Truck of Year Australasia | And the contenders are…

Truck of the Year Australasia (ToYA) is upon us, and following Kenworth K220’s victory in the inaugural regional award, we find ourselves with three incredibly worthy and interesting contenders in 2024.

It took our international parent body 47 years to find BEV trucks slugging out with the diesel burners for the ultimate gong. It’s taken us only one full round. ToYA 2024 finds Volvo’s superb F Series electric in the ring with Western Star’s devilishly handsome X-Series and Scania’s ‘super’ Super range.

By the time you read this, Power Torque editor Tim Giles, Focus on Transport editor in chief Charleen Clarke and I will have bashed our fists on the table, stated our case and cast our vote. The winner will be announced at the Transport Maintenance and Safety Conference 2024 in Christchurch next month.

Tim and I have driven them all now, and Charleen is ready to hear what we have to say, acting as counsel from the parent organisation, throwing her thoughts and views into the ring also, of course.

For you, the reader, it is important to know that although we are affiliated to our parent International Truck of the Year organisation, we are not bound by any decision made by them in the award of IToY. While much of the criteria will naturally align, we have the autonomy to make decisions based on our region with its unique demands.

There’s no question this award would not be possible without the cooperation of the contending OEMs. We thank them for their integrity, understanding their truck is a contender only throughout the selection process. We would say however, making the cut is a high honour in itself.

Without further ado, here’s a brief rundown on this year’s big three. Oh, and to avoid any misguided reading between the lines, they’re presented in alphabetical order.

Scania Super Series

When Traton Group boss and Scania president and CEO Christian Levin said Scania’s Super Series was part of their “Vision for change, a world of sustainable transport,” it struck a note with many. Have we missed the first wave of low-hanging fruit in the tailpipe emissions race by not making the most of what Euro-6 offered? Pushing hard on the Euro-6 barrow at the regulatory level around the globe might well have allowed better commercial and infrastructural continuity while new alternatives came on stream, with their own supporting infrastructure in a less adolescent state.

Potentially the last combustion engine family for Scania, Super really does advance the discipline. A new singlehead, twin-overhead cam construction biofuel-capable engine, new Opticruise transmission and rear drive, all five years in the making. Scania says an 8% improvement in fuel consumption can be expected at the get-go on like-for-like work.

The key to Super is downspeeding, and to facilitate that, engineers have reset the bar on 13-litre engine torque output with 2800Nm (2065lb/ft) between 900 and 1400rpm from the 418kW (560hp) unit at the top of the range. The Swedish giant is also saying it’s the most durable powertrain ever.

Scania New Zealand sales director Deon Stephens pointed me toward Tim Sewell at KPH to leap behind the tiller of the latest G560 Super, with regular driver Mandeep Singh Maan on his nightly Auckland– Wairakei swap.

The first most noticeable impact is torque, and how fanatical this truck was about getting into overdrive or coast as soon as possible. With the cam and induction setup, rev recovery was quick too. It all leaves you with the impression of a complete absence of work happening below. This truck seems the zenith of the downspeeding concept. Upshifts came at 1350rpm and 90km/h cruise was 1200rpm (it’s 900rpm in Europe).

The new Opticruise transmission (models G33 and G25) is up to 75kg lighter and shifts are simply undetectable.

Mandeep normally leaves Auckland at around 43 tonne in his 8×4 and quad setup and with the rolling expanse of expressway now reaching Karapiro, this truck is – or would be – in its absolute element. I say ‘would be’ because the delays and roadworks on the expressway means he still heads across the Hauraki Plains to Tirau via SH2 and SH27 in the interests of time preservation – ironic.

The torque is this truck’s centrepiece and I rolled over St Stevens in 12th at 1350rpm and 80km/h.

“Mandeep’s a top operator,” says Tim. “He has an average consumption of 3.1kpl and he’s hell-bent on not stuffing that up.” I was under the pump with a watchful eye from the passenger seat, but I managed to get out with 2.9kpl for my leg down. That was a pass mark from the driver who gives me big grin and says, “I’ll be able to fix that up.” The fuel burn, or lack of it, is outrageous.

The G cab was super comfy, super familiar, and the truck sat like on rails. The unit’s a full air job from ground to driver’s seat and I did find the steering a little fidgety at times. Again, it could be bigsemi syndrome – they never let you forget they’re there, but it was also like that on the Ramarama straights out of Auckland. Anyway, who knows? It was nothing.

Come trip’s end it was a reluctant departure as Mandeep rolled off into the night. Great guy. Super truck!

Volvo F Series electric

Volvo Group Australia public relations and media manager Matt Wood invited us to ‘Brissy’ just before Christmas to drive the Volvo FH Electric. This is the machine that rocked the trucking world when it won IToY 2024 late last year. The first BEV to take the globe’s most coveted HGV award, that accolade came far earlier than anyone predicted, giving an indication of just how slick this thing is.

I love that fact that Volvo – like others – do the orthodox transmission and diff at this time in history. There are two reasons. First, the goal is zero tailpipe emissions; plain and simple. Let’s not overthink it. Second, customer – and let’s face it – OEM comfort. The more that looks familiar and is known, the better.

This truck is pitched at heavy regional and metro distribution – think Foodie’s and Countdown city routes. Specs are hard because this is essentially a device and when Matt was demonstrating the level of programmability it seemed a case of, ‘if you tell it it’s a teapot, it’ll make the tea’. To be fair, much of the programmability stuff is there on Series 5, and interestingly, Series 4 was in fact the birthplace of chassis and systems preparation for ‘another world’.

Three synchronous 163kW (222hp) electric motors take power from up to six 90kWh batteries, and deliver 2400Nm (1991lb/ft) of continuous torque.

Range is entirely dependent on what you’re carting, where, and the terrain between, but don’t think you’re saddling one up for your Brisbane–Melbourne run. Volvo will be incredibly interested in what it is you’re intending to do before it blesses the transaction – which will come with acres of optimisation support. Neither should you be fearful of enquiring – the unit we were in was sold.

Yes, there are limitations – with all its batteries, it weighs 12.5 tonne. Full air suspension and shoeing them with big front feet will be the norm. VGA and other OEMs are leading the lobbying charge in Australia on regulatory reform.

Charging ports are located on the right behind the front axle. Ours was CCS2, which will take a moderate dose high-capacity charge (375kW). Megawatt is the ultimate goal for the globe’s big BEVs.

Tim Giles and I leapt on board with Matt for a two-and-half-hour whip around the ‘burbs’ and out to the port at 43 tonne GCM.

Volvo will unleash the entire driver-aid suite on the big electrics to make the sparks go as far as possible: Rolling, coasting, ACC, I-See and, of course, the BEV party trick – regeneration. But at the end of the day, qualities that make a great diesel driver will make a great BEV driver – letting the machine do as much as possible, and anticipation. The power is instant and merciless when you do call it up. Unleash 100% of dead silent torque from revolution one, and you most definitely will get up and going. If you can imagine your smooth and silent Series 5 on smooth and silent steroids, you have FH Electric.

The cab and its controls are comforting and all-familiar with just the obvious difference around what’s being fed back – regeneration, battery life, etc. The motors are most happy around 9000 – 10,000rpm so … ‘yeah, nah’, we don’t need that info.

Matt was rattling through all sorts on the fly. “There you are, what about light steering?”

“Yuck! Put me back on normal-heavyish.” To be fair, it was fun-as.

Adaptive cruise and regen meant one pedal, and when you were good, no pedal driving was easy.

Where are we in history? It was summed up succinctly while parked at the port when one truckie roared past and screamed out an assumption on how we spend our solitary leisure moments, based entirely on the truck we were driving. Moments later an owner operator ran over from the container queue to ogle through the fence and ask where he could sign up!

Summation? The big OEMs are now BEV’ing, and it’s getting very cool to be around!

Western Star X-Series

I’m standing in the yard at Penske’s Wacol facility in Brisbane staring at a Western Star 48X 6×4 sporting an 48in mid-roof integral sleeper, and hooked to a B-double loaded to 60-tonne GCM. Driver trainer Steve Gibbons and I are about to head up the road a ways. You do have to pinch yourself in this job sometimes.

The long-awaited platform child for a brand associated with surviving in the harshest vocational work, Western Star has happily coped with down under’s darndest.

In recent years, the Star has patiently awaited its platform rebirth and at the Brisbane Truck Show last year, there it was, in living tin. If looks could kill, X-Series would be John Wick.

The dominant engine is Detroit up to DD16 at 448kW (600hp) and 2217Nm (2050lb/ft) with one Cummins popping up in the peppy 47X.

Daimler would like you to take the DT-12 AMT for all it brings to the party, but if you want a stick … this is a Western Star … yee shall have a stick. Allison makes an appearance in 47X if that’s your gig.

The New Zealand 47 and 48X spec will come with an eight-wheel option.

‘Vocational’ the tag might say, but the new X-Series wants for nothing in terms of safety and smarts. Detroit Assurance 5 means active braking (including pedestrian awareness), adaptive cruise to 0km/h, lane departure, tailgate warning, active speed intervention, aAuto headlights and wipers, intelligent highbeam, and optional side guard.

On the connectivity front, there’s a virtual technician and the Detroit Connect portal.

A two-pedaller, I flicked the wand tumbler into D, applied the welly. The big DD16 set at the full 448kW motored quietly out of the yard and up the cul-de-sac. DT-12 is a lovely AMT trans and it happily decided which gear was most appropriate. Yes, I could slap it up or down at will, and induce thrust via the throttle click, but wandering out of the city bounds, the truck had itself sorted. It needed me not.

Sixty-tonne all-up we rolled effortlessly out over the Gateway Bridge, cresting the arch at 1550rpm, 50km/h in ninth.

The DTNA platform cab is a lovely place to be. In the Western Star, we had the dark woodgrain look on the facia. In keeping with its origins and target market, the data is delivered in gauge form, a clear six-gauge set in the binnacle with more on the wrap. There’s a ‘Driver Control Centre’ (truck, driver, trip data) between the main binnacle gauge sets.

There is an immense amount of room in and around your legs and it really is incredibly relaxing. Swinging around to access the bunk is a doddle, and even in the 36in mid-roof, you can stand straight up from the cockpit.

The Star of the show rolled north up the Bruce Highway as we sat and chatted. Steering was bang-on! And I mean bangon. The Smart Wheel is platform family, and switchgear is easily reached and in logical clusters.

Vision is on point; it’s a big Cascadia-like vista obviously, and the pamphlets state there’s 28% more glass than the legacy trucks. They’ve really given the mirrors a bit of attention with minimal arms, lots of glass, and not too bad on the look-past left/right clearance.

The bonnet obviously slopes away on the 48X compared to the 49X, but it doesn’t render itself ‘referenceless’ in a sea of designooze. It’s a delight to place on the road.

Corridors like this are going to be a big part of the model’s life over here. Its VDAM and power mean it’s aimed right at that East Coast B-double market, and at T610. Likewise, with its 8×4 and power setting, it’s going to be our ‘Leatherman’ truck in the range.

Just south of Gympie is Carroy Hill, think St Stephens on the ‘Bombers’. She rounded that up at 1450rpm, at 36km/h in 8th. The DD16 has a lovely deep note down low, your classic 15 – 16L. It’s happy there too.

The DT-12 was exceptional at letting it roll over the top of a lessening gradient in the gear you were in too. I did wonder if 12 AMT cogs were enough for trans-Barkly triples in the face of a hot westerly?

The engine brake was honest but not in the retarder league. Brake blending will be exactly that.

All things considered, I didn’t do too bad on the consumption front. New truck, strange road, programmed for performance (the economy parameters were off ) at 60 tonne, and I got it to 52.5L/100 – 1.9kpl. Two should be child’s play with familiarity.

By the time I backed it into its possie at Penske Wacol I was ready to write poetry.

This is going to be a big machine in our region. It has the ability to re-establish one of Australasia’s great truck rivalries like two Buffaloes going hammer and tongs at each other.