UD PK Auto

Working in the urban delivery cycle in a large city like Sydney, coping with delivery and collection work while competing for road space with cars and public transport is no walk in the park. Apart from the pressures inherent in working their way around an overcrowded city there is also the added performance pressure on the truck driver to meet customer expectations and company deadlines.

Safety has become a growing concern for those involved in urban delivery operations and the biggest danger to drivers and road users around them is getting involved in a traffic accident. Statistically it has been shown car drivers are to blame for the majority of traffic accidents involving a truck. However, the more time a driver in a truck can spend observing traffic around them rather than concentrating on the mechanics of actually driving the truck, the more likely they are to avoid accidents caused by irresponsible or inconsiderate car drivers.

A number of technologies have come to the aid of the urban truckie, including navigation systems and improved all-round visibility using video cameras. One of the most important technologies available to free up an urban truck driver’s attention is a reliable and effective auto gearbox.

Some manufacturers have gone down the route of using automated manual transmissions while others have gone for more car like fully automatic gearboxes. With the introduction of Allison automatic gearboxes fitted in its factory in Japan with full electronic integration, UD was breaking new ground. Up until this time Allison gearboxes had been available from a number of truck makers but only as a retrofit option here in Australia. This had made the option expensive and limited its appeal to the wider market.

When the UD organisation introduced the factory fitted Allison automatic gearboxes into its medium duty range it transformed their performance and its trucks’ standing amongst its peers. The latest iteration of the Allison auto box is a revelation when compared to its predecessors. This is not an unsophisticated gearbox, this is a sophisticated well-informed component in the vehicle’s driveline making the correct decision at the right time to aid progress for the driver and maximise performance without sacrificing fuel use.

To get an idea of how the UD PK 10 performs out in the real world, Prime Mover took the truck on a wide ranging simulated delivery run around Sydney and its environs. The truck was loaded and taken out in typical weekday morning rush-hour traffic. Sydney is not the best city to travel around while trying to deliver goods at the best of times but this is the reality for those involved in the distribution industry in this city.

Climbing into the PK cabin is very familiar to anyone with experience of the UD range over the years. Little has changed, but instead of the usual gear stick there is a controller for the Allison box. The absence of a clutch leaves room to rest the left foot while the right foot is left to do all the work, accelerating and braking.

Power comes from the 7.7 litre J08 engine putting out 258hp (190kW) at 2500rpm and 794Nm (586 ft lb) of torque at 1500rpm. On the road, power levels and torque come into their own as the gearbox chooses ratios to suit conditions and requirements. The improved integration possible between the Japanese electronics and the Allison control systems seems to get more out of the auto than is possible in the more familiar use of Allison hardware with North American drivelines.

The gearbox is better informed about what is happening in the engine, further down the driveline, exhaust brake control position and how much pressure the driver is putting on the accelerator with their right foot. As a result, the gearbox can have a relatively light touch because it is choosing the correct ratio at precisely the right time as and when required by the conditions or the driver.

It is possible to drive this gearbox very aggressively and, in many cases, around the city urban delivery drivers will use it aggressively. It can cope with this kind of driving and will probably minimise the fuel penalty paid in maintaining this kind of acceleration performance. In fact, it is likely the performance of the truck, when using the Allison auto box, is better than could be managed by a very aggressive driver with a manual gearbox, the loss of momentum between gears is minimal in this modern auto.

Taking the truck around central Sydney shows it off at its best. This is a very basic urban delivery truck but the performance available to the driver makes life very easy. It is possible to concentrate entirely on the road and leave the gear changing and the retardation up to the truck itself. The accelerator works simply as a stop/go pedal and the only other intervention the driver may need to resort to is to activate the engine brake, periodically, when more deceleration is required.

By activating the exhaust brake the system is informing the gearbox it needs to slow down. The gearbox will immediately respond by dropping two gears, getting the engine revs high and bringing the speed down quickly. Judicious use of the engine brake control should mean substantial reduction in brake wear in an application where brake wear can be prodigious.

On this simulated delivery run around Sydney, use of the brake was minimised to the point where it would only be used to bring the vehicle to a halt after most of the deceleration had been achieved by simply activating the exhaust brake and allowing the Allison gearbox to make the changes to bring the speed down.

Impressions from the driver’s seat concerning the driveline and its integration with the rest of the truck’s systems are nothing but positive. This setup works very well and adds quite a bit to the model offering from UD trucks. If there are any drawbacks with a truck like this, they are the same perennial issues dating back many years and many models of UD.

Its trucks have never been considered stylish or sophisticated when compared to the competition. UD trucks has prospered with a no-nonsense utilitarian style which includes few concessions to the kind of chase for modernity often seen elsewhere in the truck market.

In recent years, UD has given a hint of what is to come with the introduction of some sophisticated technologies like EBS, and a few years back, with the introduction of a relatively stylish cab for the heavy-duty range. The unveiling of the GW cabin design saw UD make a quantum leap in the look and feel of trucks it was offering to the market.

The introduction of automatic gearboxes across the range is also a clear indication of changes afoot in the way UD approaches the Australian truck market. It is now a different commercial entity since it became a part of the global Volvo organisation several years back, and it has been able to tap into work being done both in Japan and as part of the global truck maker’s development program.

This PK 10 is a step on the way in this modernisation process and, as such, augurs well for what the UD organisation can do on the ground here in Australia. It competes directly with three powerhouses of the truck market: Isuzu, Hino and Fuso. As a manufacturer, it needs to be on its mettle to make headway against a formidable trio of Japanese manufacturers, all of whom have an equally strong history here in Australia.

The PK has an excellent driveline and integration of the UD engine with the Allison gearbox and other systems within the truck, makes for a smooth sophisticated ride. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the truck cabin, this is now past its sell by date. Fortunately, for UD enthusiasts a new cab is just around the corner. It has already been released for the Japanese market and its introduction here next year will see the UD range show a much more modern face to the Australian truck market.

Over the years, if there has been one weakness that UD trucks have consistently suffered from, it was the very basic cab design the company was using. It has already solved that problem with the larger heavy-duty trucks and now, with the introduction of the new cab in 2011 for the MK and PK, we will see a much more sophisticated modern offering from the UD truck range to match the well balanced driveline which proves itself so effective on the streets of Sydney in the PK Auto.

 

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