If you want an indication as to the popularity of rental trucks in Australia – particularly those that can be driven with a car licence – just try to book one for a weekend. Chances are that you’ll need to be at least two or three weeks ahead of yourself, as many rental fleets across the nation cash in on the current boom in Do-It-Yourself home removals and online shopping, which is fuelling demand for local transport at short notice.
Fuso dealers such as Daimler Trucks at Huntingwood in Western Sydney have identified the trend and reacted by developing a ‘ready-to-go’ version of the Fuso Canter that is thoughtfully spec’d to suit the requirements of rental fleets as well as small businesses.
The DIY Canter is based on the 515 version, the smallest wide cab model in the Fuso range. There is also a narrow cab variant available from Fuso, but this application definitely suits the wider cab, which can comfortably accommodate two ‘helpers’ in addition to the driver.
Despite the size advantage, the 515 can be ‘plated’ at a GVM of 4500kg so it can be driven with a basic passenger vehicle licence, but can also be specified to a GVM of up to eight tonnes.
The ‘hire spec’ includes a rugged pantech body manufactured in the Brisbane suburb of Archerfield by Truck Corp, who opted for a tough, straightforward design to suit the needs of the rental industry.
All up, the ready-to-go vehicle measures 4.3 metres in length and 2.3 metres in width. It’s a lower-than-usual 2.2 metres high in order to avoid overhead damage – a common occurrence in the rental market. Both walls and the roof are constructed of a 21mm thick, fibreglass-reinforced polymer honeycomb material, while the rear barn doors use the same material with a thickness of 25mm. The hinges and cam locks are constructed of stainless steel for longevity and the floor is checker plate steel.
On the inside, Daimler Trucks’ Huntingwood team added two tie rails of square steel tube for extra load restraint. They are located on each side and the front wall and attached to steel plates embedded in the composite walls in order to provide added anchorage for ratchet straps or ropes.
Also fitted as standard, the Dhollandia tail gate is constructed of aluminium in a bi-fold design to keep it compact. To stick with the brief, it has a cable remote control that should be quickly mastered by even the most inexperienced operator.
Under the hood, Fuso opted for the double overhead cam four-cylinder diesel that was introduced several years ago as a smaller capacity alternative to meet tightening emission and fuel consumption regulations in various countries around the world. Displacing three litres and developing 110kW (150hp) at 3,500rpm, the engine delivers a very usable 370Nm of torque from 1,600rpm.
High-pressure piezo injectors, a variable geometry turbo and air-to-air intercooling contribute to the balance of power and emissions, and a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) takes care of the un-burnt particles before they reach the atmosphere. The DPF is self-cleaning, but an over-ride function is also available should the need ever arise.
If the engine is good, then the transmission should be labelled ‘terrific’. The Fuso Canter can lay claim to being the first production truck in the world to feature a dual clutch transmission with the introduction of the Duonic in 2011. The technology had previously been utilised in sporty passenger cars and has since gained ground in the heavy truck industry as well.
The Duonic transmission – which is also used in the Canter Eco-Hybrid trucks – is based on a mechanical six-speed manual gearbox and incorporates two wet clutches and electronic controls. The two maintenance-free clutches are arranged concentrically and are integrated within the gearbox housing. Clutch number one is used for forward gears one, three and five, while clutch number two handles gears two, four and six. The inherent advantage of a dual clutch transmission is that the next gear is already engaged while driving, which allows for extremely fast and very smooth gear shifts.
Another benefit is that fuel economy is much the same as with a conventional manual gearbox, and should be much better when compared with a torque converter equipped traditional automatic transmission. The Duonic also has an “economy” mode controlled by a switch on the dash that causes the transmission to upshift at lower revs than usual, resulting in an improvement in fuel economy of up to eight per cent. The excess heat generated by full automatics is also eliminated by using the Duonic.
On the road, the transmission receives driver input via a dual gate selector. Pushing the lever to the left side gate position selects Drive and the transmission operates as a two pedal fully automated gearbox. If necessary, the driver can override up and down shifts by briefly pressing the lever in the desired direction. The right hand side of the gate consists of positions for selecting Reverse as well as a Park position that acts similarly to ‘park’ in a full auto by locking the transmission.
First gear sports a very low 5.397:1 ratio that, combined with the electronic management of the clutch mechanisms, permits very fine control of the truck’s speed when manoeuvring in tight situations, which is another benefit for inexperienced drivers.
The front suspension is independent and uses coil springs and double wishbones rather than a beam axle on leaf springs. Meanwhile, the rear suspension incorporates parabolic leaf springs and double acting shock absorbers. The result is a comfortable ride up front and good load capability at the rear.
The Canter 515 has disc brakes all round with both ABS and EBD, as well as an exhaust brake. On deceleration, the transmission will downshift automatically to allow the engine compression and exhaust brake to maximise their braking assistance. The DIY Fuso Canter also incorporates a hill start assist function to make life easier for the occasional driver.
Speaking of helpful features, the Canter is equipped with Fuso’s genuine multi-media touch screen unit that includes GPS navigation and three years’ worth of free map upgrades. On top of that, Bluetooth connectivity helps keep drivers safe.
Our test trip takes us up and over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow and return, but even negotiating some of the steepest grades on the state’s highways does not uncover any significant issues.
The wide cab meets ECE29 approval in relation to cabin strength and has electric windows, remote central locking, heated external mirrors and air conditioning, but misses out on cruise control – probably due to the majority of the anticipated use being in urban areas.
The test unit we drive is also fitted with Fuso’s optional rear vision camera that uses the multi-media unit display to show what’s going on at the rear – definitely a safety factor for those occasional drivers of rental trucks who might become disorientated because the centre mounted internal mirror is filled with nothing but the stark whiteness of the front of the pantech body.
The driver’s seat is suspended and should prove comfortable enough for even extended driving periods. The dealership has fitted a set of custom seat covers made from a canvas-like material that is popular in four wheel drives and will provide good protection for the original cloth seats hidden underneath. The added protection even extends to the folding armrest on the driver seat. The original vinyl floor covering is also treated to some extra protection, with a very thick vinyl mat overlay.
The Fuso dealer package is officially pitched at the truck rental market where – unfortunately, yet realistically – the vehicles need to be as ‘idiot proof’ as possible. Features like 30,000 or 12-month service intervals will appeal to rental companies large and small as well.
For the individual buyer who doesn’t know much about trucks other than that they need one, they will do well to consider this tough little package from Fuso.