Giti Tyres Big Test: Repaying The Faith
Becoming an early adopter of a new vehicle brand - taking on something that's new and unproven in New Zealand - requires something of a leap of faith.
A few people did it when Japanese cars and trucks started arriving here 50 years ago and more - taking a chance on vehicles from a non-traditional source....unknownquantities.
The rest, as they say, is history - given 10 years or so and Japanese trucks and cars were setting the standard for mechanical reliability and longevity,even if they lagged behind European products in other respects (such as their level of sophistication).
Chinese vehicles are now in roughly the same place those Japanese trucks and cars were all that time ago.
In the truck world, for instance, the Sinotruk brand has scarcely set the market alight since its local debut a couple of years ago. It's copped some unflatteringreviews, including NZ Truck & Driver Big Tests - and last year just 31 were sold.
Now the brand is poised to make its second attempt to gain a foothold on the NZ market, and the local distributors are determined to leave nothing to chancethis time.
To that end, they've imported two NZ market prototypes of the new Sinotruk C7 and put them to work with local fleets - one running on-highway with a HookerPacific owner/driver.
The other - the subject of this NZ Truck & Driver Giti Truck Tyres Big Test - is carting stock with Ben Allen Transport, based in Waipukurau in centralHawke's Bay.
Sinotruk's NZ general manager Allan Bates takes up the story: "What happened is we had a couple built, and Palmerston North truck dealer Ian McAffer hada couple of customers who said they'd be willing to test the prototypes.
"We wanted to try this model out in NZ conditions before we went ahead and ordered trucks."
Bates says testing the trucks in real-world operations will give the Chinese manufacturer data it can use to fine-tune the Sinotruk for our roads, loadsand terrain. After that, he adds, "we'll go to the factory and say what changes need to be made to the truck for the NZ market."
Take the automated gearbox for example: The Ben Allen truck runs a Sinotruk 12-speed automated manual transmission and Chinese and Wabco engineers havejust visited to see how it works in NZ terrain and with Kiwi loadings, and are modifying its management system to better suit local conditions.
Though the truck is also available with a ZF-designed 16-speed manual and a non-synchro 12-speed manual (on which the AMT is based), the testing and developmentfocus is on the AMT.
"In China, a lot of the places these trucks go are quite flat, but here the topography is up and down," says Bates: "That's why works and Wabco engineersare coming here..."
Bates says the C7 is a totally-new Sinotruk model. It has alloy wheels, disc brakes front and rear, full crosslocks, rear air suspension and the cab isair-suspended: "It's a European-spec truck and comes standard with all those things.
"Previously we had the S7 440hp which was loosely based on a Volvo. It was the first model we brought in - an eight-wheeler that was basically built througha partnership with Volvo. It had similar running gear to a Volvo."
The new truck, on the other hand, has grown out of Sinotruk's association with German manufacturer MAN, he says. In 2009, Sinotruk signed an agreementin which MAN bought 25% of the company, which is 50% owned by...
Pirelli Trevor Test
When Graham Lowes told me at the RTF Conference in Hamilton last year that Ben Allen Transport was getting "oneof those Chinese trucks" for livestock work, I got very interested.
I wanted to see how the much-talked-about Sinotruk 540hp would be suited to a really Kiwi trucking challenge.
Months later, after a new Fruehauf five-axle trailer and deck has been built and new Delta stock crates fitted, we finally get to meet up with the truckin question as it heads out of Napier, onto one of New Zealand's most challenging roads - the Gentle Annie. This mountainous route between Hawke'sBay and Taihape should certainly test this Sinotruk to its limit.
We drive in to Otueae Station to pick up a load of lambs being bought down to a farm near Havelock North for finishing - the load bringing us up to around44 tonnes. So it's a good load and there are some great hills ahead.
It's fair to say I've been critical of some of the Sinotruk product I've driven previously, so I'm interested to see what this new model has to offer.It's one of two prototypes brought into NZ for evaluation, so it'll be interesting to see what's different and how the brand is evolving.
I climb into the driver's seat on the Taihape side of the Gentle Annie hill for the drive east. First-up experience is great with excellent cab entry -three well-spaced steps with good deep, wide steps and grabhandles both sides of the door opening giving good support all the way into the cab. Oncein the high-roof sleeper, it's certainly a European-looking interior.
The driver has a full air suspension seat, very similar in look and feel to an ISRI and certainly very comfortable. There's excellent adjustment in theseat and steering column to set me up for a comfortable drive.
This model is fitted with a two-pedal 12-speed AMT so there's no clutch pedal, giving plenty of room to stretch out the left leg.
Both journalist Mike Stock and I are very impressed with the ride and the quietness inside the cab. We can easily maintain a conversation with no needto raise our voices, except maybe when the engine fan kicks in.
There are good air vents throughout the cab, supplying a good flow of cool air for the driver and passenger. Storage is well catered...