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VW prepares to welcome Scania

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VW prepares to welcome ScaniaIn his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON revisits Volkswagen’s relationship with Scania, and looks ahead to the scenario once total ownership is achieved; details Nissan’s new medium truck for Europe; reports on Ford’s latest and increasingly home-built American cruiserweights and records the addition of some new domestic models to the Tata Prima line-up.

It has been some time since Global Focus discussed developing dynamics within the Volkswagen/MAN/Scania truck-making “family”, following the flurry of intense activity that took place over the period from 2006 to 2011.

In a nutshell, the story kicked off when German truck maker MAN AG declared its interest in acquiring Swedish truck maker Scania AB at the start of that period, but was unable to realise its objective because of opposition from the Swedish company’s shareholders.

Subsequent developments, which included some vitriolic public exchanges between the potential partners, led to Volkswagen stepping in to take effective control of both Scania and MAN and, in 2011, it was announced that certain proprietary components manufactured by both companies would be targeted for rationalisation, in the interests of obtaining improved economies of scale. These were to include Scania’s manual transmissions and MAN’s drive axles and transfer cases, while future joint research was planned in the area of hybrid driveline componentry.

In the interim, there has been little news of further consolidation of this potentially very powerful truck-making axis. It has, however, been reported that cooperative purchasing of tyres, steel and glass are predicted to achieve savings of €200 million (R3 002 million) this year.

To the observer, it appeared that any contact at operational level between MAN and Scania was strictly verboten. Even though it was futile for executives from either company to deny the existence of common parentage, this having been openly reported in the public domain, there was little enthusiasm for discussing possible future areas of cooperation that might be more visible to the public.

However, with the very visible integration of the Daimler empire (which includes Freightliner and Mitsubishi Fuso), and the rolling out of Volvo Group globalisation, to avoid overlaps between the efforts of Mack, Renault, UD, Eicher and, ultimately, Dongfeng; Volkswagen must have felt some pressure to fully leverage the potential of its own trucking assets, and recent developments suggest that the process is now regaining momentum.

The first step was for Volkswagen to raise its stake in Scania from 62,6 percent to more than 90 percent, by buying out minority shareholders to the tune of €6,7 billion (R100,6 billion). This process was due to run from March 17 to April 25, and, if successful, will reportedly lead to the delisting of Scania from the stock market. Once this has been achieved, greater cooperation between Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and MAN SE will be possible. No changes are reportedly planned for Scania’s employees, production locations or development centres, but it has been reported that former Scania man, Leif Östling, is to step down, from his position as commercial vehicle member on the VW Group’s board of management, during 2015. He will be replaced by Andreas Renschler, fresh from global production and Truck CEO assignments at Daimler.

It is important to note that, in the reports of this intended buyout, Volkswagen has made no secret of its intention to “remove restrictions to deeper cooperation between Scania and MAN”. With this in mind, it is useful to consider the relative position of each group member in the global market, in very broad terms.

Scania is heavily concentrated at the upper end of the goods-vehicle spectrum, and is active in buses and coaches. MAN competes strongly in both these segments, but also builds quality distribution-segment vehicles down to 7,5-tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM).

MAN currently owns and manages the Volkswagen Caminhöes e Önibus operation in Brazil, which gives it a strong presence in the “value” portion of the distribution and bus markets, although currently this is geographically restricted to South America and South Africa. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles operates below the 7,5-tonne GVM benchmark with its European-sourced Crafter integral van range, and smaller commercial vehicles.

This portfolio is far from optimised, and provides an excellent base for growth, and also for filling quite extensive gaps in the Group’s global footprint. This may ultimately require some brand repositioning to reduce overlaps, expansion of the Constellation’s marketing base, and greater exploitation of Asian opportunities.

Although heavier commercial vehicle volumes are relatively small, when compared to passenger car equivalents, a more effective utilisation of Volkswagen’s trucking assets will not harm the manufacturer’s aim of global market leadership by 2018.

Global Focus was penned prior to Volkswagen’s annual media and investor conference in Berlin, which was attended by Charleen Clarke. For more news on Volkswagen/Scania/MAN, turn to Steering Column on page two of this issue – ed.

Exit Atleon, Enter NT500

Regular readers of Global Focus will be well aware of our long-term fascination with the unique Nissan Atleon range of medium payload trucks, built in Spain. Dating back to 1980, this line-up originally covered the GVM spectrum from 3,5 to 15 tonnes, but bore no direct relationship to any other Nissan, UD, Renault, Volvo or Mack product. It was built only in left-hand drive (LHD) format, and was sold mainly in Europe, and a few selected LHD export markets, one of which happened to be Angola.

The most recent edition of the Atleon chassis/cab range incorporated some cab panels from Nissan’s latest Cabstar model (also built in Spain), being offered with GVM ratings of 3,5, 4,6 and eight tonnes, and was powered by either Nissan’s own ZD30DDTI, or Cummins’s ISB5-4H diesels.

Nissan’s new NT500 replaces the enigmatic Atleon in Europe. Will it travel further afield?The logic behind building a unique, low-volume truck range, for such a limited market, has not been readily apparent. We were also puzzled by Nissan’s dogged perseverance with this product when it was still allied to truck specialists Volvo, Mack, UD and Renault Trucks, through the Renault-Nissan global family.

However, at the end of 2012, Renault SA sold off its last remaining shareholding in the AB Volvo-led truck group, and in mid-2013, alliance partner Nissan announced its strategic intention to be the global leader of the “light commercial” vehicle category by 2016. The parameters of “light commercial” seemed somewhat flexible, however, when Nissan Iberia announced its investment of €100 million (R1 501 million) in a new Atleon-class product, which subsequently turned out to be Nissan International’s new NT500 truck.

Further intrigue was added when Renault Trucks, still firmly in the truck-heavy AB Volvo family, launched its new “D two-metre cab” model in 2013. The launch press release stated unambiguously that it was “developed in partnership with Nissan Motor Ltd.”. Closer examination revealed a close similarity to the newly announced NT500, albeit with some alterations to the cab’s frontal appearance.

Although the Renault (car) connection with Nissan is manifest in the Renault Maxity light truck, which is a rebadged Cabstar and built in Avila by Nissan Iberia, the involvement with Renault Trucks was definitely “cross-border” in terms of the latest corporate alignments. However, product-related cooperation, even between totally unrelated manufacturers, is commonplace in the 21st century, so there is nothing sinister in this arrangement, however interesting it may purport to be.

Nissan’s decision to consolidate its presence in the European commercial vehicle market for trucks between 3,5 and 7,5 tonnes GVM has been, presumably, encouraged by the Volvo Group’s former absence from that space. The subsequent decision by Renault Trucks to effectively share a product with Nissan, in that same market space, will lead to effective cost sharing and, presumably, a wider marketing footprint.

Nissan’s NT500 launch announcement reveals the continued use of its three-litre ZD30 turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel, now in Euro-6 form. Available outputs of 112 kW (150 hp), using a single turbocharger, or
132 kW (177 hp) two-stage turbocharged format are offered, driving through six-speed manual, air-assisted or automated transmissions. The uprated emissions compliance is achieved through the use of diesel particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction.

Nissan announced the production start-up for the NT500 at Avila on February 14, and confirmed that this model was replacing the Atleon. So, finally we can put our obsession to rest! We still remain interested in the fact that Nissan has chosen to persevere in this market space, which, in most people’s perception, is definitely heavier than “light commercial”. We suspect that a lot of specialist marketing effort will be required to ensure the NT500’s success.

Contrary to our previous report, the NT500 cab is not shared with the current Cabstar, being an entirely new unit designed in Spain by NTC-LCV, although a strong “family” resemblance has been retained. Nissan claims that the full-forward control tilt cab configuration will be an advantage in Europe, where most mass-competitive products are derived from integral van designs, with a fixed semi-forward control cab layout.

The NT500 features include fully automatic climate control, cruise control and comprehensive in-cab storage. A suspended driver’s seat is optional, while baseline equipment includes keyless operation, electrically controlled exterior mirrors and front fog lamps. The range includes four optional wheelbases, and comes in 3,5-, 5,6-, 6,5- and 7,5-tonne GVM versions, with full air-braking on the top-weight model. The electronics suite includes ESP, Hill Start Assistance, Traction Control, ABS+EBD and Brake Assist.

Ford’s latest American cruiserweights

Global Focus does not often discuss American medium-duty trucks. The simple reason is that most of the indigenous models are very different to those used in the rest of the world, while the “imports” generally follow international trends more closely.

Ford’s brutish F-650 continues the American medium duty tradition into the 2016 model year.In this context, “medium duty” indicates trucks with GVM ratings from 6 350 kg to 11 790 kg. In simplified terms, the North American types present as “grown-up” versions of “full-size pickups” – typified by the Ford F-Series, Chrysler’s Ram Tradesman, Navistar International’s TerraStar and DuraStar, and Freightliner’s M2 Series (General Motors exited this segment in 2009).

This means that all utilise the “conventional”, or bonneted cab layout and are powered by large-displacement, multi-cylinder petrol or diesel engines. Notably, there is still a strong demand for petrol-engined medium trucks in North America, and even some imported models are offered with this power option, as an alternative to the four-cylinder diesels found most commonly abroad.

Just recently, Ford made some important announcements regarding its medium-duty F-Series. Following on from recent indications that this manufacturer has been rediscovering its appetite for the truck business, we thought it would be appropriate to bring readers up to speed.

First, the manufacturer unveiled its 2016 model F-650/F-750 trucks. Readers unfamiliar with the American “model year” concept may be puzzled by the “2016” designator. This, in effect, means that these vehicles will initially go on sale in the third quarter of 2015. Although similar in appearance to the latest light-duty F-150 pickup series, the lightweight aluminium body panels found in their smaller sibling have been omitted, and the all-steel cabs retained.

Power options include Ford’s own 6,7-litre Ford power stroke diesel, replacing an earlier Cummins-sourced option, or a Ford 6,8-litre V10 petrol engine. Ford will also “indigenise” the automatic transmission option, replacing the Allison-sourced unit that has been used up to now. A new chassis frame has also been developed in house to replace the Navistar International component currently in use.

Production arrangements for the series are also due for a change. Current medium-duty Ford models are built by the Blue Diamond joint venture, shared with Navistar International at Escobedo, Mexico, but the 2016 models will reportedly transfer to Ford’s own Avon Lake, Ohio, facility, following a retooling exercise costing $US 168 million (R1 809 million).

Ford sold more than 8 000 vehicles in this category during 2013, and has now clearly decided to maximise its own content in the F-650/750 line-up. While the stated intention is to provide customers with an improved product at a competitive price, observers believe that it will also be good for Ford’s profitability.

Tata grows Prima range

Tata Motors first revealed its Prima “World Truck” family in May, 2009. It stated from the outset that this line-up would carry a pricing premium of some five to ten percent above the manufacturer’s “standard” products. The range, as initially announced, consisted of multi-axle units, truck-tractors, tippers, truck mixers and special-application vehicles, in 4x2, 6x2, 8x2, 6x4, 8x4 and 10x4 configurations, ranging in size from ten to 75 tonnes GVM.

Power options were to be drawn from Cummins’s Indian joint venture with Tata, and Iveco’s Cursor engine family, while transmissions were to be sourced from Eaton and ZF. Upmarket Prima features included air suspensions, GPS-based navigation systems, air-conditioned cabs, fully adjustable reclining suspension seats, adjustable steering columns and integrated seat belts.

Since the initial launch, Tata has expanded the range to include additional tipper and truck-tractor variants and has introduced a new in-house developed, nine-speed manual overdrive gearbox, and a ten-tonne capacity, single-drive rear axle.

Early in March, Tata announced the launch of a further ten Indian market models in the range, now known as Prima LX. These consisted of six haulage models, and a further four aimed specifically at construction applications. They line-up as follows (please note that, from the available information, we were not able to confirm if the freight carrier models were single or tandem drive):

• Prima LX 4928.S: 6x4 truck tractor equipped with a 200 kW (267 bhp) Cummins ISBe 6,7-litre engine, Tata G1150 nine-speed transmission, single-reduction tandem drive axles, and rated at 49 tonnes gross combination mass.

• Prima LX 4928.S HRT: As above, but with hub reduction tandem drive axles.

• Prima LX 4028.S SR: 4x2 truck tractor with a 200 kW (267 bhp) Cummins ISBe engine, Eaton ES-9106A DD transmission, and a single-reduction drive axle.

• Prima LX 4028.S HR: As above, but with a hub reduction drive axle.

• Prima LX 2523.T: three-axle freight carrier equipped with a 172 kW (230 bhp) Cummins ISBe 5,9-litre engine and four-point suspension, rated at 25,5 tonnes GVM.

• Prima LX 3123.T: four-axle freight carrier as above, but rated at 33 tonnes GVM.

• Prima LX 2523.K: 6x4 tipper equipped with a 172 kW (230 bhp) Cummins ISBe 5,9-litre engine, Tata G 1150 nine-speed transmission, heavy-duty RA 109 rear axles, rated at 25,5 tonnes GVM.

• Prima LX 2528.K: As above, but equipped with a 200 kW (267 bhp) Cummins ISBe 6,7-litre engine.

• Prima LX 3123.K: 8x4 tipper, equipped with a 172 kW (230 bhp) Cummins ISBe 5,9-litre engine, Tata G 1150 nine-speed transmission, heavy-duty RA 109 rear axles, and 430 mm organic clutch, rated at 33 tonnes GVM.

• Prima LX 3128.K: As above, but equipped with a 200 kW (267 bhp) Cummins ISBe 6,7-litre engine.

We have noted, once again, that vehicles for the Indian home market have relatively low engine outputs when
compared to the international norm. This disparity can only be logically explained by much lower expectations of average speed in India, where traffic congestion often takes on enormous proportions. Prima models that are destined for overseas markets generally have more powerful engines than the equivalents listed above.

 


Global FOCUS is a monthly update of international news relating to the commercial vehicle industry. It is compiled exclusively for FOCUS by Frank Beeton of Econometrix.

 

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