Ten years ago, the level of sophistication being fitted into trucks doing the most basic tasks around our cities today, would have been unthinkable. There has been an unstoppable drive within the truck industry for higher specification levels and improved performance, driven by government legislation and customer demand. In the past, this level of sophistication was considered unnecessary and overly expensive, but now we have a small around-the-town tipper featuring a fully automatic gearbox and the latest electronic engine technology.
This is not to say the new Hino 300 Series 614 Dump has anything fitted that is not available in many other trucks on the market. But by bringing this level of specification to this particular segment of the market demonstrates the pervasiveness of the new technology. Ten years ago, the work this truck was expected to do was handled by models like the then-ageing Daihatsu or Dyna. These would feature very basic cabins, underpowered mechanically injected diesel engines, robust but very basic gearboxes and suspensions built to withstand the worst overloading with little consideration for driver comfort.
There is nothing particularly new about the individual components included in the design of this new Auto Dump truck. What is new is the combination of equipment for this segment of the market. There are plenty of narrow cabs available from the Japanese manufacturers in light duty, and factory built dump bodies are also commonplace. There are also automatic or automated options available from all the Japanese competitors in the light duty truck market.
Conventional wisdom has seen the auto option specified in trucks to be used on urban distribution or sold into hire fleets, where inexperienced car drivers can be stopped from giving the manual boxes excessive wear and tear. The specifications have been specifically aligned to the needs of the weekend warrior.
What Hino has done is realise the weekend warrior also likes to do his own building and landscaping work on occasion. This truck has clearly been designed with the car driver – more used to a Commodore than a Kenworth – in mind. The narrow cab does not overawe the car driver and the automatic gearbox behaves in a similar manner to the run-of-the-mill auto available in many cars in Australia.
However, the more experienced driver has also got a lot to look forward to in this truck. Often the feel of a truck is determined by the relationships and balance within the driveline. And what a drive around the southern suburbs of Sydney demonstrated to Prime Mover was how well this package works together to make driving a fully loaded tipper in difficult terrain and traffic a breeze. When an automatic gearbox is set up correctly, the truck simply has one stop pedal and one go pedal.
The trick here is to make accelerating and decelerating, stopping and setting off again something the driver doesn’t have to think about. To get this right the system must be sensitive to driver input on the accelerator pedal and must be equally responsive when the driver wants the vehicle to slow down or stop. Engine power and torque must combine well with gearbox ratios, clutch settings and rear axle ratio. It needs to be making all the changes and supplying the right type of power at the right time to make it appear effortless to the person in the driving seat.
Taking the truck out on the road loaded to 4.5 tonnes, it appears Hino has got its combination worked out quite well. It has combined a number of familiar components to create a well-balanced driveline which is up to the job, and as far as it is possible, idiot proof.
This 6 speed automatic gearbox, the A860E, had been fitted in the Hino 300 Series since it was introduced several years ago. It has proved effective and works well with the 136hp Hino N04C TU engine. The same gearbox, with a different specification, is also featured in the Fuso Canter available on the Australian market. Both are able to compete on equal terms with the AMT gearbox introduced by Isuzu. Its ease-of-use had been successful when dealing with inexperienced drivers and hire fleets.
Out on the road, the driving experience is comfortable and pleasant. The transitions from one gear to the next are discernible but not extremely noticeable. Even a fully loaded truck can hold its own accelerating away from traffic lights, 136hp is plenty of power when shifting just 4.5 tonnes.
This auto gearbox feels well suited to the purpose, even when the truck gets up to 100km/h it is doing just over 2500rpm, nearly 300rpm lower than its manual counterpart. This is due to a combination of the 1:0.634 top gear ratio and a final drive ratio of 5.375:1.
Slowing down works well also, using the smoothness and intelligence of the auto box to decelerate. Activating the exhaust brake in combination with taking the right foot off the accelerator gives quite good deceleration and should enable decreased brake wear.
Since the introduction of ABS a number of added electronic benefits have been introduced like the Electronic Brakeforce Distribution fitted to this truck. As the successive generations of ABS have been introduced, more useful features appear. The hill start system on Hino trucks is known as Easy Start and has been available on Hino trucks since the Dutro.
The combination of Easy Start and the auto gearbox can be a tricky operation. The hill starting aid needs to be very precisely set so that it will release the brakes a split second before the clutch grips and starts to move the driveline. A little before and the truck could start to roll backwards before the clutch is engaged, putting more pressure on the clutch and generating more heat. A bigger problem with hill starting aids is releasing the brakes just after the clutch has engaged when there is a danger of stalling the truck.
On some systems with manual gearboxes it is possible to advance and retard the point at which the brakes are released. A driver can experiment with adjustment to find that sweet spot where the truck brakes are released and the truck sets off in one smooth movement. There is no such adjustment necessary here as the automatic box is able to communicate directly with the brake system and they can find that perfect spot between them.
In the coastal suburbs in the south of Sydney, there are a number of areas including steep grades to test the mettle of the system. With a fully loaded small truck like this, a driver with a manual gearbox would have to get their timing exactly right to take off uphill. Experienced drivers will have no problem, but one small mistake can see the truck failing to takeoff or taking off too abruptly and moving the load.
No such problem is encountered with this setup. Once the driver is used to the way the truck works, there is no issue in taking the truck on any hill and parking it at any point on the grade. This system instills a certain amount of confidence in its ability, after the first experimental attempt, to take off from a difficult position.
The interior of the cabin will be familiar to anyone using a Hino 300 truck. The size means it can feel quite cramped for those used to a full width cabin but for those more used to driving a car or ute, it may make them feel more secure. The combination of low windows and a relatively high position mean visibility around the truck is quite good.
The automatic gearbox control can only be called quirky. For those used to an automatic gearbox control in a standard saloon car, the large curved handle emerging from under the dash would be hard to recognise. It would appear to be the standard Hino design but a simple small handle would probably be preferable and more compact. This kind of design harks back to the seventies when the engine stop on some Hinos was disguised as a handbrake.
Looking at this truck from the point of view of the driver, it is the total package and it works. There is nothing earth shattering about it, other Japanese manufacturers offer similar options capable of handling the job just as well, but there is a certain neatness to the whole package. Each element needed in a truck, to fit into the niche this truck is aimed at, is here, as it is in the competition. Getting it right, for Hino, is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that’s what Hino seems to have done.