The introduction of a Fuso Canter with an automatic gearbox is conclusive proof that the truck market in the light-duty sector has undergone a major change. Five years ago, the idea of introducing a sophisticated automatic gearbox onto a truck at the lower end of the weight range and the lower end of the price range, where it is extremely competitive, was unthinkable. Now all of the main players competing for this vibrant area of the market offer an auto option.
The Fuso organisation take their own simplistic view of the truck market in this sector and have not spent much time in the past worrying about short lived fads and fashions in the truck market. Their philosophy has always been to bring the right truck to the right part of the market at the right price. This is what they have consistently done and this is what has consistently succeeded for the company and seen the Canter maintain its position as one of the staple light duty trucks on Australian roads.
The Canter has succeeded in the Australian market by being a no fuss, no frills, tough working truck able to get the job done and be a useful and viable part of any business. Introducing a new gearbox like the six speed automatic in this new model is unlikely to prove any kind of a gamble for Fuso as all of the component parts are already well proven both here and overseas.
Alongside the introduction of the new six speed Aisin MY600 fully automatic gearbox, there is also a new more powerful engine, rated at 174 hp (130 kW) pumping out 530 Nm of torque. This extra grunt is immediately obvious when the driver jumps into the driver’s seat and sets off down the road.
The overall impression is of a driveline not having to work very hard and going about its business smoothly and quietly. Pushing the foot hard to the floor gives quick and clean acceleration and almost imperceptible gear changes up through the transmission. Even with a loaded truck this level of power and torque remains untroubled.
The route taken on this test drive for Prime Mover sees the truck heading south from the Gold Coast around the countryside of Northern New South Wales before heading back into the urban congestion of the Gold Coast’s urban coastal strip to get an idea of how it will perform on the city streets.
In the rolling hills of NSW, the power and torque available make easy work of any grade and the combination of exhaust brake and automatic gearbox improved downhill retardation as the electronic communication between the two enables the transmission to choose a ratio to get the rpm levels just right to maximise the effect of the exhaust brake. This proves particularly effective in the rolling countryside but is also useful in stop/go traffic, working its way along the Gold Coast Highway.
All of the feedback coming from the truck to the driver is positive. The steering especially, has a particularly positive feel. The truck reacts instantaneously to any steering input and the truck has a surprisingly small turning circle.
Visibility is excellent and the rearview mirror installation on both the driver and passenger doors are probably the best in this sector of the market. It does an effective job in terms of visibility but the mirrors are also designed to be easily folded away when the truck is in a tight scrape. This is a prime example of what Fuso does so well when it comes to making trucks. It is simple, functional and robust.
This simplicity is also carried over into the signage on the truck. Although this particular test vehicle advertises the fact it is automatic in a large artwork on the truck body, there is nothing on the cabin or chassis to indicate this truck has an automatic gearbox. Visibly, from the outside, the only indication this is an auto is the transmission fluid cooling apparatus fixed to the chassis just behind the near side front wheel.
The biggest single contribution to driver comfort in this vehicle is the automatic gearbox itself making life easy and simple. The driver must just find a comfortable driving position and use the right foot to either press the stop or go pedal.
Fuso has chosen not to try and match some of the other driver comfort offerings from market leaders Isuzu. The driver’s seat is comfortable but is not a match for the Isri seat offered by the Canter’s biggest competitor. Similarly, the radio CD player is of good quality and infinitely more sophisticated than the sort of thing found in a Canter cabin 10 years ago. However, it does not match the state-of-the-art equipment offered in the N Series.
For most drivers working in the kind of environment this Canter will be expected to deal with, the driver comforts and the appointments in the cabin will be as good as is necessary. A busy driver jumping in and out of the cab fulfilling deliveries around a busy city centre is simply looking for a truck that is easy to drive and allows them to see the traffic coming at them from every direction.
It is when this truck gets into the narrow delivery spaces and busy streets of the Gold Coast, its simplicity and ease of use are really evident. The driver does not have to think about the vehicle at all, simply point it in the right direction, press the accelerator to go and the brake to stop. This has the effect of reducing the stress of delivery in these kinds of busy environments.
One of the factors, alongside the extremely smooth six speed auto, is the extra power in the engine. This means the truck is always doing it easy, even fully loaded. This makes the driver more secure in this busy urban environment. At an awkward junction or moving around a busy roundabout, the ability to simply hit the accelerator and slot into a space in the traffic or accelerate away from trouble is useful.
This is not to say this truck is not extremely comfortable out on the open highway. With a top gear ratio of 1:0.634, the truck will sit at 100 or even 110 km/h with ease and in comfort. The improvements made in the front suspension with the introduction of this generation of Canter cabs some years ago really make their mark. There is none of the short juddering from the front end or the deep wallowing of some of the competitor models. The truck sits firmly on the road without causing driver discomfort.
The Australian truck market does now look for an automatic option in just about every single market sector. The light duty distribution market is no exception and for those purchasing trucks to use in the vehicle hire industry, auto has become essential. Any price premium which goes along with these more sophisticated transmissions has become accepted in the economics and buying decisions of the light duty truck buyer.
The Fuso Canter’s position in the light duty segment remains as it has for several years. The Canter and the Hino 300 fight it out for second place in this sector behind the Isuzu N Series. By introducing the automatic into the model range, Fuso is playing catch up with its competitors who have had this option on offer the last few years.
The market sector is now comfortable with autos and it has also been comfortable for many years with the Canter model range. This truck, as tested, is going to do as its predecessors have always done and that is get the job done simply and quickly without fuss.