UD Trucks has long been a staple in many distribution fleets. Their robust and simple nature is designed to cope with the rigours of the urban distribution working cycle. They can cope with constantly changing drivers and get the job done with minimal fuss. Though not the most sophisticated trucks on the market, they do retain a strong level of support within the transport industry.
In recent years, however, areas like the urban distribution industry have moved on. New regulations and higher driver expectations, coupled with a driver shortage, have had the effect of increasing the demand for more sophisticated trucks and drivelines to suit modern distribution practices.
One of the most obvious incarnations of the change to attitudes within the industry has been the widespread take up of automatic and automated gearboxes. To keep up with the requirements of its customers, UD has had to up the level of sophistication in its truck range. This has seen the widespread introduction of auto options on just about every UD model in the range.
Top of the range for UD is the GW 470 and a large amount of development work was done by both UD and Eaton to develop an installation of its 18 speed Autoshift automated constant mesh gearbox in the UD flagship. Prime Mover took the opportunity to test the new UD GW 470 Auto out on a run pulling a single trailer from Sydney up to a supermarket complex in the north of Newcastle.
This kind of route exemplifies the sort of work such a truck would have to handle on a day-to-day basis if it was included in an intrastate distribution fleet, for which it is clearly targeted. It also has to address the kind of issues these distribution fleets, often dependent on large supermarket contracts, have to face. Considerations around occupational health and safety issues and relatively low-level driver skills means it is imperative to have a truck which is both effective and simple while also being safe and comfortable.
Taking the truck out to the M3 Freeway heading north of Sydney, the driving simplicity is demonstrated. It is possible to more closely integrate the transmission with the electronics of the UD engine and control systems than it is on many North American trucks. The Autoshift control systems can talk with a range of sensors within the truck to ensure the correct gear is engaged and life is made easier for the driver.
Getting out of the city is never easy in Sydney. No matter which route you choose, much of that first hour getting out of Sydney involves stop start heavy traffic conditions heading from one traffic light to the next and from one clogged junction to the next. Having to cope with the aggressive nature of Sydney drivers and fight with an 18 speed constant mesh gearbox at a high mass is not particularly easy and the smooth changing of the Autoshift makes a substantial difference to the experience.
Driving through Sydney also gave this driver an opportunity to test another of the UD prime mover’s strong points, it’s electronic braking system. UD was the first Japanese truck company to include EBS in its specifications for Australia. Its inclusion on the GW 470 proved very useful when a motorcycle rider, seemingly oblivious to the 40 plus tonnes of truck and trailer he had just pulled two metres in front of, decided to stop dead in a queue of traffic travelling at 60 km/h.
The whole combination did come to halt surprisingly quickly and because the EBS system had already witnessed a number of brake applications, balancing the brake application correctly between prime mover and trailer. Everything came to a stop in a straight line a couple of inches behind the registration plate of an unaware but very lucky motorcyclist.
As a distribution truck this UD is in direct competition with a number of sophisticated European prime movers, if the cab over configuration is preferred. Some operators may consider the conventional configuration a viable alternative to a cab over in these kinds of applications. The UD provides a unique set of specification options in the Australian market. It has the well-known Japanese reliability and simplicity. It uses the Eaton automated gearbox, which is familiar to a wide cross-section of the Australian trucking industry. It also includes aspects of that European sophistication without over complicating issues for the driver.
When tendering for the modern distribution contract there are a number of boxes that must be ticked in any submission to the customer. UD has looked at the nature of these contracts and developed a truck to meet its requirements without compromising the brand’s strengths.
In most of the Eaton Autoshift installations the performance of the automatic gearchanging can often leave a lot to be desired; because due to improved electronic communication between Japanese hardware and the Eaton electronics, it is possible to more closely match engine performance to gear choice than it is when dealing with the more dumb or uncommunicative North American engines.
This difference becomes clear when pulling away after being stationary. The truck appears to ‘read the road’ a lot better than its North American counterparts, will choose to skip gears when it is appropriate and works its way slowly through the gears if asked to work particularly hard. Crossing Sydney in the morning traffic means there is a lot of gear changing being made at road junctions and ascending and descending varying grades. This truck will take it all in its stride and it is possible to drive the truck through difficult traffic conditions without having to even think of intervening and choosing a ratio manually.
The combination of the adequate 460hp (340kW) and a reasonably intelligent automatic gearbox means it is possible to maintain momentum as well as is possible in the Sydney traffic. In combination with the 2255Nm (1663 ft/lb) of torque available from this 13L engine, the drivetrain feels well matched and effective at full weight in an urban situation.
Travelling north on the F3 Freeway, this truck can hold its own. It is not going to break any records but it performs as one would expect from a truck carrying this kind of load in this kind of country. It is possible to simply set and forget the cruise control in most situations on an uninterrupted highway. It is only when the truck approaches a substantial downgrade, the driver needs to intervene, put the auto into manual and down shift to improve the limited retardation available.
If there is a weak link in the driveline, it would be engine braking. The EE brake would have been regarded as quite effective a few years ago but since then most manufacturers have moved on. European trucks’ compression braking has become ever more sophisticated and blended in with engine management and service brake control as well as instructing the auto of the appropriate gear to use when descending. North American competitor, Jake Brakes has become ever more effective and the horsepower available for retardation is considerable. This is an area where the Japanese manufacturers have lagged behind, as is evidenced by the recent inclusion of a Voith retarder at the heavy end of the Isuzu Giga range.
UD truck buyers will have to wait for the very effective Volvo Engine Brake to be integrated across the brands by the parent company.
Out on the open highway there is a chance to look at the fixtures and fittings inside the cabin and assess the suitability. As is usual in any review of a UD truck, the seat for the driver does not compare well with any of its opposition. The European truck manufacturers have long excelled in improved driver comfort and sophisticated seating. The North Americans had to get on board if they wanted to compete with the Europeans. Now the Japanese, led by Isuzu, are moving to driver seating which is both suitable and reaches the right standard. We can be assured that UD will be unveiling much improved seating in their model lineup when it is introduced for the new emission regulations in 2011.
Elsewhere, UD has got a lot right with this cabin design. Its clean lines and pleasing curve from the dashboard round to the central console looks and feels good. All of the instrumentation and controls are easy-to-use and placed correctly. Even though a bunk is provided in the rear of the cabin this truck can be, essentially, regarded as a roomy daycab, and as such, does the job well.
With the driver’s seat placed quite high, visibility around the cab is quite good. Direct European competitors are often set quite low but this relatively high cab has surprisingly good all-round visibility. The cabin also has a large rear window improving driver visibility when maneuvering in awkward situations, like the ubiquitous, badly designed supermarket loading bays.
When this driver arrived at the simulated delivery point it felt as if both driver and truck had taken a relatively relaxed journey with minimal disruption apart from that caused by inconsiderate and dangerous drivers. This is an indicator of a truck suited to its task, if the driver doesn’t need to notice what the truck is doing and arrives safe and relaxed then the job is being done well and effectively.
Overall, this GW 470 Auto is emblematic of what had been happening within UD Trucks here in Australia. The company had been making realistic assessments of the truck range it has on offer and one by one is addressing the issues that have been perceived. This truck using an Eaton Autoshift gearbox is part of that process. Many of the improvements needed have either arrived or are being telegraphed to arrive with the introduction of ADR 80/02 trucks next year.
Driving this particular model suggests they are on the right track and the improvements they are making have been effective in making their trucks more suitable for the kinds of applications they are used for and more compatible with Australian preferences and conditions.