It’s taken just over ten years , since 2001 in fact when the Hino Profia 6×4 and 4×2 models were introduced to our market under the then Toyota SA Trucks banner , for Hino Trucks to come of age at the top end of the market but now, with its revised Hino 700 range accurately speaking the language of the long-haul operator, the company is on the right road writes Patrick O’Leary.
If the truth be known, Hino Trucks in South Africa has never enjoyed top of mind status when it comes to the long haul sector of the trucking industry having concentrated their efforts on ancillary rather than professional long haul operators.
However, since the launch of the Profia range back in 2001, the company has had its eyes fixed firmly on this sector and has been playing a catch-up game with the European and American marques which have traditionally dominated the long-haul segment.
The catch-up strategy has been geared not only towards product offerings but also towards adopting the correct philosophy and modus operandi to cater to the requirements and needs of long hauliers. Here is how I see Hino Trucks’ journey into the extra-heavy segment.
It started under Toyota Trucks in 1996 when the company took on the Peterbilt agency for South Africa. This was a disaster and resulted in a spectacular failure which eventually saw the marque taken over by the Imperial Group headed by that wonderful Irishman, the late Bill Lynch. However, even Bill ‘˜its all fer der custamer’ Lynch could not fix the damage already done to the marque and it was later disbanded by Imperial.
Then, in 2001, Toyota SA Trucks launched the Hino Profia 6×4 and 4×2 models bringing into the Toyota truck stable the highest horse power engine ever – the 370 hp Hino K13C turbo intercooled engine fitted to the 28,5-ton GVM 6×4 Hino Profia. This was at a time when over 400hp was making big strides into the long haul sector. If I recall, one of the Peterbilt demonstration units had a 450hp-or-so engine and was spectacularly crashed by a client’s driver. Pssst! And it wasn’t insured! Ouch!
More cautious approach
Learning from the Peterbilt experience, a more cautious approach towards driving into the long haul sector was adopted when launching the Profia range. The company was then headed by Henk Maree, who told FleetWatch at the time:
“We were naive with Peterbilt in thinking we could apply the same principles of operations as we did for the Hino Super Dolphin. We learnt from our Peterbilt experience that the long haul sector is a specialised one which operates to a different culture and we’re not ready to go that way yet. We will only go there when we are confident we have in place the correct sales, back-up and support infrastructure to fully service that sector , and we are working on that.”
Another step towards the N1-type haulier was taken in 2004 when the impressive Hino 700 series was launched as the successor to the Profia with the new range incorporating a 6×4 tipper, a 6×4 freight carrier and two premium heavy duty truck tractors, one in 4×2 guise and the other in 6×4 configuration.
The most significant point here though was that with these models, Toyota SA Trucks crossed the magical 400hp line with the lowest horsepower engine – the 410hp fitted to the 4×2 truck tractor, 6×4 tipper and 6×4 freight carrier – being the highest powered engine ever offered by Hino in our local market. And there was more , the top-end Hino 57-450 had a 450hp engine thumping under the cab.
In addition, the E13C engine fitted to all the new models incorporated the latest state-of-the-art common rail technology which was still pretty new in South Africa at that time.
One could say that with such product offerings, they were now ready for the long haul but not so. Although the product was pretty kewl, the knowledge of the good folk at Toyota Trucks and its dealers of the needs and nuances of the long haul market was still being developed.
Harold Barnard, who had just taken over the reins from Henk Maree, gave a hint of this at the launch function when he said: “The introduction of the new Hino 700 Series marks the beginning of a new era for Toyota South Africa. However, we are under no illusion that in order to compete actively in this fiercely competitive market segment, a variety of customer and market expectations are to be met”.
He didn’t go into exactly what those were but FleetWatch can confirm that the company’s dealers were still floundering in getting to grips with servicing long hauliers. And quite understandably so for they had, over the years, concentrated their efforts on the ancillary type operators who didn’t require a 24/7 back-up service operating as they did during normal daytime working hours rather than round the clock, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
“It’s 2.00am and my truck is stuck on the side of the road with a refrigerated load and I need that part now,’ was not embedded in their back-up philosophy.
The point is, they were getting there as shown by the announcement at the Hino 700 launch that 28 dealers in all the major centres and along all the main truck routes had been appointed to assist customers of the new Hino 700 Series. Aha! Progress , but they were still a little coy about going full-guns into the 24/7 ‘big boy’ arena stating that the initial primary target market would remain the distribution logistics operator.
Pro’s and con’s
Playing catch-up has its pro’s and con’s. On the pro side, you have others spearheading new innovations and developments which you can learn from. On the con side, you lose out on market share to those ‘˜others’ while you get your act together to haul them in.
The above brief look-back over the past ten years shows that Hino Trucks has been in catch-up mode but now, with the upgraded and revised 10-model Hino 700 range, they are solidly in the ball-park. However, despite this, a conservative approach is still being adopted , which is not a bad thing at all. This was confirmed at the launch of the new range by Dr Casper Kruger, Vice President of Hino in South Africa.
“Step by step we are becoming a better player in the market and I believe there is room for us to now manoeuvre into a good position. The Europeans still dominate this sector but we have set ourselves realistic and achievable goals. We’re not saying we’re going for Number 1 spot but we are aiming to be in the top 5 in the heavy commercial vehicle sector.
“One thing we have always realised is that our product must be right for long haul operations and we must be on a par with the Europeans as far as technology is concerned. In our new Hino 700, I think we have achieved that. We are now comfortable that we are able to offer a total product package to the long haulier,’ he said, adding that that includes excellent back-up service and warranties as well as the all important cost of ownership benefits.
He also realises that it is not going to be an easy road. “To try convince long haul operators to change is not easy as many are brand conscious and loyal. We are aware of that but we also know that those who have changed, are happy,’ he said.
Features of the new range
So what’s been introduced in the new 10-model range. Let’s take a quick look.
For one, Hino Trucks has taken another leap forward in terms of horse-power offerings with its most powerful engine to date – a 480 hp with high torque (up to 2157N.m at 1100r/min) virtually throughout the engine speed range which ensures strong acceleration and the ability to hold speed in hilly terrain.
Other engine power outputs in the range include 380, 410 and 450 horsepower. All the engines are the same basic six-cylinder unit of 12,9-litre capacity, with variations in turbocharging and electronic engine management to alter the power output.
Perhaps the most important new feature is the introduction of the ZF-AS Tronic electronically-controlled, 16-speed, automated manual transmission. The two-pedal system incorporates an automatic start function and eliminates the need to operate the clutch manually, which makes life much easier for the driver and cuts maintenance costs into the bargain.
Those models still using the ZF 16S 221 manual gearbox get a revised clutch, with a 430mm single disc unit instead of the previous 380mm twin disc type, with the aim of weight reduction. There is a transmission intarder as well as the Hino engine brake to assist in the stopping department.
Taking cab comfort into mind for long haul drivers, high roof models are added to the line-up in addition to the standard cab models. The maximum height of the high roof cab from floor to ceiling is 1,9m which is 210mm higher than the standard cab and allows people to stand upright in the cab.
Two beds are fitted to the high roof model, with the lower bed having space comparable to that found in the largest beds of European models. Catch-up achieved one could say. Only two of the 10 models in the new 700 Series range are offered with the standard day cab.
The front suspension springs have been increased in length to 1,7m which has made it possible to decrease the number of spring blades from three to two, while a stabiliser bar has been added as standard. There is a choice of Hendrickson two-bag air suspension or steel leaf spring suspension at the rear. The conventional one-piece torque rod acting on the rear axle has been changed to a V-type with a laminated rubber support mount, which improves the stability of the truck.
Another new feature that will be appreciated by fleet operators is the standard fitment of a second fuel tank to provide a capacity in excess of 800 litres compared to the previous 400 litres.
There are a number of other new features and technical improvement which will please operators so this new range is really worth a look.
“The driving objectives of the Hino engineers and designers involved with the original 700 Series was for these trucks to be environmentally friendly, economical, reliable and to have high levels of safety, while the latest evolutionary changes have come from customer feedback,’ says Dr. Kruger.
It’s been a long haul to catch up but FleetWatch reckons Hino Trucks is now ready for the long haul.
FootNote: Just an observation. The Europeans aren’t the only ones strong in the long haul sector , so too are the American brands. Freightliner, for example, is extremely strong in this sector and dominates the N1 while Internationals are still hauling the long road with success. In fact, if I were a European or Japanese truck supplier, I’d keep my eye firmly on Freightliner to see what’s making them so popular. They are a formidable competitor in this sector.