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Get ready to be impressed with Hino’s new hybrid COE

In a little over a week Hino Motors will be unveiling its diesel-electric hybrid system in a newly designed Class 4 and 5 cabover engine (COE) truck line-up during the 2011 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis.
I was fortunate enough to be among the handful of North American journalists to be invited to Tokyo, Japan to drive the new truck, speak to Hino’s management team and engineers, and tour several Hino manufacturing facilities (including one so secret that the media bus was fitted with all-around curtains we were not allowed to open during the drive to the facility). The invitation required a promise (a signed contract, actually) that we would not reveal any important specs prior to the launch and so I’ve had to keep quiet the last few weeks.
But the launch is just a little over a week away and the publication ban does not prevent me from saying that if my own first impressions of the new truck reflect how the Canadian market is likely to view it, I think Hino is likely to make quite the splash come March 8.
Why? Four reasons:
1. The completely new design makes a lot of sense for urban customers, particularly in central and eastern Canada where Hino has traditionally been very strong in the Class 4 & 5 markets. Returning to a cabover design, which the company had abandoned in 2004, I believe will prove a very positive move in this part of the country. And, unlike the previous COE design which used a domestic Japanese cab and chassis, the new design is North-Americanized with a standard 33-inch straight frame chassis and “extensive” model variation available with flexibility to accommodate a large range of users, according to Masahiro Kumasaka, chief engineer, product planning division, for Hino. Inside, the new cab is roomier, seats three, can fit a driver up to 6 ft 6 in. and has some well-thought out storage options. There will also be a crew cab version.
2. The Hino brand has traditionally been higher priced than its competitors. But, according to company executives, Hino plans to price this new truck “competitively.”
3. Having driven the truck, whether as a diesel or as a hybrid, I can tell you I was impressed with its power, its smoothness, the incredible visibility it provided with its narrow pillars, angled windshield and rounded radius. I was equally impressed with the clean aerodynamic lines of its “cat’s eyes-inspired” rounded radius design and some of the durability testing Hino’s engineers shared with us. For example, its doors are 10x more durable than the typical passenger car door, designed to handle more than 600,000 openings and closings over their life span.
4. With diesel pricing continuing to raise concerns, how could any truck buyer not consider an engine design that promises more than a 30% improvement in fuel economy over straight diesel with the same running performance? Urban applications have a lot of stop and go, and way too much fuel is wasted idling the engine, particularly when waiting at traffic lights. The new hybrid design includes an electric motor/generator between the engine and transmission, and relies on a hybrid adaptive control system capable of mixing diesel and electric power to keep the engine operating in its sweet spot. The hybrid design also reduces unnecessary idling with its automatic idle stop. It automatically shuts down the diesel at a full stop, restarting it when the brake is released. You don’t have to worry about that automatic shutdown and restart in extremely cold weather, however. Hino is testing at which low temperature threshold that function should be overridden to ensure a truck is not left unable to restart at a traffic light. Hino’s engineers said the hybrid improves fuel efficiency by 36% at 20 kmh and 37% at 31 kmh over the diesel version.
Hino’s 210-hp J05 5L series engine will power both the diesel and the hybrid versions. The 4-cylinder engine uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to meet emissions requirements. The truck can also be spec’d with a 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission.
The new hybrid model has been in Winnipeg recently undergoing cold weather testing, but Hino has a long history with hybrids dating back to 1991 when it launched its first commercially viable hybrid vehicle. The new truck is in fact Hino’s third generation of hybrid technology. By the end of 2010, Hino had placed 10,962 hybrids in the market, which its officials claimed to be the most of any hybrid truck manufacturer. Hino also produces hybrid trucks. It has enjoyed 37 years as the top and medium duty and heavy duty truck manufacturer in the Japanese market. (Hino’s large stake in the Japanese heavy duty market may be one of the better kept secrets in the industry.)
This launch is considerably more ambitious than previous launches, however, because it marks the first time Hino will be launching a truck model outside the Japanese market first and it plans to sell the new truck in over 100 countries. This is also the first hybrid for Hino in the US and Canadian markets and the company understands that success in these markets is key to its future growth plans.
“There is tremendous importance attached to the North American market,” confirmed Yoshio Shirai, president of Hino Motors, adding that only when Hino succeeds in the tough North American market can the company truly be considered a global brand.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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