab difficult to spot.

Still, and despite the fact this notably greater ‘Super Great’ was already available to Japanese buyers, questions about when its FV equivalent would become available in Australia, and just how far Fuso would be able (allowed) to go with the integration of a wider range of Daimler engines and drivetrains, went largely unanswered.

But now, after a stint driving the revamped FV between Albury (NSW) and Daimler Trucks headquarters at Mulgrave in Melbourne’s south-east, the new Fuso heavies have hit the Australian market – using the name Shogun.

Interestingly, they’ll arrive not long before corporate colleague Freightliner introduces its much anticipated Cascadia conventional, pointing to an exciting and particularly busy time for Daimler Trucks Australia in the back half of this year.

What remains less apparent is how far Daimler is willing to go with the introduction of other ‘family engines’ in Fuso’s heavy-duty models. Like, will the rejuvenated FV be granted the grunt to break the 500hp (373kW) barrier with the addition of, say, the 12.8-litre OM471 engine that powers Benz’s 2651 and 2653 models?

‘No’ is the likely answer.

Why? Well, one reason is that Japan has next to no need for a 500hp truck, meaning the economic viability of engineering the 12.8-litre engine into Fuso’s flagship for relatively small volume markets such as Australia and New Zealand is not especially attractive.

The bigger reason, however, is probably found in the closely guarded corporate rationale which strives to keep brands from the same stable going head-to-head in commercial contest. And Daimler certainly isn’t alone in this line of thinking.

For example, just as Volvo Group keeps corporate colleague UD in the sub-500 category to minimise a familial fracas with the popular Volvo FM model, so does it seem more than a tad likely that Daimler will keep Fuso’s heavy-duty range hobbled to specific market segments where opportunities for a competitive clash with the Benz breed are kept to an absolute minimum.

Put simply, neither Volvo nor Daimler are big on the idea of turning their Japanese offshoots into budget-priced alternatives to their leading heavy-duty brands.

Fuso 3.JPG

So don’t hold your breath waiting for 500hp or more to appear in this new generation Fuso. It’s a fair bet it simply won’t happen, now or anytime in the foreseeable future, despite the fact the reborn FV will come with a gross combination mass (GCM) rating of 63 tonnes, making it applicable for B-double duties (For its part, Fuso says the 13-litre engine is still under active consideration – Ed).

That said, though, the move to bring Fuso further into Daimler’s corporate mould with the introduction of the OM470 engine at outputs of 455 and 430hp, coupled to the DT12 automated overdrive transmission, all tucked under a significantly upgraded cab, will do the Japanese brand’s heavy-duty hopes no harm. No harm at all.

In fact, Fuso’s heavy-duty opportunities in metro and shorthaul regional roles will be arguably greater than they’ve ever been once the revitalised FP single-drive, FS eight-wheeler and an FV six-wheeler available in both rigid and prime mover form hit the market.

ROOSTER ON THE RUN

Even with the cab’s colourful camouflage, it was easy enough to recognise the subtle but nonetheless notable changes to the external sheet metal.

Structurally, the cab shell is largely unchanged but a redesigned grille and front panel at least provide a more modern appearance than the current crop of Fuso heavies; an appearance further enhanced by an entirely new group of LED headlamps. 

Importantly, especially for shorthaul distribution applications where drivers are constantly climbing in and out, the step entry level is markedly lower than current models. 

Most noticeable of all, however, were the mirrors. But don’t worry, this strange array of slim limbs dangling from the front corners high on the cab, coupled to mirror housings obviously ‘borrowed’ from the Mercedes-Benz catalogue, are not standard. They were, in fact, simply adapted for local trials of the new range, replacing the standard Japanese mirrors which arrived with the demo truck.

Obviously, says Fuso’s Romesh Rodrigo, mirror mountings and housings entirely suited to local needs and conditions will be used on production models for Australia.

Yet from a driver’s perspective, the most appreciable advances are on the inside and again, the family resemblance to the latest Mercedes-Benz models is apparent in many details. And that, of course, can only be a good thing given the extraordinary acceptance of the new Benz breed since its launch two years ago.

Fuso 5.JPG

Similarly, the switchgear, control layout and information systems, which we’ve applauded in numerous test drives of various Mercedes-Benz models over the past few years, particularly for their simpler logic and easier operation compared to European rivals, are entirely evident in the refreshed Fuso.

The steering wheel, for instance, is straight from the ‘Book of Benz’, with easily understood control buttons for features such as the vehicle information system and cruise control mounted on the upper arms of the wheel.

Also like its Benz brothers, the transmission and engine brake are controlled through a wand on the steering column while, on the other side of the column, there’s a similar wand for indicators, high beam and the like. But unlike its Benz brothers, the wands are on different sides due to the fact that Japan is a right-hand drive country and Europe, of course, is left-hand drive. Either way, the wands provide fingertip control. 

Somewhat strangely, though, the relatively large expanse between driver and passenger seats is a convoluted collection of cavities and storage bins with the park brake lever mounted where a gear lever would ordinarily sit. Easily reached, for sure, but had the lever been mounted on the dash fascia it would have perhaps opened up the space for more practical use. Anyway, just a personal thought. 

It is, however, a big stretch to call the area behind the seats a sleeper section even if it does comply with the questionable regulatory dimensions that define an ‘approved’ sleeper berth. Admittedly, the FV is primarily intended for metro and shorthaul regional work but with barely enough room for a half-decent dream, you’d need to be thin as a jockey, about the same height, and have feet the size of a fairy to consider the area anything more than an over-sized parcel shelf. 

Even so, the new interior layout is streets ahead of Fuso’s existing offering and from the driver’s seat, the only conclusion is that it’s simply a better place to work.

As for performance and road manners, there’s not a lot to be gleaned from a few hours striding down the Victorian side of the Hume in a truck with just 6,000km on the clock hauling a gross weight near around 38 tonnes.

Besides, with a drivetrain delivering 100 km/h at a thirsty 1,800 rpm, it was far from a typical highway spec.


Read about Fuso introducing its Shogun range at the Brisbane Truck Show, here


It was, however, a different story through the Melbourne ‘burbs, where the combination of a responsive 455hp engine backed up by 2,200Nm (1,622 lb ft) of torque, pushing into an overdrive transmission and relatively slow 4.625:1 rear axle ratio allowed the Fuso to accelerate freely, comfortably keeping pace with traffic flows and providing easy lift-off on hills.

On the other hand, with the engine bawling high in the rev range for most of the run from Albury, it was perhaps predictable that fuel consumption would not be particularly great. Then again, maybe the day’s result of 2.2km/litre (6.2 miles/gallon) wasn’t too bad for a relatively new engine spending most of its day on a linehaul leg with a shorthaul spec.

Whatever, it’s worth mentioning the revamped FV will also offer a taller 4.22:1 rear axle ratio, delivering 100 km/h at a more fuel-friendly 1,550 rpm or thereabouts.

Meantime, built on a 3,810mm wheelbase and riding on Fuso’s own hefty six-rod mechanical rear suspension, highway road manners of the demo truck left a little to be desired. Normally, Japanese six-rod suspensions ride reasonably well but some sections of the Hume produced a somewhat choppy kick from the back-end while up front it actually felt like shock absorbers weren’t up to the task. 

Then again, as Fuso’s Romesh Rodrigo emphasised, the new Fusos are still being evaluated and tandem-drive production versions in both prime mover and rigid configurations will offer a Daimler eight-bag rear air suspension as well as the six-rod assembly.

SAFER STANDARDS

Whereas disc brakes are the norm on Mercedes-Benz models, Fuso is sticking with its existing wedge drum brakes on the new heavies.

But the difference this time is that the brakes on the refashioned Fuso will operate on an EBS (electronic) platform rather than the existing pneumatic control system.

What’s more, the electronic architecture of the new models allows Fuso to incorporate the same advanced safety systems as those fitted to Mercedes-Benz, including an electronic stability program, active emergency braking, lane departure warning system, active cruise control and a hill-hold function.

Furthermore, Fuso’s version of the 10.7-litre engine uses a combination of selective catalytic reduction and exhaust gas recirculation technology along with a diesel particulate filter to meet Japan’s latest emissions requirement, which is said to be even more stringent than the Euro 6 standard.

Fuso 4.JPG

All up, this next generation of Fuso heavies appears to be a substantial and somewhat overdue evolutionary step for the Japanese brand in this country.

While its light-duty Canter and medium-duty Fighter models continue to notch sizeable volumes, which keep the name high on Australia’s overall truck market, Fuso’s stake in the heavy sector has generally been modest and perhaps short of its true potential.

Take the eight-wheeler market, for example. Fuso has offered an eight-wheeler with a loadsharing twin-steer for the best part of 20 years but, for whatever reason, has never come close to being a significant supplier of eight-wheelers.

Market leader Isuzu, on the other hand, has made a motza in the eight-wheeler category since developing a loadsharing twin-steer some five or so years ago.

Last year alone, Isuzu delivered almost 650 8x4s. By comparison, Fuso continued to fly under the radar on the delivery of just 73 eight-wheelers.

Now, however, with the upcoming introduction of new single-drive, six-wheeler and eight-wheeler models sporting an advanced and lively Daimler engine coupled to a proven drivetrain, and equipped with an improved cab and comprehensive suite of top-shelf safety systems, there appears plenty of opportunity for Fuso to rack up a considerably stronger heavy-duty presence.

Sure, the powertrain appears purposefully constrained to avoid a competitive clash with its Benz brothers but that said, the features presented in the early trial unit suggest Fuso’s heavy-duty future is potentially brighter than ever. 

Maybe the rooster will get to fly after all!

 

You can also follow our updates by joining our LinkedIn group or liking us on Facebook