A Sound platform

In Tests, Fuso43 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 22, 2020

Fuso‘s Shogun arrived just on a year ago and the story of its journey to our shores was as transparent as we‘ve ever seen. We wanted our first down-home test to be one in the right application, with the right firm, in a Kiwi-as location. Oh my goodness, how the wait paid off!

How about a Fuso Shogun in the livery of Northern Southland Transport, with body and trailer by TMC Trailers Ltd, tasked with the general freight run into Milford Sound? You couldn‘t nail it any better if you tried. It was a rare privilege to do this one. The section of State Highway 94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound is known for its endless stream of buses, campers, and distracted tourists, but not so much for trucks. Aside from driver Clifford McDowall in the new Fuso, there‘s really only a fuel service that goes beyond Te Anau Downs Station, which itself is only 30km or so north of Te Anau. In fact, you‘ll need to go back to the New Zealand Trucking July 1989 edition to find the last yarn written by Bryce Baird on Don Graham at the wheel of an MAN rigid and dog combination dragging fuel into the Sound for Gore Services Ltd. So as you can imagine, we were right chuffed when Brett Gilmour, rural manager at Northern Southland Transport, gave us the green light and told us to phone Aaron Webb in the operations role at the Te Anau depot to organise the finer details.

Photo: In the base of the Cleddau Valley heading home.

Sound reasoning
Northern Southland Transport is well known for applying its iconic livery to the Daimler family product. There are Argosys, a Fuso (two now), and of course their fave, Mercedes-Benz. “They just go and go and go,” said Aaron Webb, of the trucks carrying the three-pointed star. “Bloody great trucks.” However, on this occasion, the company decided to give the new platform Fuso a crack. A good choice. We‘ve always said this will be a great truck if sold into the right operation. The 10.7-litre OM470 engine is perfectly suited to the Milford freight run. There are hills for sure, but not as vicious as you‘d think, it‘s more of a gradual ascension to the highpoint of 945m at the Homer Tunnel, and remember you‘ve started from Te Anau at 210m elevation, so the net climb is 735m. Yes, it‘s a start at sea level back out of Milford, but empty vege crates and pallets will not breaketh man‘s machine. Inbound weights vary, and occasionally there‘s a solid load to go in, but 30 to 35 tonne GCM is common. This is the perfect pitch for the truck. “We have a Fuso tractor unit that has served us well, and when we saw this new model Fuso we were keen to put one in the fleet and the Milford run presented the perfect opportunity to do that,” said Brett Gilmour. “In terms of service life it‘ll be wait and see, but we‘re expecting around 800,000km.” And gone too are the days of OEMs cloaking the platforming thing.

Photos: A corner office with a view. That‘s when you know you‘ve made it!

Thank goodness for that. The reality is that in our high-cost low-margin world there is no other way to build vehicles for the masses than in a cost-effective manner. Throw in the benefits you can add to a platform suite with tech and artificial intelligence, and any other manufacturing methodology is surely madness. Neither does platforming discard individuality. Yes, the ShiftPilot transmission in the Shogun is the bones, organs, and skeleton of Daimler‘s PowerTorque-3 AMT, but Fuso breathed their life into its soul, just like Benz has, just like Freightliner has. Much of that ‘life‘ was configured right here in New Zealand too. Auckland-based Carr and Haslam was one of the chosen homes to a number of pre-launch test units. Those trucks trudged up and down the country festooned with all manner of data-capturing apparatus and number crunching bespectacled men from far-off places. Carr and Haslam‘s managing director Chris Carr will tell you what they ended up with was a ShiftPilot transmission that he thinks is better synched to Kiwiana than the PT-3s in his Mercedes-Benz products. That‘s saying something, because PT-3 is a rocking cog swapper in anyone‘s books. A quick round up of the Fuso‘s and facts and figures. The 10.7-litre 6-cylinder OM470 motor has the X-Pulse injection (low pressure common rail with electronic high pressure injectors), asymmetric turbo charging (twin scrolls – injection and EGR feed), and double overhead cam. The engine is cleaner than Euro 6 ( JP17 compliant for Japan) via cooled ERG, SCR and DPF.

Power is 338kW (460ps) at 1600rpm, although it‘s only a hair off the 1600rpm peak between 1500rpm and 1800rpm. Talking torque, it peaks at 2213Nm (1633lb/ft) at 1200rpm and the line is as near to flat as you can get from 1100 to 1450rpm. It all makes for a tenacious performance and an engine that‘ll scrap over the bone right down to 1250rpm-ish where the power line passes through the torque line heading south. This engine doesn‘t perform like your traditional Japanese engine, because it‘s not. And there‘s a bit in that comment in terms of driving style. The ShiftPilot 12-speed AMT complements the flexible motor beautifully, and in their various Daimler guises this engine transmission duo really is a romance of machinery. When you consider modern-day margin preservers like ecoroll, Fuso has done the right thing in eliminating any potential long and protracted conversations around why you should choose the AMT over a manual. The bulk of sales of these things will be into fleets of some sort, and not zealots of trucking‘s sub-culture. These trucks are all about making the driver‘s life a pleasure, CFOs smile, and H&S fanatics swoon. The Daimler driveline ticks all of those boxes. Front axles are Fuso 900T ‘I‘ beam rated at 13,000kg for the pair and they ride on taper leaf springs with stabiliser bar and shock. Rearward, D10 hypoid axles at 4.625:1 with diff locks rated at 21,600kg, ride on 6-rod suspension (there‘s no air suspension option currently). A big point of difference between the Fuso and UD‘s platform Quon is Fuso‘s retention of drum brakes. National technical chief Ian Porter said at the time of the launch here that the development cost wasn‘t worth any perceived pick-up, especially considering the smarts around braking these days. It‘s an interesting one and if nothing else it leaves dry powder for an update or facelift model. The Fuso has EBS/ABS and ESC. The truck rides on 295/80 R22.5 in front and 11 R22.5 on the drives.

Photo: Plenty of room!

Safe and sound
Of course some of Fuso‘s big-ticket items are the safety and efficiency features that come as standard. Fuso says it‘s the safest Japanese heavy truck on the market and that‘s a big thing, especially in companies like Northern Southland that run the Mercedes-Benz product. Knowing Clifford‘s no less looked after than the driver of the Fuso‘s flashest German sibling further enables smart, application-based purchasing. Adaptive Cruise with Proximity Control (meaning it‘ll stop and take off ) probably won‘t get ‘overused‘, but considering the benefits, it should certainly be trained and then deployed as confidence grows. Active Brake Assist 4, however, may well come in very handy if Clifford‘s checking his mirror when Joe Bloggs decides to stop for a selfie with the Hollyford Valley; it may prevent them both ending up ‘in‘ the Hollyford Valley! It‘ll be interesting to see if there are any pesky bits on the Milford Road that trigger the radar. Anti-Slip Regulation will certainly know it‘s alive, and Lane Departure could be handy, but we‘d be surprised if Attention Assist has a high workload in this truck. If you found yourself on the Milford Sound freight run and Attention Assist was busy, it‘d be fair to say you wouldn‘t be there long enough to warrant a set of memoirs, rather make sure your affairs were in order instead. One of the big pushes with the new model at the previews in Japan was connectivity and predictive servicing. We asked the question of PCV‘s Steve Gerard, but as yet there‘s no offering here. Admittedly it‘s a big infrastructure to set up, but it‘s something we need to catch up on across the industry, especially while the Beehive‘s bedtime reading appears to be The Congo‘s Guide to a Highway Network. There are other options to enhance efficiency and safety too: things like additional cameras that can relay through the touch screen, tyre pressure monitoring for up to 36 tyres, and reversing sensors are among them. As it stands, service intervals are 60,000km with a recommended 15,000km safety check.

The bold and the beautiful
We spent two days with Clifford McDowall in the Fuso, prior to Mother Nature unleashing her fury on the Milford Road a couple of weeks later and buggering it for a spell. How lucky was that? There‘s something inherently appropriate about putting a driver on the Milford run whose Christian name has the first syllable Cliff. In terms of prettiest freight run in the world, Clifford‘s would have to be a global top contender. We met him at 5am in the Te Anau depot on a clear-as-crystal summer morning. He likes to start early so he can make the most of the sleeping tourists, getting into Milford Sound village before the bulk of them alight from their slumber. The road runs along the Eastern side of Lake Te Anau, through farmland and then into beech forest once the private land finishes. From there it climbs up to The Divide, the actual spine of the Southern Alps and start of the Routeburn Track. At that point the awe-inspiring Hollyford Valley opens up in front of you, the road following its southern side up the steep pinch to Monkey Creek and then on through the majestic glacial U-shaped valley and on up to the Homer Tunnel. Out the other side it‘s straight down the famous zigzag, descending the Cleddau Valley to the Milford village. It‘s an utterly breathtaking drive regardless of how many times you do it.

The freight must get through
There‘s no question the Milford Sound freight run still has an element of Wells Fargo/Pony Express/Cobb and Co about it. A bunch of folk at the end of the line relying on one man and his chariot to get their supplies to them down a dangerous road that almost has a soul of its own. Thankfully Clifford‘s from Gore, and far less of a romantic. As far as he‘s concerned, he just does the Milford Sound freight run. So here we were in the pre-dawn trundling along the side of Lake Te Anau in a brand new Fuso Shogun 3246 with only 6000km on the clock. As you‘ll know if you‘re a regular follower, we like them a little more broken in normally, just so the driver‘s had more time to acclimatise, but this time it‘s a pretty fresh jigger. Clifford was in his third week with the truck, so it‘s not a run on which the kilometres will run away quickly. In saying that, the longest piece of straight road is probably a kilometre at best, and in every other thousand-metre stretch you‘re tweaking direction slightly, changing direction significantly, looking for a summit, or containing impetus on a decline.

You need uptime and reliability on this road and in this instance they‘re not quite the same. Uptime in terms of significant disruptions, things like breakdowns – forget your cell phone as effective communication – and reliability in a more discreet sense, meaning if you‘re coming down the zigzag heavy, then you must have absolute confidence that when you engage the Jacobs wand, ole Jake will be there…every single time. “It‘s a little bouncier than the old girl,” he says of the Fuso, comparing it with the elderly Benz he came off. “It‘s still new and tight but the steel suspension is definitely firmer than the air suspension in the old truck.” He then qualifies his comments with a summation of the road‘s deterioration as we motor on toward The Divide.

Photos: Although it‘s a tricky back up a narrow alley at the main Milford complex, Clifford can then set himself up for multiple drops without anyone getting in the way. Out come the frozen.

“It‘s definitely lost ground. It‘s as rough as buggery in places. And up on the top they‘ve put those bloody guard rails in! Now when it snows the snow has nowhere to go and builds up between the rails!” We didn‘t get the snowy splendour that Bryce got for his story back in 89, and we missed the rain too. It was good odds we‘d miss the snow considering the time of year, but given the immediate area receives six metres of rain per annum, we felt like lady luck was ridin‘ shotgun getting two clear days on the trot. He was right; the road was twitchy and rough in places, however the Fuso threaded its way through the beech trees as a new truck should. The ride was firm on the 4-point airbag setup, and there‘s precious little body roll; it‘s a very sure-footed purposeful-feeling machine. Today was ‘tracks and boats‘ day, and tomorrow would be ‘lodges‘. ‘Tracks‘ means rendezvousing with a helicopter that takes special cages directly to the luxury huts on the Milford Track, so that was pretty cool. Climbing up past The Divide you can see the gargantuan silhouettes of the mountains in the moonlight and you feel like you‘re intruding on the set of one of PJ‘s good flicks. The cab has a spacious feel with the high-top option and it‘s a lovely environment for Clifford to work in as long as he doesn‘t want to leave the driver‘s seat. It‘s not an austere place and there‘s a good amount of noise, meaning just right. The OM470 is a nuggetysounding wee burner with a satisfying note in and around the 69-decibel-mark, especially when it has something to do.

Photos: Incoming, hook up the next consignment, out! A week‘s work with a horse over in 15 minutes.

We had more on the truck on the second day, the mid-30s all-up, which represented a typical run, and the Fuso made short work of the pinch up to Monkey Creek at 40kph in 9th and 1850rpm. Clifford said it‘s the steepest part on the run in, and he‘s never seen the truck any lower than 9th regardless of what‘s in tow. In terms of driving style Clifford‘s cautious and prefers to control the situation himself, opting for manual most of the time and keeping it humming at that. “I‘d rather have something there all the time. In auto it‘s looking for top too often I reckon, and if you lose grip there‘s nothing to come and go on.” On this road impetus can be your bestie no doubt, and with the old Inomat box we‘d be right there with him, but the ShiftPilot is so quick at recovering. Our mind went back to last year‘s drive day and the tipper and dog at 45 tonne in the gnarly back country of Te Akau between Tuakau and Huntly. We drove into a particularly sharp pinch and the ShiftPilot caught the truck no problem; in its predecessor you‘d have been cast. From a fuel consumption point of view, we think in times of known weather (days like today), it‘s be worth letting it do its thing maybe.

Photos: Lights in the bodies, and access steps everywhere. Practical, usable, handy, safety.

The Homer Tunnel – what a truly wondrous piece of Kiwiana. The country‘s third-longest road tunnel after Waterview and Lyttelton, but undoubtedly first in every other category: things like, charisma, danger, and coolness (both definitions). A hole in a mountain with close to a thousand metres of ominous solid rock above the portal. It was started in the Great Depression and finished in the early 50s. If you‘ve never read Men of the Milford Road by Harold J Anderson, you should. The light turns green and in we go. The TMC body and brand new trailer are built to 3900mm high in order to get through. It‘s a one-lane tunnel on account of buses and trucks, but two cars could certainly pass. The surface is compacted and rutted with water trails and wear, and it‘s a 30kph exercise at best as you descend the 127m between the east and west portals over its 1270-metre length. If you‘re in there and the Alps ‘fart‘…well, the freight would be late, very late. Down the famous zigzag into the Cleddau Valley and modern trucks really have zero issue with this kind of thing any more. The number and quality of brakes they have make any incident rarely any fault of the truck. The Fuso‘s anchors were superb, and Clifford is exceptionally steady and sure-footed. The Jacobs engine brake was also a big part of the launch hype and it is a wonderful servant when you need to bring road transport to a stop. The OM470 will give you 338kW (460PS) of hold-back and that‘s ample for what Clifford needs. Down, down, down, we went.

Photo: At the ferry terminal with much-needed supplies for tonight‘s excursions.

A multi tool
Clifford really is the perfect man for this job, and he‘s been on it for three years. It‘s a job that requires complete calm and patience as the global family arrive in buses, campers, cars, and goodness knows what else to tick off a childhood bucket list item. They‘re largely oblivious to an 8-axle combination in their midst. Clifford backs the trailer up a service alley in the middle of the main Milford Sound complex, and drops it there, creating himself a wee DC so to speak. “I put it up here because it‘s out of the way. We used to put it out front but they‘ll park in front of it, behind it, beside it. It‘s tight up here, but easier and quicker in the long run. I can ferry stuff to three or four of the customers from here using the fork hoist without having to go out there,” he said, pointing to the carpark mayhem unfolding as the sun rose. He has a great rapport with the locals and everyone greets each other. The Fuso‘s manoeuvrability was impressive (21.6m lock kerb to kerb) as Clifford pottered around taking supplies down to the cruise boat terminal, lodges on the edge of town, and then to the helicopter pad for the exciting bit. You know when you‘re in Milford that our incursion into this place will only be a blip in the annals of time. Out the back of the ferry terminal there‘s an extra-shiny piece of cliff. “There was a shed there,” said Clifford, pointing to the area under the shiny rock face. “But that piece of topsoil couldn‘t cling to the rock any longer.” Bye bye shed.

Photo: Back up the zigzag toward the hole in the rock.

Watching, photographing, chatting, and helping gave us time to look over and get a feel for the body and trailer build. It‘s a configuration on its third incarnation on the run, although the Anteo tail lift is a new addition this time. The truck body is a solid side and curtain split with side access doors on the solid section. That said, it‘s still all one cavity with moveable baffles creating the partition. Clifford said the curtains are really good and the frozens easily stay that way even if it‘s a whole pallet into the curtain space. The trailer is a straight ambient curtainsider and a welcome addition. “The older trailer was really old,” said Clifford. “The freight rides beautifully in this. You couldn‘t keep it still in the old one.” It‘s good to get in and play with a unit. Driving‘s one thing but time in trucking is made up working in and around the unit – well, it used to be before cones, zones, gnomes, and fancy dress. Northern Southland and TMC have done a great job making a truck that‘s quick to work around and practically safe, meaning useful stuff that makes life easier, things like step-ups on all the corners, light inside, good toolboxes, it all just works. “NSTH [Northern Southland Transport] are a great customer and we appreciate their continued support,” said Paul ‘Skippy‘ Goodman, from the sales team at TMC. Down at the helipad the special sling cages were unloaded with a pallet jack and lined up. The helicopter pilot spoke to Trevor from Ultimate Hikes who was there to sort the consignments and hook up the slings. Before you knew it we were awash in downdraft and Trevor quickly connected the cages to the chopper, and 15 minutes later the Squirrel had completed a job that would have taken a packhorse a week and two trips.

Inside out
A morning of deliveries and it was time to load empties, which pretty much filled the trailer and half the truck. Vege crates, pallets, some drums of waste cooking oil, a cage of recycling, bags of milk bottles; what comes into the Sound must also go out. This is a clean place and it‘s befitting with Euro 6 that this is an extremely clean truck. We hooked up the trailer, and heading out we asked Clifford about memorable moments on the road in his three years. “It‘s hard to say. It‘s probably the times when they just stop. I mean stop, right in the middle of the lane, and get out to take a picture. You just have to shake your head.” Interestingly, the challenges aren‘t all about the other road users though. There are things like the section alongside the Hollyford River where it narrows to one lane as it rounds some bluffs. It‘s regulated by the usual big arrow/little arrow right of way sign. Trouble is, you can‘t see one end from the other, so the system sort of falls apart. Clifford chuckled. “Yeah, you just deal with it.” By the time we were rolling out the Tourist Bus 500 was well under way ferrying people in for their overnight cruise in the Sounds. “You have to be careful,” Clifford gave a bit of a Southern smirk. “If you haven‘t passed them by a certain point, then you know they‘re running late.” He said there‘s a good community on the road, and everyone has a look-after-each-other attitude. As we said, cell phones are paperweights. Clifford does have a satellite device on the dash, but that‘s not for breakdowns. “If I press ‘that‘ button, it‘s helicopters and everything to the ping‘s location. “Apart from that, the Milford Roads crew who constantly patrol the highway and look after the tunnel always have their eye out, and they do have special phones that seem to get out from places normal ones won‘t. The key is to have a reliable truck to start with and we should have that now. The old girl was getting unreliable so had to go.”

Photo: Spot the freight truck. The Fuso is dwarfed by its surrounds

What a couple of days. Not to be forgotten in a hurry that‘s for real. Shogun has found a home and appears to be delivering what was promised in applications suited to its makeup and capabilities. This was an immensely enjoyable and capable machine, and is one of two Japanese brands that have redefined what a product from that part of the world should deliver at this point in history. Because of the age of the truck and the amount of time Clifford‘s had with it, we didn‘t worry about consumption; that would have been unfair on man and machine. There‘ll be other chances to home in on that. With the loadings and the fact it‘s Euro 6, there‘s no reason not to expect a figure a decent decimal over 2.0kpl if driven well. One of the big challenges with this truck will be the constant need to communicate to the market that this is not a successor to the HD 470, it‘s a replacement. Whatever your opinions on the old truck were, they carry no weight or relevance with this one. We‘ve said before that the making of this machine will be the 520hp 13-litre when it arrives. That truck will take a lot of pressure off this truck to be something it can never be. That machine should be an absolute gem and we can‘t wait to get our hands on one. However, if Fuso have any intention of using the 520 to poke some holes in the likes of DAF‘s market share, then something will have to be done about that cab space.


Daytime friends
Externally the new Fuso follows the previous truck in terms of design cues, but the lower flanks in particular are entirely different in appearance when you see one parked alongside the other. The grille cuts deeper into the bumper and the LED/ halogen headlights have a far more purposeful ‘grrrr‘ look about them, mounted in big chunky quarter panels. There are more chrome embellishments on the new front too, just enough, not too much. It ups the class factor for sure. With one notable exception, the cab of the Shogun is a lovely place; it‘s had our tick of approval on two previous occasions. The platforming certainly carries through to internals in a hotel chain kind of way. If you blindfolded a Benz driver and sat him or her in a Shogun, for a split second after whipping the blindfold off they‘d say, ‘yep!‘… and then they‘d look left and say ‘hang on, where‘s all the space?‘ Exactly, where‘s all the space? Well, we know where it is. Under a sea of plastic. Yes, we‘ve been here before, but we‘re truckers and we‘ll always go here. We know 64 million people have more sway than five million, but it is a shame. For those who don‘t know, let‘s recap. Japanese drivers spend eons waiting in queues at DCs and ports to load, and they don‘t do sleeper cabs.

Photos: Binnacle and  wrap are efficient, easy to use, clean, classy, and certainly give more than a hint to the truck‘s platform family ties.

They recline, rest their head on the B-pillar, put their feet up on the central island and shut their weary eyes. And that, ladies and gents, is why Fuso, UD, Isuzu, and to a lesser degree, Hino, fill up that space with what is essentially a utilitarian melange of cubbies that double as a La-Z-Boy foot rest. Anyway. Back to our blindfolded Benz driver. The other thing he‘d do should he attempt to depart is put the windscreen wipers in gear rather than the truck. Then he‘d really know something was wrong. No issue here by the way, and remember Japan‘s a right-hand drive country (gear lever on the left peeps), so you Benz drivers…you‘re the ones with the shifter on the wrong side, LOL. It‘s a dark interior, blacks, greys, with some fawn up top, and the New Zealand spec has additional soundproofing probably on account of our trucks getting more revvy more often than those ambling around the Japanese motorway system. The driver‘s seat is straight from Daimler, and part of the platform thing being implicated in some of the smarts the truck has. Both Twiggy and Jabba the Hutt could find a comfortable driving position via seat and steering adjustment. The origins of the binnacle and beautiful wrap are definitely Deutschland rather than Rising Sun. The binnacle is a twoby- two gauge setup with the trip data and telemetry screen between the gauge nests, and the headlight switch out to the right. Switchgear, infotainment (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto)/camera screen, climate management, and in this truck the chiller control unit, are all located on the wrap. The wee fitting bunged on the top of the binnacle is the fatigue management apparatus in case you were wondering. On a console to the left of the driver are the park and trailer controls. The smart wheel is a Mercedes-Benz identical. On the right spoke are phone and cruise control management, and on the left menu controls and associated navigation and selection buttons. There are two steering column wands. Left is the direction controller in a tumbler style built into the wand body with up and down for manual shifts.

Photos: From left: Big locker in the front overhead that‘s not real easy to access on account of what‘s beneath it. Plenty of room for lockers in the bunk area.

Pull and push for the engine brake. On the right there are indicators and wipers with the latter in tumbler style also to bring balance to the universe… Classy touch. The interior in terms of fit and finish echos a Euro vibe rather than a Japanese one, however materials-wise it‘s more in keeping with its country of origin. The dash is clad in a carbon-fibre and brushed aluminium-look plastic, with tough hardwearing plastics elsewhere and felt panels lining the upper cab. Storage in the high-top cab with its 350mm extra headroom: yep, okay, so no lockers high and rear in the rest area, and one big locker central overhead in the front. Lockers for Africa in the central island. That makes the extra 350mm in the roof not headroom, just space. Space where you don‘t need it, and lockers where you need space. If we were passing over the pingas for a Shogun we‘d buy the day cab, just to avoid a mildly tearful session at the start of each day. They who clear the decks shall win. Getting in and out of the Shogun is a piece of cake, with four well-placed steps into the cabin. The OCD that was present in the wand design didn‘t stretch to door handles which don‘t match. Yes we know why, but… All in all, a lovely cab, but like its Japanese brethren, its life is hampered by an arrow in its heel.

Fire and ice
Hailing from Gore originally, Clifford McDowall has spent the bulk of his working life in and around the Australian mining scene. He doesn‘t come from a trucking background, although he does