Trucks plated at what was for years the important legislative threshold gross weight of 7.5 tonnes, remain a marketing focus throughout the EU. They are operated in large numbers by fleets engaged typically in urban distribution work, as well as by many small tradesmen covering fairly small distances close to their home bases.
Many of those who buy 7.5-tonners want to maximise payload capacity but also have an eye on manoeuvrability in congested streets and back-entrance loading bays. That combination of requirements raises a question to which no European truck manufacturer has supplied a substantive answer, namely: why has it been left to Japanese manufacturers, mainly Isuzu and Fuso (the latter now admittedly controlled by Daimler), to supply European markets with 7.5-tonners which are attractively light, compact and in consequence, relatively cheap?
As far as manoeuvrability is concerned, the narrower cabs of the Japanese 7.5t contenders are a key attribute, always provided a proportionately narrow body is specified. But, in common with their heavier-duty European-designed 7.5t competitors, they are of forward-entry configuration, with the step ahead of the front axle.
Why has it been left to Japanese manufacturers to supply European markets with 7.5-tonners which are attractively light, compact and in consequence, relatively cheap?
Even though the entry step and the main cab floor are lower in the Japanese trucks, one still needs two hands to climb aboard, a fact made more difficult by their more constricted door openings (partly caused by windscreen rake) and narrower step – a crucial shortcoming when the driver is making thirty or forty drops a day, often clutching a package or documentation.
In contrast, most lighter – i.e. below 7.5t – European trucks and vans provide the easier ‘one-handed’ entry benefits of a semi-bonneted layout where, crucially, the step is behind the wheel arch. The only 7.5-tonner of that configuration was the Mercedes-Benz Vario, a dated design now no longer marketed in panel van or chassis-cab form, lacking the refinement of its more modern Atego full forward-control 7.5 tonne stablemate, both in any case being a lot heavier and more expensive than the Fuso offered by Mercedes at the same GVW.
For European OEMs, the focus now must be on the viability of developing high-payload, compact and competitively-priced contenders
However, for customers wanting that elusive combination of high payload, compact dimensions and good cab entry ergonomics, there is a rival option which remains available but which sells in surprisingly small numbers. If customers could avoid being fixated on a 7.5t plating, Iveco’s top Daily van and chassis-cab models, grossing just 7t but with a low unladen weight to compensate, would fill the bill.
For profitability reasons, Iveco would obviously rather sell a full forward-control 7.5t chassis-cab from its EuroCargo range than a 7t Daily. Of the two alternatives, which run parallel in a similar way to the Fuso Canter and the Atego offered by Mercedes, the lighter-duty option in each case is perceived by some as less durable, particularly in the powertrain department. The Fuso and the Daily now share the same 3.0-litre Italian diesel, whereas the Atego and its EuroCargo rival are powered by less hard-working engines of around 4.0-litres capacity.
With vehicle renewal budgets under greater pressure now than for decades, those low-cost Isuzu and Fuso chassis are grabbing an ever larger slice – albeit modest in absolute terms – of Europe’s 7.5t market. For European OEMs, the focus now must be on the viability of developing high-payload, compact and competitively-priced contenders.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Alan Bunting has a background in engineering, and has been writing on commercial vehicle and powertrain related topics since the 1960s. He has been an Automotive World contributor since 1996.
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