Each brand of truck on sale in Australia has market sectors with which it is associated and others where it is not expected to compete. Scania have done well in certain specific niches in Australia, like intrastate distribution prime movers, line haul and fire engines. They sell trucks into other applications, too, but in relatively small numbers and the overall perception of the truck buyer is coloured by where they see the trucks operating.
By introducing a 6 x 2 rigid truck with a 320 hp engine and a ready to go curtain sided body already fitted, Scania are trying to enter an area of the truck market with which they have rarely been associated. In most fleets this kind of truck is invariably Japanese, often fitted with a lazy axle after importation from Japan. These are the trucks which do the donkey work of the distribution industry, hauling goods around the major cities and intrastate in multi-drop loads. They do the job of getting the freight over the last mile after the bulk line haul loads are broken up in transport yards around the nation.
Other manufacturers will offer these trucks at their dealerships but they are often an unusual order and may even be a special build. Scania have come in with an offer which they claim will be a seamless as those done on a day-to-day basis between distribution companies and the Japanese truck dealers. They offer a ready built standard curtain sider ready to start work as soon as it is released by the dealer.
This new model exemplifies some of the changes which have taken place in Scania's thinking in the past few years. Instead of having a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to truck sales, they have proactively looked for market niches and segments where they could tailor and customise their offering to get as close to the normal requirements of truck buyers in that segment as possible.
Prime Mover took an example of the new Scania P 320 with a curtain sided body out around the streets of Melbourne to see how suitable it was for the job and whether Australian truck buyers would take a European interloper seriously. Unfortunately, one of the overriding factors in truck choice in this area of the market, price, cannot be weighed up in this article as there is no way to realistically compare prices.
The truck itself is similar to many which will be seen plying their trade in many European countries but the specifications of this particular model have been honed, in terms of dimension, to best suit our market. Pallet size and, therefore, body size is different in Europe and operators there are more likely to choose the lower powered 280 hp model. Their higher masses allowed on the front axle also make wheelbase and body positioning less critical than it is for Australian buyers.
The engine used in this particular model is the Scania DC 9 which is a five cylinder 320 hp (235 kW) engine developing maximum power at 1900 rpm. It puts out 1600 Nm (1180 ft lb) of torque between 1000 and 1200 rpm. All of the sophisticated technology fitted to the larger Scania engines is also included with an XPI high-pressure fuel injection system coupled with a variable geometry turbocharger and EGR controlling performance and exhaust gas emissions.
It is difficult to know how the truck market will perceive this new truck. Will they be able to get their heads around a Scandinavian truck as a lowly urban distribution workhorse? No one will doubt its ability to do the job. However, some may question the suitability of this kind of truck in this kind of work or whether this level of sophistication within a truck is unnecessary overkill.
What isn't in doubt is that this is a well-designed and well-built sophisticated European truck and this is the first impression as the driver approaches it. Compared to many of its competitors in this sector, the cabin is set quite low and the large amount of glass in the cabin confirms this is clearly a truck suited to the urban environment.
Climbing into the truck is definitely a European experience as well – even the sound of the door closing tells you this is not a Japanese truck. The look and feel of the cabin interior is very familiar to anyone who has driven a Scania before. Sitting in the driver's seat, the relatively low height of the cab comes into its own and all-round visibility both through the doors and the windscreen are excellent, aided by well-positioned mirrors including the near side downward looking mirror to see anything directly in front of the truck lower down.
Starting the engine also evokes memories of other Scanias. These trucks are notoriously quiet from within the cabin and this one is no exception. Japanese distribution trucks, in recent years, have become much quieter than their predecessors, but the Scania is quieter again. Placing the Opticruise control into drive and releasing the brake, before pressing on the accelerator demonstrates another of the sophisticated systems available to Scania due to their high level of commonality of parts between trucks throughout their range. This is a smooth and responsive automated gearbox which is just about as good as anything available on Australian roads and, as such, performs better than any of its competition in this sector.
Essentially, this is a ‘set and forget’ automated manual transmission. This is the same basic gearbox as is used throughout the Scania range and it is extremely flexible and responsive. The driver will not have to think about gear changing at any point during the working day. In fact, if the forgetful driver jumps out of the truck leaving drive engaged the gearbox will automatically select neutral. In terms of ease of use and safety in freeing up the driver to concentrate on the traffic around them, the P 320 fits the bill.
The braking system is also state-of-the-art. The truck uses Scania’s electronically controlled disc brakes integrated within a EBS system which includes traction control and hill hold. Again, in a busy urban environment this kind of stopping power and vehicle control must increase the safety quotient.
The ride, for the driver, is excellent. The routes these kinds of trucks have to travel are often poorly maintained, badly damaged and unlikely to change. The suspension with parabolic springs on the front and the Scania four bag on the rear takes the worst out of the roads service without compromising road holding or cabin sway. This feels like a well-balanced unit both manoeuvring around the back streets or out on the open highway.
If this level of sophistication is not enough for the urban distribution truck customer, there are a number of options available to take the trucks safety performance up another notch. Scania offer options like Lane Departure Warning, which sounds an alarm if the truck drifts out of its lane. This has been adapted to reduce false alarms by monitoring steering movements to verify whether they are active steering inputs or the result of inattention.
The Scandinavian truck maker also offers options like Alcolock, a system which makes the driver blow into a breathalyser to measure alcohol levels before they can start up the truck. There is also a tyre pressure monitoring system available which will alert the driver if any of the tyre pressures drop anywhere on the vehicle. It gives an immediate warning to the driver enabling them to check the tyre, top up the pressure and save fuel and tyre wear.
But even without these added extras, this is a pretty sophisticated package and also a very driveable one. During a day spent driving around the streets of Melbourne, this driver felt relaxed, comfortable and safe at all times. The high specification safety equipment certainly does leave the driver feeling secure as the truck is best equipped to handle any emergency situation. If a pedestrian with no road sense stepped down in front of this truck as it headed down a narrow street in the CBD, the EBS system would have given the truck driver the best possible chance of avoiding a collision.
The ease-of-use is also an important factor for a drive in this kind of situation. Being involved in multidrop situations dealing with a large number of consignors and consignees can be quite stressful. Add to that, the usual problems of getting a relatively large truck around city streets filled with unthinking drivers and a large number of pedestrians. In such a situation, having a driver who is relaxed and comfortable in a truck with state-of-the-art safety systems can be a real advantage.
While it is clear that this truck is a good tool to do the job, it is not so clear whether truck buyers in Australia can really start thinking about a Scania, a sophisticated, Scandinavian-designed truck, working in this kind of role. This market segment is also extremely competitive with the four Japanese manufacturers fighting tooth and nail on a day-to-day basis to get and keep business. The question is probably whether the Scania organisation can stand the heat.