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Play hard, before the competition catches up.

Isuzu Trucks in Australia isn’t waiting for the competition to catch up before it decides to protect its market domination.

After meetings in Tokyo during the Tokyo Motor Show, the Isuzu Australia managing director and CEO, Ms. Hiroko Yaguchi, told us this week that “Isuzu’s global presence is on the right track.”

Japan clearly recognises the Australian operation as a leading light in the company’s network of sales organisations. “Tenure of success is a great achievement,” Ms Yaguchi said, acknowledging the Melbourne based truck champion’s unparalleled 30+ years of leadership.

The company’s Australian director and COO, Andrew Harbison knows he has the support of his Japanese head office, but the local arm is aiming all its big guns on expanding its efforts in a growing market sector, the ready-to-work truck.

Senior engineer Simon Humphries was keen to pitch Isuzu as the application specialist, since developing its first TradePack back in 2003. That was when the only built up trucks that came from Japan were small tippers.

From that small start, Isuzu’s ready-to-work (RTW) range has grown to 40 models across six sub-categories of the Isuzu range. Isuzu sold over 10,000 trucks last year, and more than 25 per cent of them were RTW.

In the light truck sector the percentage is much higher. Over half of its N Series range is RTW. Furthermore, the trends suggest this percentage will grow as tradespeople in particular see the advantages of buy now, clock on tomorrow, then get paid on Friday.

In short, a customer looking to upgrade a work truck usually needs to factor in at least a few weeks delay until the body that will suit their application can be fabricated and fitted. Additionally, the customer will have to get the body serviced or repaired directly from a third-party source.

Isuzu’s RTW trucks are warranted from bumper to bumper for the full factory warranty term and can be serviced or repaired at the dealership.

RTW has many monikers, most of which are self-explanatory – TradePack, FreightPack, TrayPack, ServicePack, TipperPack, and VanPack. Now a new version is ready to launch that I suspect will make a direct impact on the tradie’s favourite rig – the 1-tonne double cab ute with a covered trailer full of tools.

ServicePack X has been developed locally and has been approved by Isuzu in Japan to enjoy full factory support for components that are Australian-designed and Australian-made. Based on the NPR and AWD NPS and NLS models, ServicePack X splits a 4335mm load area into two sections. The front 2.0-metres is a secure aluminium gullwing storage module that runs the full 2.08-metre width of the tray, with a stable-door type arrangement on the driver’s side. LED interior strip lighting is standard on each side as well.

Behind that is a 2.24-metre long dropside tray body with a split gate for step access to the rear. A heavy-duty towbar is standard, suitable for the 3.5-tonne towing capacity of all ServicePack X models

The working spec of the truck is impressive, with either a 3.0-litre 110kW, 375Nm or 5.2-litre 114kW, 419Nm Isuzu turbo diesel engine, Isuzu’s AMT 6-speed transmission and a truck chassis that can be uprated to 5.5-tonnes with a call to Isuzu Australia.

I drove the first ServicePack X unit in the country, the NPR 45-155 which was built up for ADR compliance assessment. NPR is the staple diet of Isuzu light trucks, and features the 3365mm wheelbase, the bigger engine and the 6-speed AMT transmission which now appears on more than 70 per cent of Isuzu N-Series sales.

Front suspension is a conventional I-beam axle with leaf springs and a stabiliser bar. It’s very much a truck front end and as such lacks the comparative refinement of most popular dual cab utes. But there’s no questioning its rugged heritage, and likely better resale value after a life of hard work.

Operators finding their current working rig at (or over) the legal limit of its payload and towing capacity would do well to have a very close look at this package.

Isuzu was keen to point out that with customer feedback, there is a likelihood more RTW variants will be developed. What next? FlatPack - for the Ikea delivery fleet?

The Isuzu team was also keen to present some new offerings in the heavy end of the market.

We were shown the new F Series dual control trucks with 14,000, 16,500 and 24,000kg GVMs. The 24-tonne FVs with either airbag or leaf spring rear ends are aimed squarely at the gap left by the exit of Iveco’s locally built ACCO. A built-up model was on display equipped with a Bucher Xtreme waste compactor.

The truck has Isuzu’s 6HK1-TCS 7.8-litre 6-cylinder with the Allison 3500 auto transmission. Front and rear axles are Meritor units and there’re drum brakes all round.

I predict that Isuzu dealers will be knocking on the doors of the waste contractors with as much enthusiasm as they did the concrete boys when they got the 8x4.

The final product refresh was the addition of two F series factory tippers, the 10.7-tonne 3.8m3 FRR and 14.0-tonne 5.2m3 FSR. The lighter unit has the 5.2-litre 4-cylinder and the heavier version the 7.8-litre 6-cylinder. Both have Isuzu’s air-assisted 6-speed manual as standard. The AMT is only available on the FRR.

Wrapping up the new model offerings meant reviewing the opportunities in the existing market. Local boss Andrew Harbison noted there was no sign of slowing growth in the freight task. “Amazon alone delivered five billion packages in 2018,” he reminded us. “It’s not going to get smaller.”

Isuzu’s move to expand its influence is a positive step of confidence in the local market, particularly with the detail of a signed agreement with Cummins now being developed in a secretive office in Yokahama. Isuzu’s electric vision was also on display at the Tokyo Motor Show with an unexpected walk-through van design.

Market leadership always brings a certain glow of satisfaction to manufacturers. Clearly Isuzu isn’t going to allow that indulgence to deter it from shaking things up.

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