JAC light duty trucks
The first opportunity to drive the new JAC trucks, which are being introduced in the Australian market from China, took place in New Zealand. Tim Giles took the two new models for a quick drive on the other side of the Tasman.
There has been much anticipation about the arrival of the JAC truck brand from China. The trucks are being imported by the White Motor Company (WMC) which would appear to have lined up a number of dealers willing to sell the product in Australia, all of whom have a considerable track record in the light and medium duty market here. New models are expected to arrive on our shores soon, but the trucks have already been released on the New Zealand market.
Prime Mover was able to take examples of both models out for a spin on the roads around Auckland to get a handle on the kind of product we can expect to see here in the coming months. The only difference between the models in the two countries is that Euro 5 is not being introduced in New Zealand until 2012. The models tested were the Euro 4 versions whereas the first models to arrive in Australia will be Euro 5.
The first two models are placed in the two most popular specification ranges for light duty trucks. The first is a 4.5 tonne light truck capable of being driven on a car licence and the second has a GVM of 7.5 tonne. These are two types of light duty truck which sell in the largest numbers currently here in Australia.
Both trucks use the Cummins ISF engine platform, with the 4.5 tonne model using a 2.8L version putting out 148hp (110kW) of power and 360Nm (266 ft lb) of torque. Meanwhile, the 7.5 tonne version uses a 3.8L capacity version of the ISF. This puts out 141hp (105kW) of power and a thumping 450Nm (332 ft lb) of torque at 1200rpm.
The smaller model uses the ZF Eco-light 5S 405 speed manual gearbox while the larger model uses the more truck like JAC LC 6T 4660 manual. Both are overdrive boxes and drive through a dry single disc clutch. When it comes to braking, the smaller truck uses a dual hydraulic system with ABS, with the larger truck using a full air brake system (Wabco ABS).
The use of air brakes at this point in the truck specification range is unusual. For most of the truck’s Japanese competitors, the use of full air brakes is not an option until you get to the larger medium duty models. Power and torque levels from the trucks are around the same as their closest competitors with the headline 450Nm in the larger truck coming in at a higher level than the competition and being available from 1100rpm to 2200rpm – quite impressive figures.
On paper, the offering from the JAC brand looks more than able to fit the bill for Australian light duty truck operators. The chance to drive the truck in New Zealand was an opportunity to see how those figures match up in the flesh and out on the highway. There is nothing quite like the ‘bums on seats’ experience to really get the measure of a new model.
At first appearances the trucks are clearly based on the previous generation of Isuzu cabs, which were phased out here in Australia back in 2007 with the introduction of the ‘New Generation’ trucks. The designs are so precise it is possible to use windshield glass held in stock for the old Isuzu models when replacing a broken windscreen on the new JAC models.
When describing the experience of getting into the truck, it is very easy to compare this new Chinese truck with the 2006 Isuzu product, on which it is clearly based. Those trucks were very successful here in Australia and the design does have a comfortable feel for those used to the older models.
Climbing into the cab is simple, there is plenty of adjustment in the front seats as well as the steering wheel. It is possible to get all of the vital controls in just the right place ergonomically for a comfortable day’s driving. The gear stick may be sitting a little higher than has become normal in recent years, but is placed in such a way as to be easy to use and responsive.
The word responsive would be a good way to describe the overall driving experience when the truck sets off down the road. The Cummins engine is willing to get a move on and is, as a result of using SCR for emission control, very free running. The level of engine noise in the cab is a little higher than many 2011 light duty models but not excessive.
Going up through the gears with the ZF on the 4.5 tonne model is very simple. This gearbox provides the kind of car like feel drivers will expect to find on a small truck which can be driven on a car licence. The changes are smooth and positive and the ratios seem well spaced on the overdrive box to cope with both urban and highway running.
The gears on the JAC gearbox have a much more truck like feel. The gearbox has a much more ‘square’ movement with ratios simple to find but not to be rushed. The inclusion of a gearbox that is not from a familiar supplier to the Australian customer appears to be possible because of what feels like a very robust design and build for the transmission.
With 450Nm available on tap, going up through the gears on the 7.5 tonne model could not be simpler, even with a fully loaded truck. These kinds of high levels of torque give the truck’s performance an impressive feel from the driver’s seat. It gives the impression it would be able to handle most tasks thrown at it with relative ease. As the engine doesn’t have to work too hard, there appears to be less engine noise in the cab on this model when compared to its smaller brother.
The driver’s seat is basic but not uncomfortable, with the seatbelt attached to the B pillar not creating any comfort problems. Steering feels positive and well set up, and the foot controls are well placed and responsive. Visibility all round is good, with the windows set low enough to give the driver good vision at low levels around the cab.
The mirrors are mounted at the front of the truck in a style which is normal all around Asia. All of the Japanese truck importers, in the past, have chosen to replace this design with more conventional mirrors fitted to the A pillar. JAC has chosen to keep the original mirrors and they appear to work well, keeping everything around the truck in sight. It is simply a matter of getting used to looking through the near side of the windscreen at the near side mirror instead of through the passenger door window.
The cab interior looks clean and tidy with all of the controls and instruments easy to use and well positioned. The instrument panel can be seen clearly from all seat positions and the controls for the radio, air conditioning and electric windows work well and would not be out of place in a Japanese truck circa 2007. There is a drink holder which is pulled out from the dash and it is no more flimsy than those in the current competition. The cab could probably do with a much larger interior light as the single small one at the front of the roof would probably be inadequate for drivers needing to handle paperwork in the early hours of the morning.
References to Japanese trucks of four years ago is very relevant to the way we need to look at these trucks. This is probably where the Chinese truck industry is right now, about four years behind the latest developments in light duty trucks in Australia. It is necessary to remember that these trucks are an example of the first steps by JAC to look outwards from its Chinese domestic market to sophisticated truck customers in the developed world.
But the one thing we can be certain of is that JAC is moving fast and this current generation cabin will be re-replaced with a much more modern version quite soon. The Chinese truck manufacturers learn fast and talk to their customers. They have been able to make a truck for the Australian market which would have been comparable with the best just a few years ago. There are thousands of trucks just like this still running around on our roads and there will be for quite a few years to come.
These two models are just the first of a number of introductions we can expect to see here in Australia over the next two years. Plans are already well advanced for the introduction of a large van by JAC early next year. The van will compete in the higher cubic capacity van segment against such vehicles as the Volkswagen Crafter and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
JAC also says it will have a medium duty truck launched on the Australian scene within two years. This segment of the market is a big part of the production of the company in Hefei, China where the trucks are manufactured. Full details of the product to be introduced are likely to be released over the next year or so as the precise model range becomes more clearly defined for WMC.
The common element with all of the vehicles being introduced by JAC over the next few years is the Cummins engine. These engines are manufactured in China, by Cummins, and the Australian market can expect to see much higher numbers of Cummins product appearing on our roads as its normal market in heavy duty is added to by powering vehicles in the light and medium duty segments.
JAC is now developing a relationship with Allison to supply automatic gearboxes for the trucks to be introduced here in Australia. We can expect to see versions of the models reviewed here to appear with fully automatic transmissions over the next year.
This inclusion is a demonstration of how quickly the Chinese manufacturers react to new developments. Within days of the initial enquiry from Australia about the availability of an auto option, JAC had started working with Allison, leading to a prototype on the ground now and production models relatively soon.
On the evidence of these first test drives, the plans of Chinese manufacturers like JAC to introduce a wide range of vehicles should be able to meet with some success. They may not be the most up-to-date modern designs, at the moment, but they will also not cost anything like as much as a state-of-the-art truck to purchase. Truck buyers will be able to make a choice between the latest and greatest and something which will do the job adequately without all the latest bells and whistles.
However, those bells and whistles may not be too far away in Chinese product. The truck manufacturing industry in China moves quickly, and positively, developing vehicles to suit the market conditions wherever it is they are trying to sell their trucks. They also have state-of-the-art technology available to them like Cummins, ZF, Wabco and Bosch.
At the end of the day driving the new JAC product is a good experience, the driver is comfortable and the vehicle is more than capable of doing the job. This is what a customer expects from a truck and the JAC can deliver, in a package that is not quite as modern as the more expensive opposition.