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Fuso's Breakthrough - Fuso Shogun B-Double Road Test

To state the obvious, there are four Japanese brands contesting the Australian heavy-duty truck market but in performance terms, only one is truly capable of going head-to-head with European cab-overs in the prime mover and heavy rigid class. Fuso!

Just as truly though, it is a very odd thing in this day and age of ultra-competitive business and brutal corporate contest that Fuso is the only Japanese competitor with a genuine capacity to tackle the European brands with a modern, efficient, safe and advanced powertrain in the 500 hp class.

But why is Fuso the only one of four when there exists, in one form or another, the potential for higher powered versions in all Japanese brands?

Well, from the outside looking in, it appears corporate complexity and executive xenophobia continue to dictate what heavy-duty trucks Japan is able or willing to bring to the Australian market.

Indeed, there is perhaps no more fascinating and perplexing study of modern-day truck development than that provided by Japan and its sluggish, even dismissive attitudes to the Australian heavy-duty sector.

Take Isuzu, for example. It may be the hands-down leader of the Australian truck market but despite a vast model range, Isuzu is the only one of the four Japanese contenders which does not even offer a dedicated model for prime mover or truck ‘n’ dog work. In fact, it achieves its impressive heavy-duty volumes with a bevy of three and four-axle rigid models rather than trucks purposefully designed to tow a trailer or two.

Sure, Isuzu Australia executives desperately yearn for the day when they will be able to offer a true heavy-duty contender but on current indications, they’re in for a long wait as the brand’s Japanese masters continue to procrastinate with seemingly boundless predictability.

Then there’s UD, equipped with its impressive Quon, a truck which offers excellent features but in performance terms is hamstrung by Volvo’s almost fearful refusal to fit anything bigger than an 11 litre engine topping out at 460 hp. Make no mistake, UD’s local insiders have for a long time rightly believed Quon is capable of broader heavy-duty horizons, nagging Volvo to make its popular 13 litre ‘family’ engine available, but all to no avail.

And now, of course, Isuzu owns UD. So, long story short: Isuzu bought UD from Volvo Group on April 1 last year but it seems somewhere in the contractual morass, Volvo is able to keep its versatile 13 litre engine from UD (and apparently Isuzu), thus restraining its Japanese associates from becoming direct competitors to Sweden’s faithful FM range in the 500-plus class. And perhaps strangest of all, UD continues to be sold here through Volvo Group Australia.

Like I said: Complex, and more than a touch xenophobic.

Moving on, Hino now has its much improved and exceptionally well-equipped 700-series heavy-duty range but for reasons that escape layman logic, the Toyota-owned truck maker has not seen fit to push its durable 13 litre engine beyond the existing peak of 480 hp. Therefore, Hino Australia has been largely denied an opportunity to tackle market segments where shorthaul B-doubles and truck ‘n’ four-axle dog trailer combinations now routinely require 500 hp and more.

Fuso, however, was not about to miss an opportunity to take a bold step ahead of its competitive countrymen. Or to be more specific, Fuso’s local leaders at Daimler Trucks Australia could see the potential for an advanced 500-plus powertrain and were obviously prepared to fight tooth ‘n’ nail to see the implanting of an advanced engine and drivetrain from corporate colleague, Mercedes-Benz.

It wasn’t easy though. Nor was it a quick process.

A STRONG CASE

First, not only did Japan need to be convinced of the potential for a flagship Fuso model drawing on the latest mechanical and technological assets of Daimler Trucks, but Daimler’s German masters needed to be assured that such a move would be a valuable addition to the Australian armoury rather than a threat to its burgeoning Mercedes-Benz business.

Quietly, Mercedes-Benz boffins within Daimler Trucks Australia also shared concerns about their Japanese partner’s prospective ability to encroach on Benz’s strong sales volumes. Even so, Daimler Trucks Australia chief Daniel Whitehead was adamant that the truck which would become known as the Shogun 510 would add a valuable string to the corporate bow rather than become an in-house detriment to the Benz breed.

Eventually, Fuso engineers were given the go-ahead to start extensive testing which, according to a company statement, included ‘an outback Australian test of an initial prototype in 2017. Extensive hot weather durability testing was also carried out in South Africa and a final production-ready test was undertaken in Australia and New Zealand.’

While all this was happening, Daniel Whitehead and his team were fine-tuning a business case for the model’s introduction to the Australian and New Zealand markets where customer support was said to be ‘highly enthusiastic.’ The enthusiasm, however, wasn’t just centred on the prospect of a Japanese heavy-duty truck with more than 500 horsepower issuing from a 13 litre family engine already well regarded for its fuel efficiency. Similarly compelling, according to Fuso’s local interests, was support for a highly advanced Euro 6 powertrain and suite of safety features equal to anything in the European market.

"We pushed hard to get the 13 litre engine into the Shogun for our market because our customers made it clear they wanted a Japanese heavy-duty truck with serious performance," Daniel Whitehead said late last year in a press statement announcing the Shogun 510’s official release. According to the company, more than 50 orders were placed prior to the launch.

With 510 horsepower (375kW) and 2500Nm (1844lb-ft) of torque, Daimler confidently states the Shogun 510 was ‘specifically developed for Australia (and) is the most powerful Euro 6 Japanese truck available.’

It is, in effect, the same 12.8 litre OM471 six cylinder engine and driveline under Mercedes-Benz’s 2651 model, and the same powertrain which pushes the higher powered and higher torqued 2653 version. In both ratings, the engine employs an advanced (asymmetric) turbocharger and what Daimler describes as ‘the latest generation common rail system with variable pressure boosting for ultimate fuel efficiency.’

The decision, however, to limit Shogun 510 to the same outputs as Benz’s 2651 rather than its higher rated brother was unquestionably a wise move, with the company quick to stifle any suggestion of priming its new Japanese flagship for linehaul work despite a gross combination mass rating of 63 tonnes. ‘Designed for metro and intrastate transport, the Shogun 510 is capable of hauling a single or double trailer set or working as a brawny tipper and dog combination,’ Fuso’s press statement asserts.

Still, like its Mercedes-Benz equivalent, there’s nothing second-string about the Shogun 510’s performance credentials with maximum power on tap at 1600rpm and peak torque from 1100rpm, effectively allowing the 12-speed fully automated transmission – ‘Powershift’ in Benz parlance – to maintain engine speed in a productive and fuel efficient rev range. And like its German counterparts, the Shogun 510 includes the EcoRoll fuel-saving feature and an effective three-stage Jacobs engine braking system.

Moreover, all models in Fuso’s upgraded and expanded Shogun range – from 360 to 400, 460 and now 510hp – come with a swag of advanced safety features.

As Fuso states, ‘All Shogun models benefit from the latest generation of AEBS (Advanced Emergency Braking System) that now uses camera and radar technology to provide enhanced pedestrian sensing capability. This system is standard on all models, as is radar adaptive cruise control.’

Likewise, ‘Lane departure warning system, a driver airbag, electronic stability program and hill start assistance continue as standard elements of the Shogun safety package.’

Also standard across the range are daytime running lamps and what Fuso describes as, ‘intelligent headlight control which automatically turns on and off the truck’s high beam function in response to traffic.’

On the inside there’s a keyless start button, a seven-inch high resolution touch screen for various display and control functions while in the premium 510 model, there’s a leather-wrapped steering wheel along with an overall dash and control design straight from the current Mercedes-Benz range. It’s worth noting though, that with Japan being a righthand-drive country, the wands for engine brake, indicators, gear selection and so on are on opposite sides of the steering column compared to the Mercedes-Benz layout.

Still, it doesn’t take long to adjust. Nor does it take long to realise that while the Shogun 510 has many advanced and hugely worthwhile features adapted from its continental counterpart, Japan’s influence remains unmistakeable and nowhere more noticeable than inside the cab.

ROAD RUN

The Shogun 510 comes in two forms, each defined by wheelbase. In prime mover guise, the truck sits on a 3910 mm spread while the rigid version is on a 4300mm wheelbase.

Other than that, differences are largely limited to a prime mover model with the option of standard or high-roof cabs, and a rigid version which offers a 4.625:1 final drive ratio as well as the standard 4.222:1 ratio common to both wheelbases.

In either form though, Shogun 510 has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) rating of 26 tonnes and gross combination mass (GCM) of 63 tonnes.

Achieving Euro 6 compliance with a diesel particulate filter and SCR (AdBlue) after-treatment system, the engine drives through an overdrive 12-speed automated transmission offering three operating modes (Auto, Economy and Heavy) and crawler and rocking functions for tougher conditions.

At the back, a typically dependable Japanese drive tandem with an optional limited slip differential on both axles, rides on a four-bag rear air suspension assembly. Up front, long taper-leaf springs and double-acting shocks take the bumps.

Coupled to a Vawdrey curtain-sided B-double set and weighing in at 55 tonnes, the test unit supplied by Daimler Trucks Australia had less than 3000km on the clock and from the Velocity dealership at Laverton in Melbourne’s industrial west, the plan was to run the truck on what is probably the type of route intended for Fuso’s flagship. That is, a mix of metro traffic and runs into regional areas which in this case saw the truck steered north before veering onto the old Hume Highway, through Kilmore and over the testing Pretty Sally climb before spearing across to Broadford, then up to Avenel and return to Laverton on the Hume Freeway to join the crazy traffic antics of Melbourne’s ring road. All up, almost 270km of varied terrain and traffic conditions.

A few things were obvious from the start. From behind the wheel, the general switchgear and control layout is entirely functional and again, typical of the operational ease found in Mercedes-Benz models. Likewise, the dash readout is clear with standard gauges for speedo, tacho, air pressure, and fuel and AdBlue levels, while shifting to different digital information on the central screen between the gauges is as easy as moving control buttons on the steering wheel arms. Simple and user friendly, familiarity with the various functions comes quickly.

Forward vision is exceptionally good and mirrors are well placed to provide good rear vision without unduly impeding the driver’s right-side view on roundabouts and the like.

However, Fuso’s interior cab design is significantly less likeable than either Hino’s new 700-series or UD’s Quon. Despite the large expanse between driver and passenger seats, there’s only one relatively small compartment next to the driver but two larger storage bins a long stretch away on the other side of a completely unutilised middle section. It is, quite simply, a strange and somewhat convoluted design which also makes the climb from the driver’s seat to the sleeper shelf an awkward and uncomfortable challenge.

Given the size of the cab, it is a strangely inefficient and ineffective use of space.

In fact, it’s as if the interior was designed by three committees: One for the driver’s side, one for the passenger side and one for the middle. And maybe another committee to design an awfully hard driver’s seat which was by far, the least likeable aspect of the entire truck.

Still, maybe the cab’s shortcomings and a fuel capacity of 400 litres will be just the things to ensure the Shogun 510 is limited to local and relatively shorthaul regional roles rather than aspiring to the linehaul duties where its Benz brethren do so well and sport one of the best European cabs in the business.

Yet whereas Fuso’s top toiler has the least appealing cab layout of its Japanese counterparts, there’s no question whatsoever that the powertrain puts Fuso way out in front of its compatriot competitors. Put simply, and with the entire exercise done in auto mode, it was easy to conclude that no Japanese truck comes close to the smooth strength and efficiency of the Shogun 510’s performance attributes.

Over the long and historically challenging Pretty Sally climb, for instance, the Shogun 510 hauling 55 tonnes remained in the high range section of the transmission, dropping briefly to 7th gear at 1700rpm approaching the crest before quickly moving up through the range and settling smoothly and easily into the rolling countryside.

Driving through a relatively tall 0.775:1 overdrive top gear into a versatile 4.222:1 rear axle ratio, the Fuso notches 100km/h around 1650rpm but it was on undulating country roads where the impressively responsive 13 litre engine often showed a gritty and occasionally surprising determination to hang onto the top few gears.

For this type of work, the 510 rating appears ideal, and given the few kilometres under its belt and diverse demands of the route, a fuel figure of 1.9 km/litre (5.37 mpg) was at the very least, respectable.

Equally, on-road manners were generally good. Other than the bum-numbing driver’s seat, overall ride quality was fine and while steering was arguably too light for highway work – typical of heavy-duty trucks largely designed for Japanese conditions – it made for easy wheel work in and around the ’burbs.

Put simply, Fuso’s Shogun 510 appears ideally specified for local and shorthaul regional work at gross weights up to its rated GCM of 63 tonnes, with a safety kit second to none. The powertrain is efficient, responsive and shows an enviable tenacity in hilly conditions.

In performance terms it is undeniably a cut above its Japanese competition and the equal of any European contender in a similar power class.

Sure, the cab interior needs a considerable makeover but if you want the best of both worlds from the same stable – a good cab atop the same powertrain – spend the extra and buy a Benz.  

The biggest benefit is, perhaps, that Daimler at least provides the choice.