Time will tell
New truck models don’t just happen overnight. The UD Croner which was unveiled at the 2019 Brisbane Truck Show and will be available to Australian operators in just a few months, has been the result of a significant market and technical research effort across a number of nations over the past six years.
The UD Croner takes its name from Chronos, the Greek god of time and UD have adopted the positional phrase of ‘making every moment count’ in terms of on-road efficiency as well as uptime for its latest medium duty range.
The founder of UD Kenzo Adachi had the vision back in the 1930s to ‘build the truck the world needs today’.
Officially launched in Thailand in March 2017, the Croner that will soon hit the Australian roads, is the culmination of extensive planning, development and testing and represents a major shift in philosophy away from what historically has been typical for Japanese truck manufacturers.
“If you think about the previous methodology of most Japanese truck manufacturers in relation to model development, they have been inward looking rather than outward looking,” says UD Australian Vice President Mark Strambi.
Previously it was common for the situation to exist where a Japanese manufacturer decided what trucks it was going to build and it was then up to the international sales operations to convince the various markets that they were being offered the right truck.
“With the Croner, and recently the heavy duty Quon, we have been developing products for the markets we want to be in rather than adapting something later to suit,” says Mark.
“My job is to understand the market trends and then look at what we have to do to put suitable trucks into the market and grow our business. Anyone can grow numbers and lose money. We have to do it in a sustainable way and for any project we put forward there is a financial criteria that goes with it in terms of dollar sense and market sense.”
Masami (Mat) Ozono is the Senior Manager – Product Planning and Management at UD’s head office in Japan and confirms that from the outset back in 2013, the Croner was earmarked to be more than a face-lifted Condor.
During the development phase he visited Australia numerous times to consult with local management and engineering staff including UD Trucks Australia’s Neil Carey.
“This UD Croner range project has been quite huge,” Mat says. “For starters, the eight litre engine is narrower than its predecessor which powered the Condor.”
Mindful that low tare weight is an important criteria across almost every market, the decision was made for most markets to use a six speed direct drive gearbox rather than the heavier seven speed which was also available from the Volvo Group’s Common Architecture and Shared Technology (CAST).
However, this will have no influence on Croners destined for Australia as the six speed Allison fully automatic is the sole option.
This should present no issues because the Allison already has a reputation for efficiency and ease of use which is important in addressing the global shortage of skilled drivers and there has been a definite mind shift locally in favour of automatics.
While visiting the UD facilities in Thailand we took the opportunity for a brief drive of a Croner PD 6x2 set up as a fuel tanker with the Thai spec six-speed manual and were impressed with the smooth and light clutch action and the long shifter lever combined with a wide gate significantly reduced any chance of selecting the wrong gear.
Short throw levers and narrow gates are great in sports cars but not in trucks. Should at some point, there be a local demand for manuals, then UD will have no issues if it makes that combination available.
The Croner model line-up for Australia will include some wheelbases that weren’t available in Condor, providing more options to closely tailor trucks to their application.
Initially the range consists of just two models: The PK 18 (17.5 tonne GVM) 4x2 and the PD 25 (24.5 tonne GVM) 6x2. Both share the Euro 5 version of the G8HE 7.7 litre engine from Volvo’s engine family which produces 280hp and 1,050 Nm of torque. Rear air suspension is standard on both models.
To add to its application flexibilities the Croner is available with an optional engine-driven power take-off (PTO) or a locally-sourced transmission PTO with the option of side or upper mounting points on the Allison.
UD Trucks has a history of putting its vehicles through extensive testing regimes.
For the Croner this involved 1.7 million engineering hours and 90 test rigs, and a fleet of 100 field test trucks accrued around 1.4 million kilometres over 18 months, working in customer operations in countries including Peru, South Africa, India, United Arab Emirates, and Thailand.
Two pre-production models have been doing the rounds of assessment in Australia since last year.
“We have very high expectations and we have very good reasons for that,” says Chairman of UD Trucks Joachim Rosenberg, acknowledging that the brand has more than doubled its local marketshare in recent years.
“I sincerely believe that the UD brand in Australia should be at double digit marketshare (across medium and heavy categories). Does that take one or two years? No, it doesn’t. Do we have the offering, the network and most importantly the people to make that happen? I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible.”
For the time being the Croner won’t be marketed in Japan where UD’s current medium duty offering is essentially a badge-engineered range sourced from Isuzu.
Whether this situation changes (or is even expanded) is one of the speculative issues involving the ‘strategic alliance’ announced between Isuzu and UD Trucks the week prior to last Christmas.
Regardless of what transpires in Japan, according to Volvo Group Australia’s Strategic Communications and PR Manager, Philippa Stewart: “Nothing will change in the set-up for the Australian market.
Hence we at Volvo Group Australia will continue to distribute the UD brand and support our UD Trucks Australia customers and dealer business partners.”
The UD Croner definitely has the DNA and build quality to expand its share of the Australian market in many applications including distribution, tilt-tray, tipper and refuse compactors.