Stayin' Ahead of the Pack
Diesel - by Steve Brooks
Don't expect a major makeover or breakthrough
developments in the Isuzu models recently launched to meet
Australia's latest emissions regulation. What you can expect,
however, is a continuation of the features and initiatives honed
over the past three years or so to maintain the brand's entrenched
leadership of the Australian market. STEVE BROOKS
Given that it now has 22 consecutive years of Australian market
leadership locked in the vault, most reasonable people would
probably forgive Isuzu if a hint of arrogance or ego were to
surface during the presentation of a new or updated model range.
After all, such a long stint at the top of the tree in any industry
or profession is a truly remarkable achievement, and one unlikely
to be surpassed for many generations to come.
In fact, with such a Herculean hold on market supremacy, the
question is 'if' rather than 'when' Isuzu's domination might
dwindle. Right now, and despite some ambitious claims from
hopefuls, there appears no contender with the ability and resources
to even threaten the throne, let alone topple it.
So again, you'd perhaps excuse Isuzu Australia executives for a
touch of exuberant excess, even if it included a snide swipe at the
competitors who to various extents probably deserve some
acknowledgement for allowing Isuzu's grip to grow so strong for so
The fact is though, self-effacement and hubris are rarely, if
ever, part of the Isuzu Australia agenda. Sure, the company's
leading lights aren't shy about voicing the virtues of their latest
products or presenting figures which highlight the brand's healthy
hold on market leadership, but as for brash assertions about
company cleverness or competitor shortcomings, they simply don't
surface. At least, not at press events! It's probably a vastly
different story at dealer meetings where money, market share, and
model availability are perhaps the motivation for much animated
conversation, but in the public arena it's a decidedly reserved
approach. It is, however, an approach that should be in no way
interpreted as a sign of complacency, or worse, weakness.
For instance, at the release of its Euro 5 range to meet the
recently enacted ADR 80/03 emissions standard, company director and
chief operating officer Phil Taylor - a bloke whose smiling
countenance shrouds a fierce competitive streak - commented in
simple, uncompromising terms that, "IAL (Isuzu Australia Limited)
will not become complacent (and) recognises strong pressure from
traditional competitors and new ones." The 'new ones' are obviously
Korean and Chinese brands but signalling the company's intention to
hold the high ground against aggressors of all persuasions, it was
a determined Taylor who reinforced the message that IAL will not be
slackening its efforts to continue the emphatic domination which
has made Isuzu the most popular brand in the history of the
Australian trucking industry.
Yet while it can be accurately asserted that a good deal of
Isuzu's strength in this country can be traced back many years to
the halcyon days of the General Motors-Holden's dealer network and
Isuzu's timely replacement of the Bedford brand, it can be equally
asserted that much of Isuzu's modern success comes from the
Japanese maker distancing itself from the General Motors malaise:
That, and the fact that product development initiatives have become
an increasingly key component of the plan to maintain a solid
buffer between it and its main rivals.
Helping the cause in no small way is Isuzu Motors' (Japan)
recognition that its Australian offshoot is delivering increasingly
healthy contributions to the corporation's overall performance and
therefore, is at least deserving of an attentive ear when it comes
to product requirements. On the evolution of Australian emissions
standards, for instance, IAL wanted to take a major leap ahead of
its rivals with a number of significant product initiatives and
from the outside looking in, Japan was more than willing to make it
happen. And so it should! As IAL managing director Yuki Murata
pointed out, the Australian market now contributes more to Isuzu
Motors' bottom line than either the US or European markets.
Thus, in 2007 with Australia's ADR 80/02 emissions regulation
due in January the following year, Isuzu introduced an entirely new
line-up of N and F-series models containing features which in
technical terms took the brand well ahead of its rivals. Similarly,
and in stark contrast to the widespread opinion that Japanese
brands tend to follow technological trends rather than create them,
the new range also demonstrated that Japan is entirely capable of
taking the lead in product initiatives when the corporate mindset
and the market potential are duly aligned.
Most prominent among Isuzu's '07 initiatives were the
availability on many N and F-series models of an automated manual
transmission (AMT) and perhaps most surprising of all, a diesel
particulate diffuser (DPD) working in concert with exhaust gas
recirculation (EGR) to meet the ADR 80/02 standard. At this point
it must be emphasised that to meet the 2007 regulation Isuzu
Australia DID NOT need to opt for a DPD - known everywhere else as
a DPF, or diesel particulate filter - with its inherent and
potentially troublesome regeneration process to burn off the
accumulated particulate matter (soot) stored in the diffuser,
Furthermore, it needs to be understood that all truck suppliers
had several options for compliance with ADR 80/02: They could meet
the then new Australian requirement by adopting an emissions system
compliant with the United States' 2004 standard or they could opt
for compliance with the notably tougher Euro 4 regulation. Isuzu
went for the Euro model and with an emissions system based on EGR,
that meant the use of a diesel particulate filter. Sorry,
To further sharpen its environmental edge, in 2008 the company
went to full Euro 5 compliance on its newly launched FX models and
flagship Giga range. And to add an even greener tinge, Isuzu
earlier this year introduced several N and F-series models fuelled
by compressed natural gas. More recently, FX and Giga models have
swapped from a diesel particulate diffuser to the greater
simplicity of a diesel oxidation catalyst. It remains to be seen if
other models will follow suit. For the moment, Isuzu isn't
The right choice
But back on the 2007 initiatives, IAL's senior people today
admit they paid a price for being first with both AMT and DPD. But
if they had their time over again, would they take the same path?
Across the board, the answer is an emphatic 'Yes!' and with the
advantage of hindsight and sales records from the past three years,
it's easy to understand why.
Starting with the automated transmission, the timing was
perfect. In short, the Australian market was entirely ready and
even eager for a factory fitted automated shifter, particularly in
trucks designed primarily for metro operations. And sure, there
have been performance and reliability issues with AMT in some
models, a fact not denied by Isuzu personnel nor missed by
competitors. Still, the overall acceptance of AMT in both N and
F-series models has been extremely strong and more than one
operative from a competitor brand has quietly rued the absence of
an automated option from their own line-up.
Asked if AMT's dilemmas are now behind, a candid Phil Taylor
responded, "We've had to make some fixes, for sure, but we're
certainly on top of the issues." Sales of AMT models remain
extremely strong, he insists.
However, choosing to meet the ADR 80/02 standard with a Euro 4
system that by necessity required a DPD component was a
significantly more challenging exercise with significantly greater
potential for problems. Yet much like the market's readiness for
AMT, Isuzu executives maintain that many sectors of the market,
particularly government bodies and their various utilities, and
major transport fleets seeking to demonstrate their 'green'
credentials with an increasing number of environmentally conscious
customers, were entirely agreeable with the decision to run the
Euro 4 standard from 2007 onwards.
Indeed, despite the destabilising influence of the global
financial crisis and the inherent price penalties associated with
both AMT and DPD, Isuzu's market shares in both light and
medium-duty categories, and the wide margins to its nearest
competitors, have over the past three years remained remarkably
consistent. The brand actually increased market share during the
worst of the financial crisis.
Still, DPD has been the cause of considerable consternation
within IAL and according to Phil Taylor and product planning and
engineering manager Colin White, the essence of the problem was
confusion and a lack of education regarding the system's
regeneration process, particularly in diagnostic terms: In effect,
the education of dealers and service personnel, the education of
fleet personnel and perhaps most importantly, the education of body
builders. It was, for example, a blunt Phil Taylor who said simply,
"You couldn't believe what some people would do to a complex piece
of componentry to make it easy to fit a body to a truck. It created
havoc with diagnostics and was a problem we didn't really foresee
and I won't deny that it took a huge amount of effort to correct.
It's been a long process but we're pretty much there now."
Indeed, it was an upbeat Phil Taylor who said IAL's "...
knowledge and experience with DPD extends beyond the physical part.
Servicing a DPD is a complex task which requires specialist
training and knowledge (and) we now have three years experience
with DPD technology.
"Our competitors will be faced with a steep learning curve," he
remarked. That is, of course, if they choose to meet ADR 80/03 with
an emissions system based on EGR and a diesel particulate filter.
Some have obviously chosen the SCR - selective catalytic reduction
- route but in some cases that, too, requires a particulate
Whatever the case though, it is an adamant Phil Taylor and Colin
White who emphasise that with choosing to run a DPD back in 2007,
meeting the 2011 ADR 80/03 standard required only minor refinements
for the market leader. Meantime, price increases will be minimal
says Taylor, citing a 1.2 to 1.3 percent increase on N-series
models and "a modest increase" on F-series.
Typically, Isuzu's launch of its Euro 5 range was a professional
and polished event headed by a drive program with no less than 12
different models loaded to around 80 percent of capacity, ranging
from an FX six-wheeler to N-series lightweights and not
surprisingly, several new derivatives from both N and F-series
families. Likewise, the demo units included versions stirring
through a mix of manual, AMT and automatic transmissions, all
running over a wide range of terrain from the hills of the Gold
Coast hinterland to Brisbane's suburban roads and freeways.
It would obviously consume a massive amount of space to report
on the individual performance of different models. It would also be
a waste of time given that notable differences between Isuzu's Euro
4 and Euro 5 models are almost non-existent from the driver's
chair. There are, however, two factors worth noting: One is engine
noise, or rather the lack of it. While it's certain there are some
operators totally unimpressed by the costs and complexity
associated with modern emissions standards, there can be equal
certainty that engine noise levels in the great majority of cases
have diminished considerably with the introduction of increasingly
tougher emissions standards. The latest Isuzus are incredibly
Also, for those with a particularly green bent, it's worth
mentioning that the introduction of ADR 80/03 marks the first
occasion where the relevant emissions standard for trucks is more
stringent than that for cars. It was a point eagerly emphasised by
Phil Taylor who is also president of the Truck Industry Council.
"Reduced emissions in trucks are unfortunately one of the
industry's best kept secrets," he commented, the cynicism almost
The other factor worth a somewhat caustic mention - and which
Isuzu chose to omit from its press material - is the inclusion of
an ugly front under-run protection (FUPS) bar on those F-series
models fitted with a front axle rated at six tonnes. The bar has
been fitted, of course, to provide an increase in front axle load
to 6.5 tonnes - as prescribed by authorities convinced of FUPS'
safety value - but even to the casual eye it's difficult to
comprehend how a firmly fixed and low slung piece of steel bar with
all the sophistication of a sledge hammer offers any safety benefit
to other road users. What's more, in operational terms it's sure to
have a detrimental effect on ground clearance and approach angle.
Most disappointing of all though, its design appears to have been
little more than an afterthought or a quick fix for commercial
gain. Yet despite the bar's questionable safety value, it still
seems fair to expect something significantly more refined and
appealing from the entrenched market leader.
As for the rest of the story on Isuzu's Euro 5 range, here are
the highlights from Isuzu's press material ...
To complete the journey to ADR 80/03, Isuzu's N and F series
- Continue to be fitted with a DPD.
- Use revised engine control module (ECM) software.
- Adopt improved exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) coolers to
reduce NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions.
- Feature higher injection pressure.
- Include a fuel cooler and primary fuel filter on NLR, NLS and
- Additionally, Isuzu has introduced six new variants across the
light-duty N-series and medium-duty F-series.
- In the medium-duty range, the FSR X-Long with a 6500 mm
wheelbase, the FTR medium-long with a 6050 mm spread, and an FVR
1000 Auto model are the latest additions to the 62-strong F-series
- Meanwhile, the popular FTS 850 has received a gross weight
increase from 13.5 to 13.9 tonnes.
Continuing to power all F-series models are Isuzu's SiTEC Series
III engines ranging from the four cylinder 5.2 litre SiTEC 205 to
the six cylinder, 7.8 litre SiTEC 235, 255 and 295 versions. All
the Euro 5 engines feature variable geometry turbochargers,
air-to-air intercooling, high pressure common-rail fuel injection
and of course, cooled EGR systems and a diesel particulate
What's more, F-series models except 4x4 variants also come
standard with ABS brakes, hill start aid, a spring park brake
operating on the rear wheels, and on FRR and FSR models, an
anti-skid regulator (ASR). An engine immobiliser and remote keyless
entry are standard items on all models, again except for
four-wheel-drive derivatives. Every F-series truck, however, is
supplied with an excellent Isri 6860 airsuspended driver's
On the super-successful N-series range, a line-up which
invariably holds close to 40 percent of the light-duty sector - and
almost always double the volume of its nearest competitor - three
new variants have been added starting with an NLS 200 which is now
available with a six-seater crew cab on a 3360 mm wheelbase.
Still on the NLS, there's now also a tipper version with a 4.5
tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM) on a 2740 mm wheelbase. Likewise, an
NLR 275 tipper is about to be offered featuring a 5.5 tonne
Another notable and no doubt welcome change is the adoption of
taper-leaf front springs to replace multi-leaf packs on NPR 250,
300 and 400 models as well as the NQR 450, providing 30 percent
greater capacity and improved ride quality.
Availability of the popular AMT shifter continues across both
N-series and F-series models while drivers who have struggled with
the dim interior lighting of N-series trucks will be pleased with
the introduction of a powerful fluorescent lamp in all models.
On 'Premium' N-series models, a driver's suspension seat has
been added to the standard inventory while power windows and
keyless entry have been made standard on all models.
At the top of the range, there have been notable changes to
Isuzu's heavy-duty FX and Giga models with the move to a diesel
oxidation catalyst. The FX, for instance, is driven by a SiTEC
Series III engine now rated at 256 kW (343 hp), up 13 kW (17 hp) on
the previous rating.
In the Giga range, there's now an additional 309 kW (415 hp)
rating in CXZ and CXY models along with revised fuel calibrations,
a reduction in engine revolutions at cruising speeds, and modified
shift programs in 12 and 16-speed AMT models.
For the time being, that's the majority of Isuzu's enhancements
marking the introduction of its Euro 5 model range. Yet while Isuzu
Australia executives weren't particularly forthcoming when asked
about future developments - especially an eight-wheeler FX and a
new, smaller engine displacement for Giga - it'd take an extremely
brave, immensely naive or downright daft individual to suggest that
future product plans have gone into hibernation with the launch of
Euro 5 models.
As the last two decades and more have shown with absolute
authority, hibernation is simply not part of the plan.
It's all in the numbers
While December's figures were still to come when this issue
closed for press, there was no question whatsoever that 2010 would
go down as another year in which Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL)
asserted its absolute supremacy by notching 22 consecutive years of
In fact, given the gaping and seemingly insurmountable chasm
between Isuzu and its closest competitors, it's reasonable to
suggest that only a cataclysmic and totally unforeseen corporate
disaster could possibly stifle IAL's march to 23 years, 24 years,
and then a truly phenomenal quarter century of market
Take, for instance, the Truck Tracker figures supplied by the
Truck Industry Council for the year up to the end of last November.
In the overall summary for trucks with a gross weight capacity
greater than 3.5 tonnes, Isuzu held 25.2 percent of the market
which means, of course, that one in four of all trucks sold in this
country carry the Isuzu badge. The nearest competitor was Hino on
14.1 percent followed by Fuso with a tad over 11 percent.
Yet it's when you break the numbers up into their respective
weight categories that Isuzu's domination falls into even sharper
relief. In the light-duty sector, for instance, the stunningly
successful Isuzu N-series held a thumping 38.7 percent of the
category up to the end of November. But arguably the most notable
aspect of the light-duty competition was the battle for second
place with Hino on 19 percent and Fuso a fraction away with 18.9
percent. In both cases though, their slices of the light-duty
league were less than half Isuzu's hold.
Up the scale, Isuzu's grip on the medium-duty market was
similarly strong with 41.8 percent up to the end of November, well
ahead of second placegetter Hino on 27.6 percent. It's certainly a
far cry from the days not so many years ago when the gap between
Isuzu and Hino was measured in fractions of a percentage point.
The only apparent soft spot in the Isuzu armour is the
heavy-duty market, but even here, in a segment where the top rungs
of the ladder traditionally belong to the big name American and
European brands, Isuzu at the end of November held 9.3 percent and
a respectable fourth place behind such heavy-duty stalwarts as
Kenworth (23 percent), Volvo (11.1 percent) and Western Star (9.5
percent). In Isuzu's wake were such luminaries as Mack, Iveco and
Sure, it could be fairly argued that Isuzu's place in the
heavyduty sector is largely due to the acceptance of its three-axle
rigid models rather than any major wins by its flagship Giga range,
but the indisputable fact is that Isuzu is the first Japanese brand
to achieve such a consistently significant slice of such a fiercely
Quite simply, the numbers prove it!